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Community Conversations Visits Lynchburg

Tom Barkin addresses a panel in Lynchburg

Richmond Fed leaders were warmly welcomed to Lynchburg, Virginia, earlier this month for a two-day visit that gave them insight into the region’s economy and how businesses, households and students are adapting as the global health pandemic lingers.

During meetings, panel discussions and other programming that included a community college student town hall and small group sessions with business and civic leaders, Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin, Regional Executive Renee Haltom and Community Development Manager Tiffany Hollin-Wright learned how uniquely resilient Lynchburg is.

“The pride came through loud and clear,” said Haltom, who helped organize the visit with other members of the Bank’s Community Conversations team, in partnership with the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance. Community Conversations is a program through which Bank leaders visit communities across the Fifth District to learn about their well-being and challenges, explore potential partnerships and share economic updates.

Haltom noted that among Lynchburg’s assets and opportunities are:

  • Robust academic offerings due to seven institutions of higher education in the area and their intentional efforts to create workforce pathways;
  • A strong manufacturing base that includes approximately 300 businesses, including two nuclear manufacturers that are among the state’s largest employers; and
  • A strong sense of space, in terms of a thriving, redeveloped downtown and natural beauty in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

We also heard that a lot of university students stay after graduation and create a solid workforce there,” Haltom said.

During the town hall featuring students from Central Virginia Community College, the students shared that a robust job market with inviting wages has lured some of their peers into the workforce after high school rather than into higher education. They also shared their reasons for participating in the College’s pathways programs, as well as the challenges many students face when entering post-secondary education (To learn more about the current role and impact of community colleges across the Fifth District, read President Barkin’s and regional economist Laura Ulrich’s recent essays.).

A manufacturing roundtable showcased the special steps employers are taking to overcome workforce shortages and supply chain disruptions, including collaborating together locally.

A transportation roundtable focused on the challenging economics of rural transportation and creative solutions that have been explored in the Lynchburg region.“HumanKind’s Ways to Work program intrigued us because of its high success rate of promoting economic mobility amongst working families who participate in the agency’s affordable consumer auto lending program,” Hollin-Wright said.

Other learning from the rural transportation roundtable included city and state plans for infrastructure, public and para-transit, as well as sustainable commuter solutions for residents to live, work and play.

The Community Conversations team also hosted a Fed Listens session with a roundtable of community leaders who shared their perspectives on how Lynchburg has fared during the ongoing pandemic. Fed Listens is a program spearheaded by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors that encourages all 12 Reserve Banks to engage with community stakeholders across their region. The Richmond Fed’s 90-minute panel discussion on Oct. 5 was livestreamed and featured a rich discussion from leaders in health, business, philanthropy and nonprofits on how regional businesses and households have adapted to the pandemic and the continued challenges left to face.

Richmond Fed leaders left the community with ideas and potential solutions they can share with other communities that are seeking ways to sustain themselves and grow, said Haltom.

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