It’s September, Typically the time kids head back to school and “pumpkin spice” makes its annual resurgence. But September 2020 is anything but typical, and despite best attempts to define a “new” normal; “how” we live, work, and learn continues to evolve.

Despite all the upheaval, I am convinced there is at least one bright spot…the opportunity for rural areas to capitalize on the forced adoption of “online” work, telemedicine, and education.  For years (really since the industrial revolution), rural areas have been plagued by outmigration as traditional industries withered, and people moved to more suburban/city environments that offered proximity to more lucrative and plentiful employment opportunities. Then came COVID-19. Almost overnight, once eschewed remote solutions for work, education, and healthcare became central to organization survival and traditional paradigms crumbled.

A prime illustration is that leading tech companies such as Facebook and Shopify that moved to remote working as a temporary fix have already announced that many (or all) of the positions will remain remote permanently opening up entirely new opportunities for not only potential new employees, but also allows those currently in those jobs to live wherever they choose. Yes, you guessed it… including rural areas. What a fantastic chance for rural areas to rethink economic development strategies and concentrate efforts on converting these newly mobile workers and job opportunities into an exciting catalyst for rural economic revitalization.

Pivoting to a new economic development model will require the formation of unconventional collaborations and partnerships, and a willingness on the part of the public and private sectors alike to look beyond traditional incentives, recruitment processes and training models to support a new “geography independent” economic model where workers are allowed (and hired) to work remotely.

In rural Virginia, the team at the New College Institute (NCI) in Martinsville is working aggressively to position itself, through industry relevant programming, partnerships, and collaborative relationships as THE training and education destination for next-generation workforce training, certification, and educational programs.    By establishing partnerships across Virginia (and beyond) to offer virtual, hybrid, and in-person training, NCI is opening doors to employment opportunities in industries including IT/cloud computing, off-shore/onshore wind, telehealth, and cyber security.

Currently, NCI is recruiting for their upcoming, no-cost, virtual (class starts Sept 14, 2020) Amazon Web Services (AWS) re/start program that prepares individuals to successfully pass the AWS Cloud practitioner exam and find meaningful employment with a sponsoring company such as Telos, MaxxPotential, and many more.  For more information, please contact Brian Stanley, bstanley@newcollegeinstitute.org or

(276) 403-5605.

Karen Jackson is the Former Virginia Secretary of Technology and the current President of the New College Institute. She can be reached at kjackson@newcollegeinstitute.org or https://www.linkedin.com/in/karenjackson3/

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