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Cockram resigns as alliance set to expand

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Leigh Cockram said Friday that she had resigned as executive director of the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance (SVRA), and the SVRA had entered an agreement to share costs as well as a director of economic development with the Institute of Advanced Learning and Research in Danville.

Reached by phone Friday, Cockram said that she fully supports the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreed to by the alliance and the Institute to share the same director.

The memorandum also states that the Institute and the SVRA will “share cost, as defined separately and subject to change from time to time”

Also, while Cockram has tendered her resignation effective Sept. 30, she will remain on the Institute’s board of trustees and continue her involvement in both the SVRA and the institute, she said.

“My resignation has absolutely nothing to do with the merger,” Cockram said. “I support that 100 percent. I just want to explore some different opportunities” that will require less travel and give her more time to spend with her daughter, now 3 years old.

Jerry Gwaltney, executive director of the institute, said the merger “puts it (SVRA) in a strong, sustainable position for the future. It’s a true partnership” between local economic development groups.

The perception was that the Institute only served Danville-Pittsylvania County, Gwaltney said. The merger will help the institute fulfill its original purpose.

“When it was conceived, it was supposed to serve the region,” Gwaltney said. The Institute hasn’t always served all of Southside “as well as we would have liked,” he added.

Local economic development offices “have done a good job,” Gwaltney said. The merger, however, will allow SVRA to “continue to work more aggressively with” site selectors and developers on economic development projects.

“The effort will be the same, but much more intense,” Gwaltney said. Especially in the case of larger companies seeking to locate to an area, he said, “they’re more apt to look at a region.”

“In the end, what this has to be about is jobs, jobs, jobs,” Gwaltney said. “If we’re going to be successful as a region, we have to do whatever we can to be seen as a region,” he added.

The new developer will report to the SVRA board of directors. Gwaltney said a search will be done “through the appropriate professional organizations,” though no timetable has been set to make a hire.

In her current position, Cockram’s duties have included developing marketing materials, such as brochures and print mail items; establishing an office; promoting the region through traveling, hosting consultants and a variety of other efforts geared to create jobs.

“I want to explore some other fields and see what other opportunities exist,” Cockram said.

She also said she will remain in her current position after the Sept. 30 deadline, if needed, and also will help train her replacement.

The alliance began in 2011 as a marketing partnership between Henry, Patrick, Pittsylvania and Halifax counties and the cities of Martinsville and Danville. The alliance was created to promote economic development and job creation in southern Virginia.

Cockram, of Henry County, was named director of the new agency in June 2011.

She also had served as the vice president of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) and was involved in forming the SVRA.

The SVRA was funded for two years with $200,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, $200,000 from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and $200,000 combined from the six communities of the alliance for a total of $600,000, according to previous reports.

The SVRA’s funding is intact, Cockram said Friday.


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