You know an event is a success when the speakers stay the entire time to engage with attendees and to learn from other presenters. That’s what happened at the VACo County Officials’ Summit on August 18.
Approximately 200 local leaders from around the state attended the Summit, which was held at the beautiful and very functional Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center. A vibrant exhibit hall greeted attendees as they started the day.
VACo President Meg Bohmke kicked off the event by introducing Roanoke County Chairman Paul Mahoney to welcome folks to the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains. Chairman Mahoney talked about life in the area and the growth of the community.
The first speaker to take the stage was Cardinal News Editor Dwayne Yancey, who worked 39 years as a reporter and columnist for the Roanoke Times. Yancey knows the area and knows state and regional journalism. He spoke about why Virginia’s media landscape is changing, and why there may no longer be a reporter covering your county. He also spoke about the future of nonprofit, online-only entities that have sprung up, and their role in the coverage of Virginia politics and government.
Mental health issues have been discussed numerous times at VACo Regional Meetings. Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Commissioner Nelson Smith graciously accepted an invitation to address these issues.
Commissioner Smith outlined the impact of the pandemic on behavioral health, discussed efforts to prevent and treat substance use disorder, and talked about the charge to enhance Virginia’s crisis system and address state hospital capacity to serve individuals who are subject to Temporary Detention Orders (TDOs). Commissioner Smith shared information about a pilot program through which the department is providing payments to off-duty law enforcement to maintain custody of individuals who are under TDOs.
After a break to thank our amazing sponsors like Lumos, ColonialWebb, TSI, and Visit Richmond, it was time for administration secretaries to share their agency’s legislative news and priorities.
Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matt Lohr spoke about the importance of agriculture and forestry to Virginia’s economy, and how it intersects with local economies. He provided details on how programs such as the governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund grant program support local initiatives to build agriculture and forestry in districts.
Deputy Secretary of Education McKenzie Snow pulled double duty – as a Summit speaker as well as an attendee at the VACo Education Steering Committee. The Deputy Secretary’s remarks focused on the historic investments made by the General Assembly and the Governor in K-12 education funding such as new school construction and renovation resources as well as partial restoration of support position funding. The Deputy Secretary also delved into challenging topics such as student learning loss and teacher recruitment and retention. Deputy Secretary Snow was representing Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera.
Another break allowed VACo to thank more incredible sponsors – Energix Renewables, AES, and American Public University.
Virginia Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Jason El Koubi closed out the Summit by discussing areas of focus and target industries for VEDP, by highlighting some recent economic development wins and by reporting on investments in the recently finalized state budget. El Koubi also outlined VEDP’s goals for the Commonwealth, which include robust state job growth, working to make Virginia the best state for business, ensuring VEDP is one of the nation’s most effective economic development organizations, and focusing on partnerships.
President Bohmke adjourned the meeting by thanking more terrific sponsors – Dominion Energy, VAcorp, and Blue Line Solutions. President Bohmke also showed appreciation to the event speakers, who were still in attendance and connecting with VACo members.