ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) — More than 150 Southwest Virginia leaders revealed how their businesses and organizations will play a role in a new effort to ramp up workforce development in the region.

Ready SWVA is an initiative that aims to expand access to affordable childcare so families can return to work.

“Southwest Virginia employers have told us the region is losing the young, talented workforce in the labor ecosystem,” said Travis Staton, CEO and president of United Way of Southwest Virginia. “A major barrier retaining those talented young employees and potential employees is insufficient access to childcare.”

According to Staton, the Ready SWVA initiative will create an early childhood system that will expand and strengthen the current network of providers.

“This will create a minimum of 324 new slots across Southwest Virginia through the creation of five new facilities, while at the same time supporting the region’s network of 206 existing childcare providers,” he said.

Ready SWVA will do the following:

  • Provide quality, accessible childcare, allowing residents who are out of the workforce because of childcare constraints to return to work
  • Develop a regional cohort of credentialed early childhood educators
  • Support regional comprehensive economic development strategies created by each district commission to attract new talent, young families and higher-paying jobs
  • Support entrepreneurs in Southwest Virginia by creating an emerging industry sector as a sustainable small business with support from a shared services alliance

Funding for these efforts will include $16 million in seed money, including $7 million for facilities and three years of operations at $3 million per year.

These funds will stem from federal and state funds, along with investments from the private sector.

Wednesday’s panel discussion featured representatives from AEP and Ballad Health, and it also included speakers from representatives, including Delegate Terry Kilgore.

“This is transformational,” Kilgore said. “I think it gives us an opportunity to lead. It’s going to play along Governor-elect Youngkin’s plans to make our community colleges more involved with public-private partnerships. Bringing business training, education and childcare all into the same room is going to create a win-win for everybody.”

United Way of Southwest Virginia serves Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Floyd, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Montgomery, Pulaski, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise and Wythe counties as well as the cities of Bristol, Galax, Norton and Radford.