City of Lynchburg Releases Five-Year Strategic Plan for Growth

Creating an effective plan for the future requires two key elements: awareness and foresight. The first, to know where you currently are and why. The second, to know where you should be going and how.

Over the last year, the City of Lynchburg’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism worked with Steven Pedigo, a nationally recognized economic development strategy consultant and professor at NYU, to create “A Blueprint for Opportunity,” which provides compelling action items for the City to undertake from 2019-2023.

Data analysis was coupled with input from business owners, stakeholders, and community members to provide the necessary context for interpreting and leveraging the statistical information.

“We didn’t do this in a vacuum,” Marjette Upshur, Director of the Office of Economic Development and Tourism, says. “We did this with as many people as we could get…this is trying to capture what’s going on in the world that could work here, but we are also really lasering in on our backyard.”

According to the plan which was released in late September, “success is built on five key priorities: growing local businesses, engaging anchor institutions, filling workforce pipelines, enhancing quality of place, and communicating Lynchburg’s story to the world.” Then, the findings specific to Lynchburg were interpreted within these five priorities and developed into measurable action items.

Of note is that the plan is not a static report. Rather, as Upshur points out, “This is a ‘living plan,’” which means that the action items will be implemented and measured against set metrics. “[Pedigo] is continuing to work with us on implementation,” Upshur says. “That’s what I’m really excited about because it’s not just lines on the page…part of what we’re doing is we’re constantly evaluating and adjusting” over the course of the next five years.

Progress in that timeframe also requires continued cooperation. The plan states that “a successful economic development strategy hinges on collaboration between a number of engaged partners and organizations.”

Dustin Slightham, CEO of 434 Marketing and a steering committee member for the Blueprint, believes business owners can benefit from the plan, which he encourages them to read and implement, saying the industry clusters defined in the plan have already helped his business to “identify potential areas to gain industry knowledge and better service these groups.”

Slightham adds that he was pleasantly surprised by the “emphasis of ‘community’ envisioned by many of the business owners [here]; to me this said: ‘Hey, we aren’t solely interested in money; we are interested in making a great community, one that creates opportunity to all.’”

One of the action items Slightham says they’ll be adopting at 434 Marketing is skill and talent development; he says they’re already working to connect the industry cluster they belong to (Advertising, Marketing and Design Services) to the budding young talent in the city. This response is exactly what the plan is meant to instigate—one of informed action.

The data presented to the steering committee throughout the research phase was used to inform the discussions, so those interviewed “mirrored back to us how these things did or did not impact them,” Upshur says. “This is an action plan; it galvanizes the business community and citizens to walk forward.”

The 5-Year Strategy

A set of eight defined values—such as “Focus on Family-Wage Jobs” and “Maximize Urban Potential in a Rural Community”—were used in conjunction with seven guiding principles—such as “Leverage and Engage Anchor Institutions” and “Promote and Develop Place”—to inform the plan’s five specific goals, each with their own set of objectives and action items; it is these points that can be tracked and assessed as time goes on.

Goal 1, to “Expand and Support Lynchburg’s Existing Company Foundation,” outlines five target industry clusters with five objectives for growth and then multiple action items that stem from there. The plan states that Lynchburg’s “manufacturing skill base is 42 percent larger than the U.S. average [with] an estimated 17 Metal and Machinery firms.” There is also a “consistent number of firms offering Conveyor Systems and Moving Equipment Manufacturing expertise (4 firms over the past five years)” with “434 workers employed in Conveyor Systems and Moving Equipment—an increase of 14.8 percent since 2012.”

Upshur says they are “wanting to become industry experts” to grow this existing cluster. And Pedigo adds, “It’s important to understand metals and manufacturing is extremely important to the Lynchburg economy; how do we protect those jobs and grow that job base? If we want to provide family wage jobs, we have to protect that sector.”

The focus is on “combining traditional manufacturing with advanced capabilities,” thus keeping pace with advances in the coming years. An associated part of that process is a skills pipeline, talent acquisition and retention.

Nuclear Technology is another strongly represented industry cluster with a presence 34 percent greater than the U.S. average; right now, it’s a “strong export cluster with the potential to position Lynchburg as a center for new and emerging technologies,” the plan states.

In a video produced in conjunction with the Blueprint, President and CEO of BWXT, Rex Geveden, says that Lynchburg is “home to two of the four most important nuclear companies in the United States—one being BWXT and the other being Framatome. One of the reasons we like being here is that there’s a real pool of talent for doing nuclear work…a surprisingly large talent pool…it’s a little bit of a hidden secret.”

Goal 2 focuses on anchor institutions such as Centra Health, Liberty University and the University of Lynchburg, which are among the largest employers in the City and also contribute to both the development of a skilled workforce and downtown areas. Pedigo says there are many advantages of a “shared partnership” for the city and these anchor institutions; the key is to find what works for all. Upshur says the focus is to find areas of intersection, such as Liberty hosting the Commonwealth Games and The Miss Virginia Pageant; “these are all great things,” she says, “and an anchor strategy.”

Goals 3, 4 and 5 focus on skill development, placemaking strategy and developing a competitive identity for Lynchburg. These goals will demand a level of collaboration among City officials, business owners, tourism organizations and anchor institutions both to grow what Lynchburg has locally and to tell its story in a way that attracts and retains talent.

“When I look through this,” Upshur says, “One of the things I’m really proud of is the values [and] if you can extrapolate the tagline, if you really think through what those values are, that’s a place I want to live and work.”

Upshur adds that their office is a City department, available “to anybody no matter how small.” She encourages business owners to be aware and to engage. “Most programs [including this plan] are a direct result of the engagement we had from businesses small and large.”