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Lawhorn: Virginia Tech should run UVA-Wise

egular readers of the Roanoke Times editorial column know that it periodically focuses its editorial spotlight on the challenging circumstances of far southwest Virginia, including declining population, deteriorating public school facilities, and economic difficulties, all revolving primarily around a decelerating coal economy.

Should this topic matter to us? Obviously, it’s concerning to the newspaper, but how about to those of us in the New River and Roanoke valleys?

It should be. Geographically, we’re neighbors, contained in the state’s southwestern region that often is ignored or forgotten by the other regions, and, I’d argue, by the commonwealth’s leadership. Because we’re neighbors, and because we’re all Virginians, I believe we should care about the plight of our neighbor.

When running for governor, Ralph Northam proposed turning UVa-Wise (the only four-year state school west of the New River) into a research university with a focus on renewable energy, an idea he hasn’t pursued, that would have been a spur to that regional economy.

Some steps have been taken in the far southwest to improve the economic climate there — three data centers have located there, plans have advanced for the creation of hydroelectric pumped-storage sites, and the creation of an energy research and development authority will focus on non-coal energy production industries. Good steps, but likely not enough, by themselves, to bring about quickly significant transformative progress.

In a Sept. 21, 2020, editorial, The Roanoke Times, in reviewing the findings of a recent JLARC study, asked a question it felt the study danced around: “Is there anything that can be done to build a new economy in … southwest?”

To learn more, check out the whole article below.