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Gov. Ralph Northam focuses on strengthening workforce development in SWVa. visit

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam met with educational, economic development, and community leaders in Wise County Monday to talk about moving the region forward. (T. Culbertson, WCYB)

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is following through on a campaign promise to dedicate resources to UVA-Wise to expand programs that will lead to more jobs in the coal fields.

Robert Powers is a junior studying history and German at UVA-Wise. He is from Dungannon and wants to stay in the region after graduation, but he, like others, fear there is a lack of opportunity waiting.

"What we have is a workforce that is prepared, graduating classes that are prepared, but we don't have the industry in place for them to become leaders," Powers said.

Northam is new on the job as governor with the state touting a 3.5 percent unemployment rate, but he knows it is not nearly that good in our region.

Northam said, "I remind people if you go to where I'm from on the eastern shore, or south side, or southwest, it's not 3.5, so we have some work to do."

Northam believes education can make the difference. "Hopefully we can educate people right here in Wise County that would want to stay here and start businesses and help businesses grow."

The expansion of UVA-Wise is a priority for Northam. The question is how soon can that be accomplished? A state budget is not approved yet, but preliminary funding is set aside by lawmakers in an effort to expand the Wise campus. The college's administrators have plans to put that funding to use.

"We're looking at the undergraduate level at expanding really in data analytics and data sciences through integrated science program that would be interdisciplinary. At the graduate level, we're looking to add a Master of Arts in Teaching, Master of Science in Computing Sciences, and also a Masters Degree in Nursing Practice if we have a nurse practitioner program, and we're beginning to look a little bit at social work as well," Chancellor Donna Henry said.

The college is working in integral ways to get students involved in economic development outside of the institution by creating internship programs and expanding partnerships with community businesses and organizations.

Northam is not just focusing on four-year institutions. His second stop in southwest Virginia included a meeting with community college presidents to focus on strengthening vocational and technical programs in southwest Virginia that do not require a four-year degree.

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