Citizens, leaders, and officials from throughout Southside and administrators from Virginia Tech gathered in Danville Saturday to dedicate the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) and to cut the ceremonial ribbon to officially open the multi-million dollar facility.

The IALR will develop and attract technology and talent critical to Southside Virginia's economic transformation through strategic research, advanced learning, technology transfer, institute conference center activities, IALR outreach programs, and technology infrastructure development.

Virginia Tech, Averett University, and Danville Community College serve as academic partners to develop and offer courses at the institute. The IALR leverages the resources of these colleges as well as regional public and private organizations.

Gov. Mark Warner, who addressed the group in a videotaped message, called the IALR a "unique facility" and said it is important for several reasons. "First," he said, "it brings the tangible presence of high technology and Virginia Tech to this region. Second, it offers a seamless set of higher education programs because it is based on the principle that research and teaching are equally important. Third, it will be the next step in the economic transformation of Southside. By promoting economic diversity, we have a chance to make sure that Southside Virginia is the place that gets it right as we move into the information economy."

State Sen. Charles Hawkins, R-19th district, who chairs the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, the primary funding source for the building, told the gathering, "This is where it all changes. The future belongs to those who can be innovative."

Hawkins, who noted that no one from either political party opposed state funding for the facility, cut the ribbon that officially opened the new IALR headquarters. He also pointed out that IALR was the only new project funded in the state's 2005-2006 budget.

Congressman Virgil H. Goode Jr., R-5th district, called the institute "part of a larger vision for Southside Virginia that will expand and broaden our economy into many different areas."

According to Charles W. Steger, president of Virginia Tech, which is the driving force behind the institute's six research centers, "The institute is providing Virginia Tech with many new opportunities for cutting-edge research and real-world collaborations, which would not have been possible in Blacksburg. There are already a number of exciting initiatives underway that build on Virginia Tech's research strengths. We believe these also hold great promise to revitalize the economy in the region."

"The vision and courage of the region's leadership have been an inspiration to all of us who are working to make it a stunning success," said Timothy V. Franklin, executive director of the IALR and Virginia Tech's outreach director for Southside programs, who also congratulated the people of Southside for taking action to enhance the future of the region.

As part of the event, a 4-H youth and an adult representative from each of the eight cities and counties in the Southside service region jointly planted a tree, symbolizing the regional partnership efforts that made IALR possible. Each student supplied a bucket of earth from his or her home jurisdiction.

IALR is part of a comprehensive strategy for Southside Virginia supported by Outreach and International Affairs at Virginia Tech. The institute is now operating in its new location at 150 Slayton Avenue in Danville.

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Founded in 1872 as a land-grant college, Virginia Tech has grown to become the largest university in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Today, Virginia Tech's eight colleges are dedicated to putting knowledge to work through teaching, research, and outreach activities and to fulfilling its vision to be among the top 30 research universities in the nation. At its 2,600-acre main campus located in Blacksburg and other campus centers in Northern Virginia, Southwest Virginia, Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Roanoke, Virginia Tech enrolls more than 28,000 full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries in 180 academic degree programs.