An Introduction to Rural Issues Across Virginia

In the future, we want to explore issues affecting rural Virginia. Some of the biggest issues include broadband access, economic development and transportation.

Here at Dogwood, we’ve written about other metropolitan areas in the state, such as the Northern Virginia area and Richmond. But what about everything else? The Commonwealth is not just part of the “DMV” corridor (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia), nor the East Coast, which is sometimes overlooked on maps. The Commonwealth has so many unique elements that rural areas are often overlooked.

What should we cover when it comes to rural areas? We want to hear from you. You can email [email protected] or [email protected] and share your thoughts!

For now, we’ve put together this little primer on the issues we know rural people face in the state, and we hope to eventually tackle more of these issues in the future.

Transportation

Getting from point A to point B can sometimes be very difficult, especially when you live in a city like Richmond where you are not allowed to turn left. We live in a society where there are more vehicles on the roads than ever before, many state bus systems have become free, and infrastructure is still a key talking point. As gas prices start to cause problems at the pumps, people have looked for other means of transportation. It’s easier when you’re in a metropolitan area where you have options.

One of the growing parts of Virginia’s transit system is the Virginia Breeze bus line, which offers routes connecting rural areas in the farthest points of southwestern Virginia to more metropolitan areas like Blacksburg, Northern Virginia and Washington, DC.

In rural areas, some people have to travel longer distances to access essential services, even if they have a reliable vehicle. If they don’t have a reliable vehicle, people have to rely on carpooling services – which can be expensive depending on the distance traveled – or people have to figure out their local public transport system, which might not be as reliable as they hoped so.

Earlier this year, the Virginia Department of Health posted a rural health plan on its website, examining the impacts of rural transportation systems on their respective communities. The Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis noted in its Rural Evaluation Brief that the rural population of the Commonwealth faces many transport challenges. One of the biggest challenges? A low population density combined with long travel distances creates an environment that can support and sustain the infrastructure of public transportation systems.

Many transit systems across the state also reported their findings. In areas served by JAUNT, Inc., including the City of Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson, people rely on JAUNT’s services to access essential services like appointments. you medical, work or even leisure destinations in a timely manner. It is estimated that the JAUNT fleet travels over two million miles each year.

Some rural communities lack the funds to maintain infrastructure, resulting in poor conditions for roads and bridges. In the Commonwealth, 577 bridges are considered “structurally deficient”, including Richmond’s Mayo Bridge.

Economic development

Business is booming in rural areas…in agriculture. Virginia’s rural lands offer picturesque views of farms, but businesses don’t just come to the area for the beauty. In recent years, there has been a boom in commercial hemp production, which has brought budding entrepreneurs and hemp processors to the area to settle. As Virginia works toward marijuana legal reform, hemp grown for agricultural and recreational purposes may help revitalize the economy in smaller areas.

Even as agricultural enterprises find their way into the state, the industrial sector, including manufacturing jobs, is in decline. Even though Virginia has been named one of the best states for business in recent years, the “brain drain” phenomenon has led people to leave their jobs in search of better opportunities in less rural locations, with better salaries and better benefits. . As people leave rural areas in search of better opportunities and jobs, rural areas are beginning to feel the impact, especially as skilled and talented workers leave the jobs that have revitalized smaller regions.

Casinos are another hot topic in rural economic development in Virginia. Bristol and Danville are two rural locations where casinos are expected to help boost the economy. Recently, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Bristol was awarded the Commonwealth’s first casino license by the Virginia Lottery Board. The full casino is scheduled to open in 2024, while a smaller version is scheduled to open in July.

Not only will casinos help create more jobs in rural areas, but they will also generate more revenue as people flock to them as a source of entertainment. On a related note, games of skill are still contested in Virginia, leaving local governments puzzled over how to regulate the devices, even though they helped generate $140 million in revenue. In 2020, a special tax was imposed on games of skill by the General Assembly, with funds going to a COVID relief fund, which has helped businesses stay open during times of uncertainty.

Broadband

During the pandemic, broadband access has become a pressing issue for citizens across the state. About 8% of Virginia homes are not connected to broadband, making it much harder to connect to school, work, and the world. Thanks to funds from the American Rescue Plan, as well as a commitment to have universal coverage by 2024, Virginia is on track to significantly improve its infrastructure. $722 million in funds announced by former Gov. Ralph Northam will help 70 communities across the state connect to the broadband expansion. Bridging the digital divide is a critical issue in rural communities, where a goal is in sight.

Virginia Tech has a Geospatial Information Technology Center, where research is underway to determine how to improve data collection and visualization tools. One of the tools the Center uses is the Commonwealth Connection, which helps visualize where high-speed Internet service is available, and will help state officials and consumers determine where the hottest broadband spots are. more reliable, as well as where they are lacking. . It’s a positive step towards giving localities access to the data needed to get funding for broadband infrastructure, as well as a better way to reach places that aren’t as connected.

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