Virginia was selected as a Stronger Economies Together (SET) Phase V state for 2015. This designation creates an opportunity for two rural Virginia regions to receive economic development coaching and technical assistance.

SET is a high-quality regional economic improvement program that strives to strengthen the capacity of communities and counties in rural America by developing and implementing economic advancement blueprints for the multicounty regions.

Virginia regions are invited to apply to the SET project. Two multicounty regions in rural Virginia will be selected to participate in the 2015 initiative.

Launched in 2010 by U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development in collaboration with the nation’s Regional Rural Development Centers and their land-grant university partners, this initiative is now in place in more than 50 regions in 28 states. It strategically builds on the current and emerging economic strengths of the regions.

“This project represents an outstanding opportunity for Virginia’s rural communities,” said Janice Stroud-Bickes, assistant to the state director of USDA Rural Development-Virginia. “Rural regions will have access to technical support for community-based collaborative planning along with needed economic data analysis through the SET project.”

Economic development progress is more likely to be realized when rural and urban counties work together as a region to assess, design, and implement plans that build on their assets and comparative economic strengths. Creating, attracting, and retaining jobs as a single rural county in isolation from other nearby counties is becoming increasingly ineffective, said Martha Walker, community viability specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension and SET project coordinator.

In 2012, Virginia entered SET Phase III and worked with the Northern Neck and the Virginia Growth Alliance regions.

“Both groups developed proactive regional economic development plans and were recognized for their exceptional work at the SET 2015 Multi-State Conference,” said Walker.

A region is eligible to apply for SET Phase V assistance if it meets two conditions: encompasses three or more contiguous counties in Virginia or in conjunction with counties in neighboring states; and has a population and/or geographic area that is 51 percent rural in nature or 75 percent of the land area must be considered rural based on census data or other sufficient data or documentation.

The regions selected will receive economic development coaching and technical assistance for at least 18 months, including:

  • Training on the core building blocks for developing and launching a regional economic development plan.
  • In-depth economic data that delineates the critical drivers of the region's economy.
  • Tools that uncover local assets and resources that can be tapped to advance the region's economic strategies and actions.

All regions that meet the eligibility requirement are invited to submit an application by visiting the Stronger Economies Together website and completing the application form.

Completed applications must be submitted electronically to Martha Walker by May 7. Applications will be reviewed by a state steering committee and the two selected regions will be announced by June 30.