A network of 19 counties, four cities, and 53 towns in Appalachian Virginia are working together to build a sustainable creative economy in the state’s southwestern corner. The goal is to preserve, protect, and interpret the area’s rich heritage and natural resources, create jobs, and attract visitors and new businesses. Work on this integrated regional strategy began in 2008 while the area adjusted to economic changes in Region’s manufacturing, agricultural, and mining sectors. The Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation and its supporting nonprofit, Friends of Southwest Virginia, mobilized a partnership of over 100 state, regional, and local government entities, nonprofit organizations, and private-sector entities, including ARC to monetize the area’s cultural and natural assets. Successful regional projects include The Crooked Road, a 330-mile heritage music trail, showcasing the area’s unique and musical heritage; ‘Round the Mountain, a regional network of more than 550 artisans, craft venues, and agritourism businesses. These initiative contributed to nearly $300 million increase in annual travel expenditures and significant growth in local lodging and meal tax revenues between 2008-2012.
In 2012, Friends of Southwest Virginia used ARC support through the POWER Initiative to continue support for the area’s outdoor recreation and tourism industries and develop a comprehensive branding strategy to promote the region’s natural and cultural assets as economic drivers. The plan includes coordinating initiatives, organizations and venues, engaged in cultural and natural heritage toward more efficient operations for all partner organizations; and executing needed capital improvements. Between 2012-2018, travelers to southwest Virginia spent a total of $1.1 billion. Meanwhile, 3,300 local jobs are associated with the area’s creative economy sector.