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Economic Growth and Diversification through Collaboration

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Agricultural Enterprise Center

“A shared-use facility such as the Agricultural Enterprise Center would remove some tremendous expenses and challenges met by new and growing food businesses in the Shenandoah Valley. It also has the potential to encourage growth in value-added products and bridge the distribution gap between source and finished goods,” says Staunton-based chef and Lundch restaurant owner, Mike Lund.

Press Release

Feasibility Study for a shared-use Agricultural Enterprise Center in the Shenandoah Valley Begins

The Agricultural Enterprise Center Feasibility Study will determine if a certified, commercial, shared-use facility in the central Shenandoah Valley is possible, practical and viable. If brought to fruition, this multi-use facility is expected to support the region’s many small to mid-size agricultural businesses and entrepreneurs by expanding market reach and reducing some of the risk and burden of facility building by any one operation.

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The study region includes the seven counties of Augusta, Bath, Highland, Page, Rockbridge, Rockingham and Shenandoah and the five cities of Buena Vista, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Staunton and Waynesboro and has over one million acres of farm land, and 6,312 farms.

Led by the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission (CSPDC), the study will identify what components will be the most successful and beneficial to local farmers, explore physical locations for a facility, and structure a comprehensive business plan to be used for future implementation. Potential uses include a commercial kitchen, food lab/testing kitchen, flash freeze facility, training space for smart-ag classes and seminars, packaging and distribution operations, and business planning resources. An eight-member Study Team comprised of potential Ag. Center users and representatives of businesses and organizations who support local food production will provide vital assistance to the CSPDC and consultant throughout the duration of the study.

“As the leading agricultural County in the state, Rockingham supports studying the feasibility of an agricultural enterprise center that serves small to medium sized farmers,” says Rockingham County Assistant Administrator and Ag. Center Study Team member, Casey Armstrong. “Agriculture is the Valley’s number one export and if this is a need for farmers in our County then we support addressing those needs.”

Out of fourteen highly qualified applicants representing firms from across the country, New Venture Advisors (NVA), an agriculturally focused firm based out of Chicago, Illinois was selected to conduct the study. NVA specializes in strategy consulting for food system planning and infrastructure development and is expected to complete the study by May 2021.

“A shared-use facility such as the Agricultural Enterprise Center would remove some tremendous expenses and challenges met by new and growing food businesses in the Shenandoah Valley. It also has the potential to encourage growth in value-added products and bridge the distribution gap between source and finished goods,” says Staunton-based chef and Lundch restaurant owner, Mike Lund.

The Agricultural Enterprise Center Feasibility Study is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) grant and a GO Virginia Enhanced Capacity Building grant. Out of 215 applications to LFPP, this project was one of 42 that was awarded funds; it was the only project funded in Virginia

The CSPDC will be seeking input from farmers, stakeholders, buyers and food aggregators for the Agricultural Enterprise Center Feasibility Study. The online survey will be available mid-September through mid-October and will be collecting information on current market trends, facility needs, distribution concerns and more. Please go to CSPDC’s project website ( for more information and to participate in the survey.

CSPDC Contact:
Rachel Salatin, or 540-885-5174 ext. 107
Elizabeth McCarty, or 540-885-5174 ext. 108


Shihadeh Innovation Center

Press Release

GO Virginia State Board Awards Funding for Emil & Grace Shihadeh Innovation Center

WINCHESTER (March 18, 2019) – On March 12, 2019 the Growth and Opportunity Virginia State Board awarded approximately $500,000 to Winchester Public Schools (WPS) who will renovate the former John Kerr Elementary School to become an extension of John Handley High School and house three career and technical education (CTE) academies: Professional Skills, Advanced Technologies, and Health Sciences. The partnership between Winchester and Lord Fairfax Community College will allow both to expand programming and enhance capacity of existing programs.

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The GO Virginia award will fund equipment in the Welding Lab, Print Farm, CAD Lab, Robotics Lab, and Cyber Lab within the Professional Skills and Advanced Technology Academies. In addition to providing training tools and equipment, the GO Virginia funding will allow WPS to expand the Work-Based Learning program by hiring a Work-Based Learning Coordinator for each of the academies that will be responsible for connecting students with businesses in the region. WPS collaborated with 15 companies within the region’s targeted sectors to secure 70 annual internships related directly to the skills obtained in the 5 funded laboratories. In addition to the partnership with LFCC, Clarke County has committed tuition payments for students in their division to enroll in programming at the Innovation Center that is not currently offered in Clarke County.

George Pace, Chairman of the GO Virginia Region 8 Council said of the project: “It is a great thing to see so much of the private sector engaged in the education and training of our young people. This project, and the partnerships it has created, are a huge win for our region.”

“We are so grateful to receive this grant award from GO Virginia as we respond to the industry demand in our region. Winchester Public Schools is committed to make every student career ready as they look towards their future. Our Emil and Grace Shihadeh Innovation Center, which breaks ground in September 2019, will be a dedicated extension of John Handley High School for students to explore the world of work through our three academies – Professional Skills, Health Sciences, and Advanced Technologies. Once open, all students will experience the Innovation Center at some point in their high school career. It’s an exciting day in Winchester.” Jason Van Heukelum – Superintendent, Winchester Public Schools

“The facility will be a state-of-the-art career and technical education center benefiting students in the Winchester Public Schools as well as those from the entire Northern Shenandoah Valley through Lord Fairfax Community College. The training and career opportunities provided at the center will enable students to acquire marketable skills and credentials and, in turn, will assist our region and the state at large in preparing a skilled workforce to meet the needs of Virginia industry. This is truly a partnership with win-win results. We are so appreciative that the GO Virginia State Board has chosen to recognize this impactful project and to provide this generous grant.” Kimberli Ball – President, Winchester Education Foundation

“We are very grateful to the GO Virginia State Board for selecting the Winchester Public Schools as the recipient of the GO Virginia Grant. These funds will be well invested in the lives of the all students who will attend the Innovation Center and make up our skilled workforce for the future. As a community, we should be very proud.” Russ Potts – Executive Director, Winchester Education Foundation

Ashley Schickle,
Brandon Davis, 540.636.8800,



Startup Shenandoah Valley — S2V

Press Release

Startup Shenandoah Valley Program Receives GO Virginia Grant

The GO Virginia Board has approved a grant request of nearly $629,000 to fund a business scale-up initiative called Startup Shenandoah Valley (S2V). The proposal, developed by the GO Virginia Region 8 Council’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Advisory Committee led by Mary Lou Bourne, Executive Director of James Madison Innovations and Committee Chair, reflects nearly 18 months of collaboration, benchmarking, and resource assessment by multiple Shenandoah Valley partners and small business owners. The Staunton Creative Community Fund (SCCF) made the funding request from the statewide GO Virginia initiative, and will oversee implementation of the three-part S2V program designed to launch a vibrant and comprehensive entrepreneurial ecosystem across the Shenandoah Valley.

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Startup Shenandoah Valley is a virtual acceleration program uniquely tailored to meet the needs of entrepreneurs operating in a rural setting or one of the emerging business hubs around the region – Winchester, Harrisonburg, Staunton, Lexington and Waynesboro. The program will target entrepreneurs with scalable business ideas, particularly those focused on Region 8’s traded sectors of food processing, light manufacturing, information technology, cybersecurity, and biomedical and biotechnical. In addition to the customized virtual accelerator programming, the GO Virginia grant will also support dedicated workspace and entrepreneurial ecosystem infrastructure buildout throughout the region, along with the hiring of two dedicated ecosystem builders to support the network and programming.

The Virginia Initiative for Growth and Opportunity (GO Virginia) is a business-led initiative that was formed to foster private-sector growth and diversification across nine economic development regions in the Commonwealth. State financial incentives designated for regional projects that encourage collaboration between private sector companies, workforce, education, and government are administered by the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board.

Chris Kyle, incoming Chair of the Region 8 Council, stated “This exciting initiative is yet another example of the long-standing, cooperative relationship between the Valley’s key partners. Thanks to the participation and funding support from our member localities, academic institutions, and private sector partners, Startup Shenandoah Valley will facilitate the advancement of new business ventures and job opportunities around the region – two of the primary goals of the GO Virginia program.”

Region 8 represents the Shenandoah Valley and includes the counties of Augusta, Bath, Clarke, Frederick, Highland, Page, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Warren; and the cities of Buena Vista, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Staunton, Waynesboro, and Winchester. The Regional Council consists of 28 members and is supported by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission (NSVRC); the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission (CSPDC); and the Shenandoah Valley Partnership (SVP).

For more information on GO Virginia, visit online at Shenandoah Valley Partnership or Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, or contact Ashley Shickle, Program Director, GO Virginia Region 8 Council at



JMU Industrial Hemp Initiative – Phase 1

From the Staunton News Leader Laura Peters, February 14, 2020

Farmers and researchers explain how JMU hemp study will benefit Augusta County

A new study could help the future of farmers with research into the newly legalized hemp crop, but one major key county turned down the funding for it.

Localities in the Shenandoah Valley pledged varying amounts toward the James Madison University hemp study, except for Augusta County.

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The study will answer questions like: Who are the growers? What is the environment here for hemp? What is the economic potential for hemp? Where are the processors?

It will also set up an online database for farmers to tap. According to the study application, a web-based information sharing portal would be developed to connect researchers to practitioners, hosting “town hall” and focus group meetings to refine and align findings with practitioner experiences, and publishing an economic scenario analysis report.

“We want to understand the experiences that some of these growers have had in the past and understand the concerns about disease and pests and things like that,” said Keith Holland, JMU interim vice provost for research and scholarship.

The development of the communication portal will be vital, Holland said, not only for growers and processors, but localities.

“Everybody has a common point of access to information about the economic process, some of the regulatory concerns and things like that emerging in our in our area,” he said.

The study is headed up by Dr. C.K. Lee of the JMU College of Business and Dr. Samuel Morton of the JMU College of Integrated Science and Engineering. It’s aimed to complete an economic landscape analysis, agricultural data collection and information dissemination and network formation.


The project needed $5,000 more in order to apply for a matched grant before the end of month deadline in January, and Augusta County and Staunton were the last two interested localities.

Last month, Augusta County supervisors downplayed the importance of a local hemp study and refused to provide $2,500 in funding, Staunton stepped in and pledged the full $5,000 needed to move forward.

Augusta County has 19 registered hemp growers with 21 hemp fields totaling just over 24 acres, according to the JMU study proposal and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Staunton has two registered hemp growers with no acreage. Rockbridge and Rockingham counties both have a heavy hemp presence with nearly 132 acres and 92 acres, respectively.

The total study amounts to $107,260, which includes half of that matched by the localities and JMU in-kind contributions.

Other localities include:

  • Bath County: $2,100
  • Highland County: $508
  • Page County: $4,500
  • Rockbridge County: $4,000
  • Rockingham County: $5,000
  • Shenandoah County: $5,000

Augusta County will still be part of the study, even though they didn’t approve to fund it, according to Holland.

“We’re fortunate enough that there’s there’s interest up and down the Shenandoah Valley,” he said. “Several of the other localities have decided that this was a worthwhile investment, but certainly we understand that there are a lot of factors for deciding how localities are going to invest their funds.”

JMU has been researching hemp since state law allowed for it. A 2015 state law let VDACS establish an industrial hemp research program directly managed by higher education institutes. JMU entered into an agreement with the state in 2015, the same year as Virginia Tech.

“There seems to be a lot of speculation and a lot of positive energy around what the possibilities are around industrial hemp,” Holland said. “But there are still a lot of questions.”

The county has previously backed agricultural research funding.

In 2018, Augusta County and six other counties partnered in a Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services study on dairy processing. The county gave a $5,000 funding commitment with $1,000 in-kind support.

The snub from Augusta County left some farmers a bit baffled.

Marc Armstrong grew two acres of hemp this past season on his property in the county. He wondered why Staunton agree to fund the study but the county didn’t despite it having more hemp farmers.

“The issue, as I see it, is how to grow the taxpayer base by making choices that maximize the economic impact of an economic sector,” he said. “Staunton has a great track record of being proactive. Meanwhile, in this case, Augusta County’s historical leadership in agriculture could be usurped by other counties that do more to nurture the growing hemp industry.”

Armstrong is hopeful that Augusta County will get back on the same page as other counties have been with hemp.

“Industrial hemp has hundreds of uses, so it would be a unfortunate if hemp farmers in Augusta County continue to need to go to other counties for seed, clones and services or sell to value-added customers who are located elsewhere,” Armstrong said. “I expect that Augusta County will eventually take the initiative to figure out how the county can partner with those of us who are in the hemp industry.”

Why hemp?

Armstrong said he decided to grow hemp due to the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which took hemp off the Schedule 1 drug list. All farmers have to do is register with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, as of July 1, 2018.

According to Armstrong, Augusta County has some of the driest soils in the South, which makes it ideal for growing hemp. He and his wife had a hayfield that lended itself to producing hemp.

“We decided to take the plunge,” he said. It’s been a big investment with an uncertain market, but we’re partnering with knowledgeable people who are helping us bring our products to market. A bill pending in Congress that classifies CBD as a food supplement will, if passed, help expand the market and increase demand.”

For this season, he plans on planting another crop and will focus on other CBD hemp varieties that have no THC.

Shenandoah Valley Hemp, a seed-to-sale company out of Elkton, works closely with partner farms in the Shenandoah Valley to source, process and extract cannabinoids (current focus on CBD) derived from hemp.

The Valley has a rich history of farming and the reintroduction of hemp could provide another revenue opportunity for local farmers, according to Jake Johnson, the company’s cultivation director.

“The infrastructure and regulation are in the infant stages but overall, it will be a great opportunity for farmers looking to transition or expand their crops,” he said. “I truly believe cannabis will be used on a daily basis by many Americans in the near future.”

Johnson has been working with hemp for the past four years after he graduated from JMU. He and his three brothers started Shenandoah Valley Hemp in December 2018. They recently opened a hemp processing plant in Elkton that opened last October.

“It is imperative to the future of the hemp industry that we continue to gain more information and conduct studies on all levels from farming and processing to end products,” Johnson said. “The capabilities of cannabis are limitless and can change our lives for the better, we just need to continue researching and testing these products in order to take full advantage of the benefits.”

The funding is set to come from Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board’s GO Virginia program, which is under the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The localities had to come up with matching funds.

The Shenandoah Valley is in Region 8.

The project was presented to the Region 8 Council earlier in February and was recommended for funding. The next step is to get state approval, which is expected in March. The plan is to launch an information sharing website in March.

A final report is expected in October.



Small Business Resiliancy Team


Press Release

GO Virginia Approves Grant for Small Business Resiliency Teams SBDCs launch COVID-19 recovery initiative to promote economic stability, sustainability, and growth.

Harrisonburg, VA (October 12, 2020). The GO Virginia State board has approved an $81,813 grant proposal submitted by a regional partnership between Harrisonburg Economic Development, Frederick County Economic Development, Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center (SV SBDC), and Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center (LF SBDC). This grant creates a Small Business Resiliency Team (SBRT) program with the goal of providing expanded business support services and technical assistance to area businesses in the wake of COVID-19 challenges. The program will deploy Business Resiliency Navigators to guide growth-oriented businesses through a dedicated and well-designed process for achieving incremental and sustainable growth throughout the pandemic recovery period.

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Business Resiliency Navigators will work directly with small businesses, assisting with E-commerce, Financial Management, and Marketing needs. The SBRT’s focus is on tourism, retail, healthcare, and professional services businesses, however other companies will be considered. In addition to providing assessments, development of action plans, strategic counseling, and targeted training, the program will provide for services such as accounting, bookkeeping, website development, or e-commerce assistance rendered by industry experts as recommended by the SBRT.

The Virginia Initiative for Growth and Opportunity (GO Virginia) is a business-led initiative that was formed to foster private-sector growth and diversification across nine economic development regions in the Commonwealth. The GO Virginia Board administers state financial incentives designated for regional projects in order to encourage collaboration between private sector companies, workforce, education, and government.

Participating localities include the counties of Augusta, Clarke, Frederick, Rockbridge, Rockingham, and Shenandoah; and the cities of Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, and Winchester. Patrick Barker, CEcD, Executive Director of Frederick County will administer the grant.

“This partnership will be able to provide significantly more assistance to keep businesses healthy and growing in spite of the pandemic. Our SBDCs can collaborate and meet needs of Economic Development Offices throughout the Shenandoah Valley. Our goals include improving the local economy, assisting the participating businesses, and providing contracted work to local vendors for professional services,” said Joyce Krech, Director of the Shenandoah Valley SBDC.

The SBRT program supports GO Virginia goals by expanding regional capacity to coordinate and deliver business support services; helping businesses utilize e-commerce to increase sales; reducing service and production disruptions; encouraging the use of a remote workforce to keep workers employed and productive; and expanding existing training programs that are mission-critical. Expected results from dedicated participants include overall average business growth and retention of their current workforce.

“This grant award will help us keep many of the region’s growth-oriented businesses on a positive financial trajectory towards sustainable success. We will leverage existing resources and utilize GO Virginia funds to provide focused, hands-on consulting, training, and contracted work,” states Christine Kriz, Director of the Lord Fairfax SBDC.

For more information on the Small Business Resiliency Teams, visit the SBDC Websites: or  Or contact Joyce Krech, (540)568-3227, or Christine Kriz, (540)868-7094,

About Small Business Development Centers. The SV and LF SBDCs are two of 27 Small Business Development Centers across Virginia providing professional business advice, training, and information resources to help grow and strengthen local businesses and Virginia’s economy. They are hosted respectively by James Madison University and Lord Fairfax Community College in partnership with George Mason University and funded in part by SBA and local governments. The Virginia SBDC Network ( is the most extensive business development program in the Commonwealth and part of America’s SBDC (  – the nation’s proven, cost-effective, and accredited infrastructure focused on small businesses – America’s job creators.



Shenandoah Valley Talent Solutions Strategy


Press Release

GO Virginia Region 8 Awards Funding for Talent Solutions Strategy
Initiative will target filling middle-and high-skill workforce gaps.

HARRISONBURG (December 17, 2018) – The GO Virginia Region 8 Council has approved funding for the Shenandoah Valley Talent Solutions Strategy under the Enhanced Capacity Building category. Enhanced Capacity Building activities support analysis and planning for project development and implementation. Examples of projects include feasibility studies, assessment or planning studies, capacity building, and other initiatives that support successful project outcomes.

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Northern Shenandoah Valley localities partnering on the Shenandoah Valley Talent Solutions Strategy are Frederick, Clarke, Page, Shenandoah, and Warren counties, and the city of Winchester. The initiative will study the obstacles that young adults and employers in the region face in entering or remaining in middle-skill and high-skill jobs. The focus will be current job seekers, university and community college graduates, and high school students, and the goal will be to identify targeted recruitment and retention strategies that will enhance the quality and quantity of available workers in the region.

The research will be comprised of focus groups of high school guidance counselors and college career professionals, in-depth interviews with human resources directors and other corporate stakeholders, a randomized, online survey and focus group of students, and determination of industry-specific needs and concerns. The Talent Solutions Strategy will cost $134,800, with GO Virginia providing $64,800 and the localities contributing $70,000. The group is expected to secure consultants for the project in early 2019 with the intent of completing the work by the end of the 2019.

Frederick County’s Economic Development Authority Executive Director Patrick Barker said about the initiative: “The availability of skilled labor remains a top factor in site selections by corporations. As such communities like Frederick County, VA are required now to effectively market to young adults to improve their retention and attraction, especially within the key industries we are targeting for business retention and attraction. This project will provide the first step in answering this mandate.”

The Virginia Initiative for Growth and Opportunity (GO Virginia) is a voluntary, business-led, bipartisan initiative that was formed to foster private-sector growth and diversification across nine economic development regions in the Commonwealth of Virginia. State financial incentives designated for regional projects that encourage collaboration between private sector companies, workforce, education, and government are administered by the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board. GO Virginia Region 8 covers a large area from Winchester to Lexington and includes ten counties and six cities in the Shenandoah Valley, with a combined population of 525,000. The 28-member council that oversees the GO Virginia program is made up of representatives from small and large business, higher and K-12 education, elected officials, and economic and workforce development organizations.

Bonnie Riedesel, (540) 885-5174,
Ashley Shickle,


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