The Region 2000 partnership is not just promoting economic development in Central Virginia, it is also LEEDing by example. While focusing on sustainable work force development to grow wealth and opportunity in Lynchburg and the surrounding two thousand miles, their Economic Development Council also plans to build the New London Business and Technology Center to serve existing wireless and nuclear energy business.
Bryan David, Executive Director of Region 2000, says that “because [the center] is about energy, we need to get it right on energy conservation.” He adds that they plan to be “respectful of the existing environment and let the land do the planning.” The Council aspires to receive the silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which is the recognized standard for measuring building sustainability. Designers can achieve different levels of certification to prove that a building is truly “green.”
The bottom line for developers, however, is always the elimination of risk and the promise of a return on their investments. David says Region 2000 wants to “lead by example” to show others that sustainable development can “save money by saving energy.” Green construction practices can increase profitability, while reducing negative environmental impacts and improving occupant well-being. There are a number of growing state and local government incentives for building green, and a proven benefit in the promotion of new projects due to a boosted interest by the press and the community.
At the recent Sustainable Development Institute seminar series hosted by the Greater Lynchburg Environmental Network (GLEN), David spoke passionately about his belief that the Lynchburg area is a great location to live and invest in business. He calls it a “metro area”, near major cities but not split between them. Another area asset he points to is connectivity, decent roads, railroads, and an airport, which makes travel and transport convenient. In addition, David feels the relatively low cost of living, the established and diverse mix of businesses, and the primary industry clusters should help keep the economy in this area fairly stable.
The April 2008 Forbes issue rated Lynchburg twenty-forth in the nation in their “Best Places for Businesses and Careers” survey, behind the number one ranked Raleigh, North Carolina, but surprisingly ahead of places like Charlotte and Austin, Texas. David says, “We are starting to get on people’s radar screens. People are looking to come here.” With a population growth of 8% in Lynchburg, and a staggering 46% in Bedford County since 1990, the numbers agree. David says this trend is expected to continue at least until the year 2013.
Although economic growth and the development of SMART jobs bring people to the area, one must take into account the other reasons people are drawn here. David himself points to “clean air, clean water” and easily accessed recreation areas for hiking and biking. National Geographic Adventure listed Lynchburg sixth of its top fifty “Best Places to Live + Play: Small Towns.” Why? They say it exudes “pure southern charm,” and features natural resources like the hundred-mile swath of national forest, rivers, recreational areas, and accessibility to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Peaks of Otter. People are not coming here just for the jobs, so to allow unchecked development without some measure of thought for preserving the environment just wouldn’t be smart.
The town of Forest, just outside of Lynchburg and until recently a quiet, rural area of farms, dirt roads, and one-lane bridges, is a prime example. It is now difficult to know where Lynchburg ends and Forest begins. Long-time residents often joke that the town should consider renaming itself Pavement. Large farms owned by families for generations are regularly sold to make way for more office complexes, condominiums, and housing developments. Jefferson Forest High School, which just finished a large-scale renovation last year, is already outgrowing the new buildings. David says that people love the region, often staying even when businesses have closed and jobs are lost, but he agrees that we must make sure we “don’t love it to death” by allowing growth to continue without forethought for sustainability both economically and environmentally.
GLEN and Region 2000 will continue to work together toward even smarter sustainable economic development practices. One promising goal is the Region 2000 plan to “create a Research and Design University” through partnerships with existing education facilities in the area. This initiative will allow our smartest thinkers, those who also have access to the latest information, to complete applied research on new energy, communications, and conservation technologies. Together, these thinkers can look for ways to solve problems such as our existing and largely unsustainable model of retail development. In addition, Region 2000 plans to set an example for area developers and show them the benefits of favoring sustainable building and business practices, by which SMART jobs can also become green jobs.
To learn more about sustainable development in Central Virginia, and particularly what area churches are doing to teach conservation and environmentalism, join GLEN at the next Spring Seminar Series in the Region 2000 Conference Room on April 15th. Bring a lunch to the 12th floor of the Bank of the James Building, 828 Main Street in downtown Lynchburg from 12 to 1 pm. For more information on GLEN or Region 2000, go here and consider joining the GLEN list to keep up with all things environmental in Central Virginia.