Workforce development key issue for Southwest Virginia’s future economic growth

Abingdon, VA (August 5, 2019) – Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin visited Southwest Virginia today to learn more about educational and workforce development opportunities that can help benefit the regional economy.  Barkin and others from the Richmond Fed met with leaders from Southwest Virginia to discuss United Way of Southwest Virginia’s signature youth workforce development initiative, Ignite.

“Our visit to Southwest Virginia is part of our ongoing work to understand economic conditions in the region we serve,” Barkin said. “We want to hear from people about the issues facing community and business leaders that affect the local workforce. It’s encouraging to hear about initiatives such as United Way of Southwest Virginia’s Ignite Program and how communities are working to improve opportunities for students, who will be the workforce of tomorrow.”

The Ignite Program sparks career interest in the next generation of Southwest Virginia’s workforce through career awareness and skill development. The program helps bridge the gap between the worlds of learning and work by connecting schools and students with employers and employees. This summer the Ignite Program connected 38 students to internship opportunities with local employers, helping students build their employability skills including teamwork, communication, and professionalism.

“According to the Virginia Department of Education, fewer than ½ of high school graduates in Southwest Virginia go on to technical training, two-year/four-year higher education or the military,” said Travis Staton, president and ceo of United Way of Southwest Virginia.  “Our goal is to increase the number of students who go on to receive technical training, enter the workforce, or attend college.  This is critical so that students from our region are prepared for the changing global economy and a more competitive job market.”

Barkin added, “In my conversations throughout the region, I hear that workers and employers are both facing a growing skills gap in the labor market. Employers are struggling to find workers with the new and expanding skill sets required in a changing economy, and it can be difficult for workers to assess which skills are in demand, or the potential returns of training programs.”


Leann Vernon, Director of Accountability and Strategic Impact
United Way of Southwest Virginia

Jim Strader, Media Relations
Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond
804-332-0207 mobile


United Way of Southwest Virginia fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Southwest Virginia because they are the building blocks for a good quality of life.  Through an initiative-based cradle-to-career approach, United Way of Southwest Virginia is creating sustainable solutions to address the challenges facing tomorrow’s workforce. United Way convenes cross-sector partners to make an impact on the most complex problems in our region. Through collaboration with government, business, nonprofit and individuals, United Way innovates for positive, lasting social change.  With a footprint that covers nearly 20% of the state of Virginia, United Way of Southwest Virginia programs and initiatives serve the counties of Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Floyd, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Montgomery, Pulaski, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise, and Wythe, and the cities of Bristol, Galax, Norton, and Radford.  For more information about United Way of Southwest Virginia, visit


As part of our nation’s central bank, the Richmond Fed is one of 12 regional Reserve Banks working together with the Board of Governors to support a healthy economy and deliver on our mission to foster economic stability and strength. We connect with community and business leaders across the Fifth Federal Reserve District — including the Carolinas, District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and most of West Virginia — to monitor economic conditions, address issues facing our communities, and share this information with monetary and financial policymakers. We also work with banks to ensure they are operating safely and soundly, supply financial institutions with currency that’s fit for distribution, and provide a safe and efficient way to transfer funds through our nation’s payments system.