Two new publications shed light on entrepreneurship-based economic development in Virginia

In today’s economic development environment, a variety of local, state and federal resources are available to support small businesses and entrepreneurs. However, the wide variety and geographical dispersion of agencies, programs and organizations providing services can prove confusing for even the savviest individuals and institutions. Here in Virginia, navigating the universe of economic development resources can be a challenge for even the savviest entrepreneurs and economic developers.

To help stem the confusion, I’ve published two new publications, via Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech, to provide insight and information to help increase understanding of these issues. The first – Creating Websites to Support Entrepreneurship: Insights from SourceLink Virginia – gives an overview of key regional, state and federal economic development services available in and around the state to support their small businesses. The second – Connecting to Economic Development Resources: A Guide for Virginia Entrepreneurs – provides a case-study of SourceLink Virginia, an online portal launched in 2014 to connect small businesses to resources, as an example of the kinds of information “one-stops,” “hubs” or “portals” launched by communities and states to support entrepreneurship-based economic development.

As always, feedback is greatly appreciated.


Localizing Global Urban Agenda in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


This is Part 3 of the VT Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability “Sustainable Cities” Blog Series.

By Conaway B. Haskins III

Independence Day 2019 provided me with a serendipitous opportunity: to leverage my family’s holiday vacation to Pittsburgh for exploring urban ecology issues. For four days, we walked, drove, and rode (multimodally) in and around the Steel City. My goal was to gain more insight into the on-the-ground reality of how this iconic American city is navigating dynamics of the globalization of urban sustainable development and emerging city governance networks within its local and regional context.

At present, Pittsburgh is home to just over 300,000 people; a steady decline from its mid-20th century high mark of 600,000 or more residents. The city anchors a growing metropolitan area of over two million. Just over two years ago, Pittsburgh found itself at the forefront of the national and international debate over President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement. As he defended this move as part of his “America First” policy, Trump quipped, “I was elected by the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” This sparked a sharp retort by the city’s current mayor, Bill Peduto, who stated via Twitter that “As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future.” Several days later, Peduto took things further by joining with Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris who also chairs the global C40 cities climate advocacy group, to announce that both cities would commit to curbing their global climate impacts. The two mayors proclaimed that, “the only way to do right by Pittsburghers and Parisians is to abide by the principles of the Paris Agreement, which guarantees the future health and prosperity of both of our cities—and every other city in the world.”

Later that year, Peduto announced the formation of OnePGH, a citywide strategy to generate “engaged, empowered and coordinated neighbors” for urban resilience. These moves positioned Peduto as one of the most visible American mayors on the climate change issue. It also helped Pittsburgh land a $2.5M 2018 Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge grant to strengthen its local leadership capacity to enact initiatives addressing global environmental issues in keeping with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Peduto committed the city to scaling renewable power via new community solar programs, increasing energy efficiency through new financing programs, implementing a new energy transparency benchmarking ordinance, and expanding bike and pedestrian infrastructure in priority areas in the city… all by 2020.

Local efforts: However, just two years after his Twitter battle with the President, Mayor Peduto stood in front of an audience gathered at Carnegie Mellon University to discuss the OnePGH initiative and acknowledged that the city faced a number of limits to acting on its own. To implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris-inspired changes “can’t happen under old models. Old models are city government,” he said. He announced that OnePGH—and presumably his global commitment—would shift from being a city-run initiative to a project under the auspices of a to-be-determined nonprofit model operating outside of government. According to media reports, his announcement caused a mix of confusion and opposition, including concerns that public functions would be driven by “elite, private interests.” This series of events demonstrates the highly complicated political, policy, and population challenges facing American cities that wish to align with the emerging global sustainable urbanization agenda of socializing the SDGs and Paris Climate Accord in their local environs.

Global cooperation: In 2015, the U.N. member nations agreed on seventeen goals to “guide global action on sustainable development until 2030.” With significant input from United Cities and Local Government, a century-old Barcelona-based NGO, the SDGs included Goal 11: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” This measure was interpreted as a recognition of the impact that urbanization has on development, and of the influence that local leaders can have on generating bottom-up change on a global scale. America’s cities have emerged as focal points for the Global Urban Agenda because of our country’s role as the second largest contributor to global carbon pollution and second largest consumer of energy on the planet. As a result, The U.S. Conference of Mayors has aligned its priorities with the SDGs, and over ninety U.S. cities have formally joined the effort to support the Paris Climate Agreement in the face of the federal government pullback.

Nonetheless, emerging research into these efforts demonstrates the complexities city leaders face in implementing substantive change, particularly when faced with the limitations on their abilities to govern in places beyond the boundaries of their legal jurisdiction. As in the comparative context, the political realities of local and regional government in the U.S. merit consideration, because they shape the prospect of pursuing and implementing interventions. Additionally, the unique dynamics of American social and political life raise concerns about the effectiveness of the Global Urban Agenda in the U.S. context, particularly for its aging cities in growing metropolises. For example, emerging research into Urban Metabolism (UM)—defined as “the sum total of the technical and socio-economic processes that occur in cities, resulting in growth, production of energy, and elimination of waste”—acknowledges that the bulk of future urban growth is projected to occur in cities of less than 500,000 inhabitants, and developed nations will have a much slower rate of growth compared to developing nations.

Limitations and opportunities: In the case of a city like Pittsburgh, which has experienced sustained and projected population decline over the past five decades, the issue of municipal power stopping at the city limits is of prime importance. The city proper comprises just thirteen percent of the metro area population; meaning that, to borrow a phrase from Pres. Trump, the mayor of Pittsburgh was elected by roughly 1/8 of Greater Pittsburgh. His power, and that of city government, effectively stops at the border where Pittsburgh City meets suburban Alleghany County. As a result, the municipality can only claim responsibility for, and legally act upon, the elements that fall inside the city proper (or within agreed-upon regional compacts), even though regional ecological influences prevail. Taking a cue from the literature, it is conceivable that the most effective means for Mayor Peduto to help Pittsburgh reach the SDGs and climate goals is to focus on measuring the city’s Urban Metabolism to assess its prospects for building a more Circular Economy (CE) dynamic, since sustainability requires decreasing reliance on external resources.

Global urban agenda policy priorities require a better process for setting goals and monitoring progress. It also necessitates better understanding, which may be gleaned by examining and integrating knowledge of the complexities of urban systems, particularly where data are more readily available. Cities like Pittsburgh house reams of public and private data that measure the crosscutting cultural, economic, political, and regulatory dimensions of their UM, and have the platforms communicating this information to the public. During my travels, evidence of early-stage public engagement efforts was visible in public spaces, such as local museums and major city intersections.

With eighty percent of the U.S. population currently living in urban or urbanizing areas, and projections for eighty percent of the rest of the world’s population to be effectively urbanized by 2050, it is clear that U.S. cities share responsibility for addressing sustainable development and climate change. Still, the realities of urban political life mean that socializing the global urban agenda likely requires a more workable set of models, strategies, and expectations.






SourceLink Virginia project coming to a close on July 15, 2019

It is with bittersweet feelings that we announce that the SourceLink Virginia project will formally come to a close on July 15, 2019. As a result, the main website ( and all of its underlying components will no longer be visible to the public after that time.

From its launch in 2014 by the Virginia Community Economic Network to its eventual transition to Virginia Cooperative Extension in 2016, SourceLink Virginia has been a valuable resource for communities and regions across the Commonwealth in their efforts to launch and grow entrepreneurship-based economic development activities. It is exciting to see the breadth and depth of startup ecosystems and small business supports that have grown and matured over that time in nearly every corner of the state. The website served over 50,000 users and generated thousands of online referrals to service providers such as your organization.

The landscape for entrepreneurship development and support in Virginia is quite different – in a good way – than it was when this project was initially launched, and it is good to know that SourceLink Virginia and its related initiatives played some part in these positive developments. Many thanks extend to the service providers, regional champions, funders, and others who contributed to the successful 5-year run of this initiative.

For those who are interested in leveraging the SourceLink platform to serve your community or region, feel free to reach out to Dara Macan with SourceLink national team in Kansas City. She is available to answer any questions and can be reached at

New Publication Covers Entrepreneurship-based Economic Development in Virginia

As local, state and national economies continue to recover from the Great Recession, community leaders are increasingly interested in how they can create support systems to help entrepreneurs launch, manage and grow their businesses to enhance economic vitality. More and more, attracting, retaining and expanding small businesses is becoming a mainstream economic development strategy.

“Growing Local Economies through Entrepreneurship: A Guide for Community Leaders” is a new publication from Virginia Cooperative Extension. It is designed to help local leaders in the government, nonprofit and business sectors better understand key terms and concepts to skillfully navigate this emerging field of policy and practice. It provides a primer for communities and regions who want to explore entrepreneurship-based economic development strategies but who may not know exactly where to start.

SourceLink Virginia at Four

In 2013, Virginia Community Economic Network (VCEN), a nonprofit education and networking organization, surveyed over 70 community & economic development professionals and statewide leaders in the Commonwealth to gauge their interests in various programs and services to support small businesses. Among the highest in-demand needs identified were:

  • Creating a website where individuals could find business building resource organizations in Virginia, searchable by geography and services offered
  • Creating a shared online calendar of trainings and community events, searchable by location
  • Creating an online directory of organizations involved in community development initiatives, searchable by location and category

In response to these and other related factors, in August 2014, VCEN launched the SourceLink Virginia online entrepreneurship portal found at:

In 2017, Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech took over responsibility for the project management of SourceLink Virginia and formally became an affiliate in 2018 with funding support from the BB&T Charitable Foundation and Wells Fargo Foundation. As a result, SourceLink Virginia is now an economic development initiative of Virginia Cooperative Extension.

During its first four years, SourceLink Virginia has been visited by over 15,000 users. Its four-year (9/1/14-8/31/18) site-traffic statistics are:

  • 15,415 unique visitors, 20,880 sessions, 51,019 page-views
  • Average session: 2 minutes, 19 seconds; 2.44 pages/session
  • Traffic: 89% new users, 11% returning users
  • Activity Sources: 54% Website Referrals, 23% Direct, 21% Organic Search, 2% Social Media

In a little over four years, SourceLink Virginia has emerged as a highly regarded web-based small business development information source – it is considered both a tool for entrepreneurs to help themselves as well as a tool for economic developers to better serve their clients. For more information on SourceLink Virginia, contact Conaway Haskins at or 804-527-4247.


Virginia innovator selected to lead national entrepreneurship organization

Larkin Garbee, co-founder of the 804RVA co-working space, has been named as the interim executive director of the Dallas-based Startup Champions Network, a nonprofit entrepreneurial advocacy and support organization. Garbee, a longtime Richmond resident, will lead the organization from her home-base in Richmond while the organization conducts a national search for a full-time CEO. She is an active leader in the Richmond area and has been recognized by state, national and global organizations.

Garbee has started and/or co-led a number of companies and initiatives including Lighthosue Labs, Startup Virginia, RVA MakerFest, and VCU’s new startup pre-accelerator program. She plans to bring lessons learned from her Richmond experiences to the national network. As she told the Richmond Times-Dispatch“I think Richmond is a testament to what it means when you have different stakeholders support innovation and entrepreneurship, so we see things like coworking spaces and incubators and accelerators going in these communities.”

The Startup Champions Network (SCN) is a national organization which aims to “provide builders of entrepreneurial ecosystems the connections, resources, and professional development they need to cultivate thriving and inclusive communities.” It was founded in 2014 to connect people, resources, and events around the nation to support their communities and their work. It has emerged as a leading proponent of the entrepreneurial ecosystem approach.

Last month, SCN announced a collaboration with Kansas City-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Kauffman awarded a grant to SCN to engage its network of innovation ecosystem builders to formalize and professionalize efforts around creating sustainable economic impact by supporting innovators and entrepreneurs in any community. This will help SCN strengthen its organizational structure to expand and deepen its communities of practice.

Valley TechCon launches on September 28

The new Valley TechCon kicks off on September 28 in Harrisonburg. This is the first annual convention for technology and innovation enthusiasts in the Shenandoah Valley. The event will bring together technologists, practitioners, researchers, and business leaders to facilitate idea sharing, collaboration, and innovation. Sessions will cover a broad spectrum of topics from autonomous vehicles to artificial intelligence. The goal is to inspire new ideas, improve business efficiency with emerging technologies, springboard new ventures, and expand networking opportunities.

Valley TechCon.18 was developed through a partnership between the public, private and academic sectors. Attendees will hear about exciting advances in artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, and cybersecurity from the minds of leading entrepreneurs across the region and faculty representing several of Virginia’s higher education institutions. The event will take place at Harrisonburg’s newest conference venue, Hotel Madison & Shenandoah Valley Conference Center, which is located a few minutes from I-81 within walking distance to Harrisonburg’s downtown.

DHCD awards $180K in grants to support local entrepreneurs

Governor Ralph Northam has announced that $180,000 in Community Business Launch (CBL) awards would be provided to the cities of Danville, Galax and Suffolk, as well as a joint partnership between the city of Covington and the town of Clifton Forge. These five communities will receive CBL funding to provide training to entrepreneurs and conduct business plan competitions that align with local and regional economic development strategies, primarily in Virginia’s downtown commercial districts.

The CBL program is implemented through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) with a goal of supporting localities in their efforts to create a productive environment for new businesses and jobs that support their vision for revitalization.

“Community Business Launch truly involves the community in identifying businesses needed in their downtowns and supporting the businesses beyond their grand opening,” said Governor Northam. “By combining training with a business plan competition, we are seeding and nurturing strong local entrepreneurial ecosystems that will support current and future small business growth.” CBL is designed to assist communities in taking a systems approach to defining and pursuing an asset-based small business development strategy.

Since 2014, $1.26 million in CBL funds have been awarded to 19 communities serving more than 370 participating entrepreneurs across Virginia. In total, CBL has garnered more than $1.4 million in private investment, with more than 125 new full-time jobs created and at least 60 jobs retained.

“Community Business Launch is a resourceful program that offers training to entrepreneurs to prepare small business owners for the rigors of operating in today’s rapidly changing commercial climate,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “We look forward to new businesses opening and current businesses expanding throughout these communities that will only enhance the vibrancy and quality of life in each of these downtown districts.”

SourceLink Virginia features new startup guide

The Virginia Cooperative Extension “Question and Answer Guide to Starting and Growing Your Small Business” (first published in 2013) has been updated and reformatted to serve as the SourceLink Virginia startup guide. It is not intended to replace or duplicate existing resources or to serve as a comprehensive resource for entrepreneurs. The Guide does provide initial information and resources for basic questions that entrepreneurs may have.

It is a compilation of selected information from a number of existing resources and publications of Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity, SCORE, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and other sources as referenced.

Virginia Tech to host Ninth Annual Global Entrepreneur Challenge

The Virginia Tech Ninth Annual Global Entrepreneur Challenge, August 16-25, 2018, offers elite students teams and university representatives from all over the world a chance to collaborate, form partnerships, and build their global networks.  All student participants will experience Washington, D.C., through tours and sightseeing trips to museums and monuments, as well as a week-long celebration of entrepreneurship hosted in Blacksburg, Virginia, USA.

Elite student teams will present their business concepts for a $30,000 grand prize as they compete in the Global Entrepreneur Challenge. Faculty and staff delegates charged with building institutional bridges to other universities around the globe gather together for university-to-university networking opportunities and brainstorming sessions to explore future collaboration and partnership. The annual Global E Challenge promotes an ongoing cooperative association of regions building social and academic relationships with each other, honoring their mutual best interests.

Learn more about this year’s global partners and competing finalist teams.

High level summaries and other resources.