​Northam proposes plan to expand U.Va.-Wise

The expansion would try to boost rural economies in Virginia, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate’s communications director said


Northam's proposed U.Va.-Wise expansion would cost $15 million and would incorporate both private and public funding. 

Lt. Gov. and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam released a proposal to expand the University of Virginia at Wise Tuesday, part of his plan to strengthen rural economies in Virginia.

“This expansion will be an economic engine for Southwest Virginia and surrounding areas,” Northam said in a statement. “By concentrating on graduate-level and PhD programs and areas of high need and high growth like cybersecurity, unmanned aerial systems, energy and computer engineering and programming, we will build on areas where U.Va.-Wise is already doing well and be focused on creating the jobs of tomorrow.”

Northam released a seven-part plan to strengthen rural Virginia Tuesday, which included the U.Va.-Wise expansion as well as temporary tax cuts for small businesses in rural areas and efforts to scale up renewable energy.

“While Gov. McAuliffe and Lt. Gov. Northam have helped boost Virginia’s economy, creating nearly 190,000 jobs, bringing unemployment down to 3.8 percent, there are parts of the Commonwealth that aren’t feeling the recovery the same as others,” Northam’s communications director David Turner said. “This is specifically to help rural areas of the Commonwealth that are currently struggling and to try to boost their economies.”

The U.Va.-Wise expansion would cost $15 million and would incorporate both private and public funding. Turner said U.Va.-Wise was chosen to be included in the plan partly because of its emphasis on relevant skill-building.

“It is a university [chosen] specifically because of its location, obviously in Southwest Virginia, but also a track record of success at bringing skills for students that go to industries that are currently growing, which could then create a positive cycle of bringing in more population, bringing in more talent and just bringing in new businesses,” Turner said.

Turner added that the plan is personal to Northam because of his upbringing on the rural Eastern Shore, and that he has talked to many people in rural areas about their wishes.

“As a graduate and later assistant professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, I have seen this kind of transformation firsthand,” Northam said. “Over the past 20+ years, I have grown my own medical business in Norfolk and watched as EVMS has developed into an internationally recognized medical school through groundbreaking research. U.Va.-Wise, in the heart of Virginia’s coalfield region, is primed to unlock this same kind of innovation in cybersecurity, unmanned aerial systems, and energy.”

Kathy Still, director of news and media relations at U.Va.-Wise, said that the College does not yet have details on what the plan holds. But, she said, they support the idea of using funds to expand classes that prepare students for the workforce.

“When the College was founded in 1954, one of its core missions was economic development,” Still said. “We’ve always maintained the economic development aspect of our college ... One of our primary missions is to graduate students to have successful careers.”

Still said the school is glad to see a state official supporting higher education, and he noted U.Va.-Wise has been well-represented in the General Assembly.

Northam faces former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie in the general election. Gillespie recently announced a plan to fight against the opioid crisis and fix the mental health system in Virginia.

When asked whether Northam’s plan could help him in the election, Turner said the proposal focuses on Northam’s “vision for Virginia.”

“I think that because we listened, because this came out of listening to Virginians, this is really about creating solutions that are pragmatic and doable and also can help areas of the Commonwealth that are still recovering,” Turner said.

The Virginia general election is Nov. 7.

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