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UMW vows to help drive economic development

September 27, 2011 12:15 am


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The University of Mary Washington will be a key partner in efforts to spur regional economic development, UMW President Rick Hurley told about 150 area business and government leaders yesterday at a conference on the university's Stafford County campus.

"The Rappahannock region is poised for a bright future," Hurley said. "By working together, we can ensure this prosperity."

Hurley's remarks kicked off a half-day conference that featured speeches from Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and former Virginia Commonwealth University President Eugene Trani.

Hurley, who will be officially inaugurated as UMW's president Friday, has made it a top priority for the university to play a leading role in the area's economic development efforts. He said the institution cannot be set apart or insular.

This past summer, Hurley announced the creation of the University Center for Economic Development, which will be at UMW's Eagle Village complex across U.S. 1 from the Fredericksburg campus. The Fredericksburg Regional Alliance, UMW Small Business Development Center and the Rappahannock Economic Development Corp. will all be affiliated with the center and also locate at Eagle Village.

Trani's keynote focused on the need for universities to be entrepreneurial and engaged in their communities. He was president of VCU from 1990 until 2009, during which time the university transformed its area of Broad Street into a thriving mixed-use corridor that includes a mix of retailers, university facilities and apartments. VCU has also partnered with the private sector on the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park, home to thousands of scientists, engineers and researchers.

Trani also stressed the importance of universities maintaining good relationships with surrounding residents. It helps to create facilities that the public can use, he said.

Bolling, whose main focus in office has been bringing jobs to Virginia, also discussed the importance of colleges and universities. He said employers considering Virginia always ask about the training of the potential workforce.

"Universities in and of themselves are an economic driver," Bolling said.

Union First Market Bankshares CEO William Beale, who was one of the panelists yesterday, said UMW can help diversify the region's economy away from a reliance on federal spending.

Lynne Richardson, dean of UMW's College of Business, said she wants her school to be "in bed with the business community" to create more opportunities for students. Brian Baker's Small Business Development Center and business professors want to help area firms grow.

Hurley noted that UMW is a regional entity that can unite individual localities competing for economic development. Fredericksburg Regional Alliance President Gene Bailey agreed.

"We move forward, absolutely, as a region," Bailey said.

UMW has already gotten actively involved in area economic development. Its Eagle Village development has transformed that area of U.S. 1 in the city. Its graduate school in the Dahlgren area of King George County will open in January.

The university is working with officials from Stafford, Germanna Community College and others on a research and education center in North Stafford. Plans are in the works for a similar collaboration in Spotsylvania County.

Economic development is a "cooperative effort," Hurley told attendees at the end of yesterday's conference.

"The University of Mary Washington stands ready to assist with these efforts," Hurley said.

Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405

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