PRESS RELEASE: Friends of Southwest Virginia Release Strategic Plan for Creative Economy, Developing Natural and Cultural Assets as Economic Development

October 3, 2019


Contact: Chris Cannon
Executive Director
Friends of Southwest Virginia
Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation
(276) 492-2400


ABINGDON, VA – Friends of Southwest Virginia has released the new Southwest Virginia Creative Economy Strategic Plan: 2020-2022, a new guide for the future development of natural and cultural assets as economic development throughout the region. The plan was created through a partnership of dozens of community development organizations representing 19 counties, 4 cities, and 53 towns. 

Friends was founded in 2011 as the 501(c)(3) companion organization to the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation, a state foundation associated with the Department of Housing and Community Development created by the General Assembly in 2008 to be the coordinating body of the creative economy throughout 19 counties, 4 independent cities and 53 towns in Southwest Virginia. 

Over the next three years, regional economic development partners working in the creative economy cluster will increase momentum, propelling Southwest Virginia’s creative economy by: Providing new and renewed regional services to communities, nonprofit partners and businesses, engaging strategic partnerships that encourage region-wide collaboration for partner success and encouraging sustainable and diverse development across all fields of the creative economy. 

The plan considers development across a wide array of natural and cultural assets: music, arts, heritage, downtown development, community development and more. 

Beginning in early 2018, community and economic development organizations and partners throughout Southwest Virginia and the Commonwealth came together to carefully analyze existing programs, products and resources and forecast the future of the creative economy.

Since then, numerous community input sessions garnered input and feedback from over 250 in-person conversations and over 180 survey responses. The current and potential projects underway in each community were also catalogued as the benchmark for future development. 

“This isn’t your standard organizational strategic plan,” said Chris Cannon, executive director of Friends of Southwest Virginia. “This is a plan created by dozens of community and economic development groups to better coordinate our work and ensure we are creating lasting impact using music, arts, culture, history, downtowns and more as an economic engine for SWVA.” 

Previous planning by Friends, the Foundation and the other partners have resulted in millions of dollars of investment in the region. Successful creative economy initiatives in the past have included The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail, ‘Round the Mountain: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Network, millions of dollars invested into the outdoor recreation infrastructure, revitalization of dozens of historic downtowns throughout the region, and more. 

Since the start of The Crooked Road and the creative economy movement in 2004, travel expenditures in the region have increased from $648.9 million to $1,043.37 million in 2017 accounting to Virginia Tourism Corporation. Additionally, local tax revenues from tourism have increased by 49% and state tax revenues by 44% in the same time period.

“This region has become a nationwide model for taking our natural and cultural assets and turning them into tourism destinations that promote an authentic experience you can only get in SWVA“ said Delegate Will Morefield, Chair of the SWVA Cultural Heritage Foundation. 

Key partners in the development of the Creative Economic Strategic Plan include Commonwealth and Federal agencies, the 5 planning district commissions of the region, The Crooked Road, ‘Round the Mountain, regional outdoor recreation groups, revitalization committees, Opportunity SWVA, four-year and community colleges, local governments and nonprofit organizations working on community development and creative economy strategies.

“The collaboration among the organizations, governments, higher education, and more is what sets this region apart from everyone else,” said Linda DiYorio, Chair of Friends of Southwest Virginia. “The collaboration we’ve brought to the table since day one has made impossible projects like a 300-mile music trail a reality that’s now bringing millions of dollars into tiny towns throughout all of Southwest Virginia.” 

To see the full report, visit


For more information, please contact Chris Cannon with Friends of Southwest Virginia (276-492-2400). For more information and to stay up-to-date, subscribe to the Friends of Southwest Virginia Partner Newsletter and “Like” Friends of Southwest Virginia on Facebook.

About Southwest Virginia:
Tucked in the mountains of Southwest Virginia is a vibrant culture of music, craft and stunning natural beauty. It’s a region of spectacular views and rich natural resources. Time spent in the region adds up to something much more than a simple getaway. A different side of Virginia. And a great place to visit for a week’s vacation – or to make a home for a lifetime. Authentic. Distinctive. Alive.

About the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation and Friends of Southwest Virginia:
The Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation is the coordinating body for cultural heritage tourism and economic development efforts fostering Southwest Virginia’s creative economy. Through a supporting non-profit, the Friends of Southwest Virginia, the combined entities help localities, businesses, individuals, artists, nonprofits and entrepreneurs mobilize and succeed.

A multifaceted plan identifies the cultural and natural assets of the region; coordinates initiatives, organizations and venues engaged in cultural and natural heritage toward more efficient operations for all partner organizations; and develops a comprehensive strategy and capital improvements plan to maximize the impact of state investments in this significant restructuring effort.

Key initiatives include:

  • Branding and marketing Southwest Virginia to the world as a distinct culture and destination
  • Developing and sustaining the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace
  • Expanding outdoor recreation development initiatives and marketing throughout the region
  • Planning and implementation of downtown revitalization throughout the region to instill a high quality of life within our communities and promote them to the world for a broad spectrum of economic development opportunities

Learn More About the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation and Friends of Southwest Virginia

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