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Baliles urges creation of ed corridor

By Clara Cox

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 5 - September 22, 1994

The 30 colleges and universities along Interstate 81 should form an I-81 Education Corridor to "underpin an effort to tie transportation, communications, and trade together into a coherent strategy" that would make the region competitive, former Virginia Governor Gerald L. Baliles told participants in the Western Virginia Strategic Development Conference at Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center on September 15.

The former governor, who chairs the Southern Regional Education Board's Commission for Educational Quality, said such a corridor could be designed "to make the most of the educational resources up and down this stretch of interstate," adding, "Why not make use of the brainpower that co-exists here with an intense interest in economic development?"

Suggesting that the corridor could be considered one campus, he urged the schools to "begin to meet more frequently and focus your organizing and implementation strategies on taking the fullest advantage of this region's important resources: world-class education and world-class transportation."

He said the way the conference was organized shows "that you have a wider vision, a vision capable of seeing the big picture; a vision large enough to encompass the entire length of this corridor and the depth and breadth of educational resources that reside within it. Why not put that vision to work for the people of Western Virginia and for the future of the commonwealth and the nation?"

U.S. Congressman Rick Boucher spoke on the second day of the conference, addressing proposed federal communications laws that he said would create new opportunities for economic development, improve high-tech links between schools, and expand Western Virginia's electronic connections.

If successful in his push for communications-law reforms, Boucher said the region would become tied more closely to regional, state, national, and international information sources. "The communications that will come with that will help to integrate many rural parts of the nation into the mainstream of American and international life," he said.

The conference was sponsored by the Interstate 81 Corridor Council, Virginia Tech, James Madison University, Center on Rural Development, JMU Center for Business and Economic Development, Valley of Virginia Partnership for Education, and Planning District Commissions 1-7.

Much of Tech's involvement in planning for the corridor has been conducted by Public Service Programs, which is part of University Outreach and International Programs. J. Douglas McAlister, executive director of Public Service Programs, said his unit "has been working in tandem with planning-district commissions, economic developers, local government officials, and the other colleges and universities within the corridor to develop approaches that would enhance the quality of life along the interstate. We're not just looking at economic development but at a broad spectrum of issues that impact the region."

According to Shirley Gerken, leadership development specialist in Public Service Programs and a conference organizer, the two-day event and the two preceding it resulted from a study by the I-81 Corridor Council. Each conference has focused on major development issues in the corridor, she said.