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Underscoring its global land-grant commitment to putting knowledge to work and improving the lives of people across Virginia and around the world, Virginia Tech is launching a new Center for Economic and Community Engagement, replacing the Office of Economic Development.

Part of Outreach and International Affairs, the new university-level center will engage with internal and external partners to drive economic growth, address workforce needs, and build resilience in communities across Virginia.

“Economic development and civic engagement are central to Virginia Tech’s service to the commonwealth and our land-grant mission,” Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke said. “The Center for Economic and Community Engagement will partner with communities to facilitate full participation of our citizens in economic development.”

The center will be led by John Provo, who has run the Office of Economic Development since 2010.

“John is the epitome of a ‘pracademic,’ bringing together the best qualities of a practitioner and an academic,” said Guru Ghosh, vice president for Outreach and International Affairs. “By building strong relationships with businesses and governments in every part of Virginia, he and his team help serve as the bridge between the university and the public and private sectors.”

Addressing the complex challenges relating to Virginia’s urban-rural ecosystems will be one of the center’s focuses. “This center will lead our efforts to address challenges rural Virginians face and how Virginia Tech can work with communities to promote greater opportunities in education, health, and job creation,” Ghosh said.

Provo said the new center will deliver technical assistance and applied research projects to help people understand community change and identify opportunities.

“This transition will increase our visibility, creating a stronger campus presence and clearer identity for external clients, partners, and stakeholders,” he said. “We look forward to connecting with and continuing to work with organizations and individuals committed to growing Virginia’s economy.”

He said the center will seek collaborations with every Virginia Tech college and institute, offering opportunities for applied research, experiential learning, and service to the commonwealth.

“The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development has a broad mission, one that is supported by the type of engagement, research, and forward-thinking ideas this center will advance,” said DHCD Director Erik Johnston. “We recognize the critical role universities have played and will continue to play in Virginia’s future — and the timing of this new center is critical as we work to mitigate the economic and social impacts of the pandemic.”

Matt Hulver, director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, said, “We are thrilled to partner with the Center for Economic and Community Engagement. It is in conjunction with this center and leaders like John Provo that we can tackle the global challenges of our time like coastal resilience. We aim to improve the lives of all Virginians.”

The Office of Economic Development was formed in 2004 to help advance the university’s economic engagement mission. Throughout the pandemic, the office has assisted with Virginia’s economic recovery as the support organization for GO Virginia and as a U.S. Economic Development Administration University Center. The team comprises 16 people, with locations in Blacksburg, Richmond, Newport News, and Arlington.

GO Virginia is a statewide initiative designed to encourage economic growth through the creation of high-wage jobs. Provo and his team provide fiduciary oversight and administrative services for Region 2, which includes the New River Valley, Roanoke-Alleghany, and Lynchburg areas.

In 2018, the office launched Vibrant Virginia, a statewide initiative that helps higher education have a higher impact on communities across the commonwealth, working to build connections between the urban and rural and improve the lives of all Virginians.

“Establishing this center helps us elevate the Ut Prosim difference, which has never been more important,” Provo said. “Only by working together across boundaries can we successfully address critical societal problems such as the current economic and health crisis and longer-term post-COVID economic restructuring.”

Written by Julia Kell