Back in 2010, VCC embarked upon a new community development program. Dubbed Pathfinders, the multi-year pilot focused on assisting rural communities with strategies for sustainable and proactive economic development. The initiative was a highly collaborative endeavor, combining resources and advisors from a broad pool of partners including the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, U. S. Department of Agriculture, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, Virginia Housing Development Authority, the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, and the Tayloe Murphy Center at the University of Virginia.
A competitive process selected two focus communities for a two-year effort: Glade Spring and Onancock. Neal Barber, a Community Development Advisor with VCC, served as the project manager and worked closely with committees from each Pathfinder community.
“Without question, Pathfinders proved that successful community development requires an integrated, tailored approach,” shared Barber, who is preparing a December report to the oversight committee. “VCC has a reputation for convening the appropriate players and helping to facilitate a thoughtful planning process with an emphasis on asset- or place-based development. Pathfinders deployed that strategy and allowed VCC to demonstrate how a highly collaborative approach can yield significant progress in a short time.”
The Glade Spring project faced unusual challenges when a large tornado devastated this Southwest Virginia community in April 2011. Recovery from the disaster came first, but leadership is now focused on a comprehensive revitalization of the historic downtown. One of the early stages of this process included a survey of historic structures that resulted in historic district designation on the National Register.
In Onancock, a blend of private and nonprofit organizations working with the town administration will advance several projects in the future. The Pathfinder project helped the community identify “spark plugs” and potential resources for downtown revitalization. Several projects including the renovation of a former school will provide momentum for additional investments.
In Mecklenburg County and the towns of Clarksburg and Lawrenceville, a similar community-based project to the Pathfinder effort advanced a multi-faceted tourism approach, building off the strategic advantages of Buggs Island Lake, also known as Kerr Reservoir, and an array of tourism assets. As a result of work here, Mecklenburg County now has a strategic tourism plan, a tourism marketing plan, and economic development and tourism brands. A water trail has been developed along with various marketing activities. A new tourism director is managing future progress.
“The Pathfinders’ project helped illuminate the importance of collaborative leadership in community planning,” said Teri Lovelace, Vice President over VCC’s Community Investments & Impact group. “Mecklenburg also illustrates the significant acceleration that can occur when VCC brings planning, funding, and facilitation expertise to the table. VCC will apply lessons learned over the past two years as we work with other localities across Virginia.”