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Tiny town declares its independence in first episode of Save Our Towns, season three

September 7, 2016

Field reporter Abby Young is shown here inside the factory in Independence.

Field reporter inside sewing factory
Field reporter Abby Young is shown here inside the Oak Hall Cap & Gown factory in Independence. Young graduated with a bachelor's degree in public and urban affairs and now works in Fairfax, Virginia.

How do you prove your town is an ideal expansion site for a high-profile gown manufacturer whose clients include the U.S. Supreme Court?

Save Our Towns, a monthly video series geared toward small-town leaders, opens its third season with the story of Independence, Virginia competing with other towns – and winning.

Oak Hall Cap & Gown – which manufactures apparel for higher education, the judiciary, and religious institutions – had ruled out Independence as a new factory site last year. The town and county worked together to overcome the Roanoke-based company's objections.

The season's first episode also introduces the town that will be followed for a year: Cleveland, Virginia. The Russell County town has landed close to $1 million in grants during the past couple of years despite its population of only 178. Its major asset? The Clinch River runs through it.

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The episode's expert tip comes from Jim Brooks of the National League of Cities, who points out that big cities offer much material from which small towns can extract lessons.

The episode also highlights the water-related work of Stephen Schoenholtz, director of the Virginia Water Resources Research Center in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. The Virginia Cooperative Extension program showcased its VALOR leadership program run by Megan Seibel, housed within Virginia Tech’s Department of Agricultural and Extension Education

The Save Our Towns internet series, produced by Outreach and International Affairs, won two national communications awards in 2016. A one-day conference, the Save Our Towns Summit, is planned for Sept. 15 in Blacksburg. Brooks and other nationally known speakers will be featured, including T. Allan Comp, formerly with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining. Comp is an expert on watershed and community improvement projects in Appalachia.

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