Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


August 4, 2012

Round the Mountain

— — A welcomed federal funding boost to a Southwest Virginia-based artisan network could help spur asset-based economic development, including outdoor recreation, downtown revitalization and small business development.

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., announced last week that Southwest Virginia’s Round the Mountain artisan network will receive a grant of $815,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Warner said the innovation grant was awarded to Appalachian Spring, a creative economy initiative through the Friends of Southwest Virginia in partnership with the region’s planning district commissions, People Inc., and Virginia Community Capital to develop asset-based economic development, particularly related to outdoor recreation, downtown revitalization, and small business development.

Round the Mountain will serve as the fiscal agent for the administration of the grant. Warner said the initiative will support community development efforts in all 19 counties and four cities of Southwest Virginia.

Round the Mountain was started in 2004 by Warner when he was governor of Virginia as part of an effort to further develop Southwest Virginia as a cultural and heritage tourism destination. The agency works with The Crooked Road, the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation and Friends of Southwest Virginia on efforts promoting sustainable economic development.

“Eight years after we launched this network during my term as governor, it is very gratifying to see how Round the Mountain, The Crooked Road and the Heartwood Artisan Gateway and others have helped to leverage local cultural assets and diversify Southwest Virginia’s overall economy,” Warner said. “This competitive grant should serve as a catalyst for additional private investment and job creation.”

Already a push is underway to promote the Crooked Road as a National Heritage Area. A public hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 14, at 1 p.m., in the Tazewell County Administration building to receive input on the proposal. The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, traverses 300 miles in Southwest Virginia, with stops including Bristol, Va., the Carter Family Fold and even the Big Walker Mountain Overlook.

The federal grant will enable the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation to fulfill its mission by working with partners in local, regional and state government in going to the next level in developing a creative economy in Southwest Virginia, according to Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation Executive Director Todd Christensen.

The $815,000 grant includes $500,000 from the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, $215,000 from the Agriculture Department’s rural broadband program and $100,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission. It will provide technical assistance to small businesses in the region which are engaged in the arts, outdoor recreation, local foods and broadband service delivery.

We are glad to see the local artisan network is getting a federal funding boost. It is our hope that the federal funds can help with local tourism, economic development and revitalization efforts in the region.

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