In the News

Haskins leads network to push economic development and entrepreneurship

By Susan Smigielski Acker
Correspondent
Inside Business – the Hampton Roads Business Journal

Feb. 14, 2014

Conaway B. Haskins III was recently named the first executive director of the Virginia Community Economic Network.

Organized in 2013, the network is an alliance of private and public sector as well as for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

The network was created to encourage economic development and entrepreneurship in Virginia.

There are 12 founding organizations that supported the creation of the network.

They include organizations such as Capital One Corp., the Virginia Business Incubation Association and Virginia Tourism Corp.

“I’m honored that the VCEN board chose me as their first executive director,” Haskins said.

A native of Lunenburg County, Haskins was executive director of Government and External Affairs at Virginia State University.

His resume also includes project director at the Council of Foundations, state director for former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb and senior program officer for the Cameron Foundation in Petersburg.

Haskins talked in a recent interview about his new position and what he hopes the network can accomplish.

What attracted you to the position?

I like the idea of combining resources and working with various groups such as businesses and nonprofits.

This is truly a unique opportunity for me to work with the board and our partners to help move the needle on innovative community economic development efforts.

What are your goals for the organization?

Our overall goals are to help small businesses grow especially in Virginia’s downtown areas.

There are many historic Main Streets and downtowns. There are many hidden gems such as downtown Luray.

We would like to bring revenue to those types of areas.

We also want to support entrepreneurs.To do that, a goal is to develop and use the SourceLink program found at www.ussourcelink.com.

It was started in Kansas City in 2003.

It will be an online database for businesses in Virginia to look at for various resources to help businesses with needs such as financing.

This will be available not only to existing businesses but also emerging businesses that are in business incubators.

It will give businesses and other organizations a chance to learn from each other, to network and to share best practices.

The second goal is to establish an annual statewide conference to get together and share common interests in trying to help small businesses, entrepreneurs and revitalization. We will have speakers who will share best practices and success stories.

It will be an opportunity to share resources. The conference will be June 2 to June 4 in Roanoke.

Finally, we hope to inform policymakers about the contribution of small businesses and community economic development to the growth of a vibrant Virginia economy.

Why have such an organization?

There are a lot of great community economic and entrepreneurship development initiatives active across Virginia, and we hope to provide a forum through which those groups can raise awareness of the impact of their work.

What do you see as the strong points for the Hampton Roads area?

Hampton Roads has a diverse economy. There are a lot of different organizations and businesses that can be useful for helping other areas in revitalization.

And I think there is good potential in areas that need help such as the Fort Monroe area.

In what ways will you be working with community and business leaders here?

Because VCEN is a new organization, we’re very interested in collaborating with new partners.

We look forward to continuing our outreach to practitioners and organizations working in downtown revitalization, community development finance and entrepreneurship promotion from all corners of Hampton Roads including the Peninsula, the Southside and the Eastern Shore.

We will be working with Hampton Roads to develop SourceLink at no cost.

There can be competition among areas in Virginia for dollars. How will this be handled?

For my part, I will be working to get people together. Competition can be good, but we need to figure our common ground and improve our state.

I believe it is better to get together rather than have competition.

There are a variety of resources out there that can be shared among areas. I think we can do better if we are open to ideas and connecting groups.

What are the long-term goals?

To bring together resources and to make an impact. I am very excited about VCEN’s future, and I look forward to collaborating with partners from every corner of Virginia.

For more information visit www.vcen.org


Webb loses state director

by Anita Kumar

Washington Post

April 14, 2011

We hear that retiring U.S. Sen. Jim Webb (D) is losing a key staffer.

Conaway Haskins, who serves as Webb’s state director, is leaving to be the project director for the National Fund for Workforce Solutions at the Council on Foundations. He will leave next month.

Virginia’s senior senator is looking to move Louise Ware, who was his first state director when he was sworn into office in 2007, back into the state director position, Webb spokesman Will Jenkins tells us.

She previously served at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as commissioner of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and director of the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation.

The state director oversees offices in Richmond, Fairfax, Danville, Virginia Beach, Norton and Roanoke and works with local and state government officials.

This post has been updated since it was first published.


Deblogged: Political Junkies
Style Weekly
Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Two mainstay politically based rants of the Virginia blogosphere have gone silent.

Norman Leahy and Conaway B. Haskins III, better known as One Man’s Trash and South of the James, respectively, dialed off after the first of the year, citing … well, frankly, better things to do.

For Leahy, commenting “essentially in a vacuum” for more than four years had taken its toll. “You just come to a point — it’s just time to sit back and figure out what I want to do next,” says Leahy, who maintained his site between time with his family and full-time employment as a copywriter.

Though he may have felt occasionally alone, Leahy’s conservative monologue drew 400 to 500 readers daily and was once called “a hoot” by Times-Dispatch political writer Jeff Schapiro.

Withdrawing his voice has drawn a flurry of calls, e-mails and letters. “I didn’t realize that leaving would create this minor stir,” Leahy says. “For the longest time I thought my only regular reader was my wife — and she had to be prompted.”

Friends called wondering about the “real story,” he says. “I was like, gee, I need to come up with some nefarious story about what happened to me.”

Put simply, he felt finished with One Man’s Trash — and a bit burned out on the most recent election cycle, which Leahy says involved too much mudslinging among fellow bloggers.

The end of South of the James appears also to have been driven largely by increased outside obligations.
Haskins, in his final post Jan. 4, begged his leave with inferences to a change in employment status — presumably for the better. Haskins, who has also written for Style, recently took a new job as state deputy director of constituent casework for Sen. Jim Webb. He writes that new endeavors require his “attention and energy,” and that ending his blog is “something that I choose eagerly as there are many new roads ahead.”

But is there ever truly an end for a political wonk with a need to vent? Probably not, if Leahy’s possible plans are any indication. He says he’s entertaining offers from a number of online publications, all “hyper-secret,” he says, that likely will allow his ravings to remain part of the broader Virginia political discourse.

In fact, Leahy says, he expects to be back somehow for the 2008 primaries, “working hard on my carpal tunnel.”


I’ve Got Something to Say

By Elyse Reel

Village News

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

These days, it’s hard to keep from getting burned out on politics. We’re constantly bombarded with stories of scandals and spin control, of the liar from one party and the sleazebag from another. No one is trustworthy and everyone’s an idiot, and whatever real issues there may be get buried in an endless cycle of mudslinging and partisan sniping.

Enter blogs.

Blogs – short for weblogs – are online journals, filled with the thoughts and opinions of their authors. Comparatively speaking, they’re still fairly new, having begun as a handful of Internet sites in 1997 and 1998; now, though, it’s possible to find a blog for anything from fashion to pets to the daily life of Joe Schmoe of Anytown, U.S.A. And, of course, there are plenty of political blogs.

Across the state, Virginians log onto sites like Bacon’s Rebellion (http://www.baconsrebellion.com) and South of the James (http://www.southofthejames.wordpress.com) to help figure out the tangled mess of today’s government.

Jim Bacon, who runs Bacon’s Rebellion, first began publishing his political opinions as a Web site and electronic newsletter. “The blog came later, in January 2005,” he says. “I’d been reading some national blogs, but never thought of blogging myself. But then a number of Virginia political blogs began popping up. They gained traction a lot faster than my newsletter had. I figured I’d better give it a try.” Now Bacon’s Rebellion is a Web site, blog and e-newsletter all in one.

“Basically, I got tired of yelling at what I saw on TV or what I read in the newspapers, and I didn’t hear anyone expressing opinions that I had,” says Conaway B. Haskins III, of South of the James. He set up his blog, and thanks to a mention on Bacon’s Rebellion, it quickly began to gain momentum. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how far it went in a short time.”

While Haskins has covered and will cover elections – the Nov. 7 Senate race and the upcoming General Assembly session and subsequent 2007 elections, to mention a few – Bacon mostly steers clear. “I did not follow the Nov. 7 elections that closely,” he admits. “The impact we’ve [Bacon’s Rebellion] had, I believe, is in influencing the debate over growth, transportation and land use in Virginia. We are the only media of any kind writing about the issues in depth,” he says. “For many, we are a ‘must-read.’”

Bacon supplements his own opinion with columns from “Wonks” (his name for guest writers), including writing from Haskins. The two bloggers maintain a good relationship; Haskins refers to Bacon as “a great editor, mentor and friend,” and Bacon calls Haskins “talented [and] thoughtful . . . . Who knows, he may even make the jump to the mainstream media one day.”

And what of the mainstream media’s thoughts on blogging? “My sense is that mainstream media journalists tend to look down upon bloggers as a breed – they’re not journalists — yet regard blogs as a window into popular opinion. Journalists consult blogs to see what’s ‘hot,’” says Bacon. Haskins notes the media’s rush to jump on the blogging bandwagon: “Newspapers have started blogs, campaigns employ bloggers and a lot of politicians blog anonymously or are avid blog readers . . . . Politicians . . . have seen the effectiveness of blogging as a tool for their own advancement.”

Clearly, then, blogging isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. “Blogs are a permanent feature of the media constellation. They eliminate the chokehold that professional journalists and editors have over the dissemination of opinion,” Bacon says. Haskins adds. “The medium will probably stick around,” he says, but agrees that with blogging’s move into the mainstream, “we’re part of the wallpaper now.”

Haskins doesn’t fool himself into thinking that he’ll forever be part of that wallpaper, having watched some of Virginia’s biggest bloggers come and go. “When I believe that I can better serve in some other manner, I’ll step aside also,” he says.

If he and the current generation of bloggers step aside, however, it’s a sure bet that a new one will instantly spring up to take their places. Blogging is becoming a bigger and bigger phenomenon, and everybody’s got something to say.

© Copyright by Village Publishing


The many faces of Va. Bloggers: The Web gives them a way to air their views and raise some issues

By Julian Walker and Meredith Bonny

Richmond Times-Dispatch

Sunday, July 2, 2006

As there are for most everyone, political bloggers have their own stereotypes.

One of the most common is that of an unkempt white male, typically in his 20s, who spends countless hours every day in front of a computer, churning out opinion articles and ruminations about the latest headlines.

In other words, a tech-savvy hermit.

Conaway B. Haskins III, 29, is none of those things.

He spends only a few hours a day working on his blog, doesn’t suffer computer withdrawal and admits that he isn’t exactly a techie. Oh, and by the way, he’s black.

But Haskins is a part of Virginia’s burgeoning blogging community.

In less than one year, his Chesterfield County-based South of the James blog has become fertile ground for those who want to vent about everything from local government to national politics.

He describes his blog this way: “Random acts of journalism and frequent bouts of punditry on culture, media, politics, sports, and African-American life in Metro Richmond, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the United States, and the world beyond.”

Haskins’ site, www.southofthejames.com, averages more than 150 hits (that’s visits) daily and is fast becoming a forum for Chesterfield residents who want to vent about their government.

It’s precisely for that reason that Haskins channeled his energy into a blog.

“My wife got tired of me yelling at the TV and newspaper,” he said with a chuckle.

Haskins has a history in journalism dating to his days as an undergraduate at George Mason University, where he worked on the student newspaper.

A Lunenburg County native, Haskins also worked as an editor for a student-published urban planning journal while earning a graduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Though he doesn’t view bloggers as traditional journalists, he believes there is room at the media table for bloggers.

“Virginia’s blogging community has sort of taken off,” he said. “I think it’s honestly because traditional media outlets have left a lot on the table. The economics of the media is driving blogging. There’s a vacuum, and we can step into it.”

The reaction to bloggers from the mainstream media has been mixed – some outlets have accepted the format and incorporated it into their product offerings; others see blogs almost as an illegitimate child.

But the movement is rapidly gaining steam, and recognition.

Blogger James A. Bacon is a former editor and publisher of Virginia Business magazine (a sister publication to the Media General-owned Richmond Times-Dispatch) who now runs the Bacon’s Rebellion blog and online magazine (www.baconsrebellion.com). He notes that prominent state politicos, including Lt. Governor Bill Bolling and Attorney General Bob McDonnell, have held blog conferences.

Bacon, a Henrico County resident, said blogs “provide a means for elected officials to bypass the mainstream media and communicate with a connected, savvy audience” and they “have the power to elevate in importance a story that the mainstream media had been overlooking.”

Bloggers are also finding strength in numbers, as evidenced by the turnout at the recent Summit on Blogging and Democracy in the Commonwealth, held June 16-17 at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

But blogs also have their weaknesses, one of which is that “most are run as a sideline,” according to Bacon, who started his blog in January 2005.

“For some bloggers, it’s a very passionate sideline. But few make a living at it, which means that many blogs blink in and out of existence. But the best blogs have staying power,” he added.

Those same weaknesses can also be advantages though.

Haskins said his costs are low – most of the software he uses is free – and his only boss is himself, and his wife, Erika, of course.

It was through a link to free blog software that was posted on South of the James that Chesterfield housewife Andrea Epps joined the blogging revolution.

She sees her Shape of the Future blog (www.shapeofthefuture.blogspot.com), which has been operating since February, as “a good source of information for anyone that would be interested in land use” and a forum for “people that are not journalists to express their opinions.”

While popular with political junkies, policy wonks and citizens activists, blogs haven’t caught on in all corners just yet.

Though Chesterfield happenings are often a topic on South of the James and Shape of the Future, county spokesman Don Kappel says he has not made a habit of monitoring them as he does the mainstream media.

To Marleen Durfee, executive director of the Responsible Growth Alliance of Chesterfield County, blogs can be positive tools.

“Blogging can get individuals energized to participate on issues that affect their quality of life,” she said.

Haskins, who is a member of the Responsible Growth Alliance, also runs Open Forum (http://responsiblegrowth.blogspot.com/), a blog for that citizen group.

One challenge that bloggers like Bacon and Haskins think members of their community must confront is the adoption of a code of ethics, akin to the rules of journalism, as the format evolves.

Frosty Landon, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, is one person who is watching with keen interest as local blogs develop.

“I think it’s got all kinds of potential for being a good thing,” he said. “I think the more credible information the public can get the better. Access to government is better for everybody. The question is: How will they evolve? There are good blogs and bad ones.

“We’ll see how it all shakes out.”

Contact staff writer Julian Walker at jwalker@timesdispatch.com or (804) 649-6831.

Contact staff writer Meredith Bonny at mbonny@timesdispatch.com or (804) 649-6452.