By Julia Robins, Staff Writer
To strengthen economic development in the area, Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission (MPPDC) and Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) are investigating ways to get Virginia universities to partner with the community.
“It’s a very complex issue,” says Jennifer Murray-McClain, 2014 Coastal Resource Policy Fellow with VASG who is helping MPPDC research partnering. The issue is “complex” because some industries in the Middle Peninsula are waning. Forestry, for instance, has been losing stocks over the years due to salt-water inundation, storms, and harsh weather. In addition, wages are low compared to other areas in the state. Out of 21 planning districts in Virginia, the Middle Peninsula has the third lowest wages.
“We want to find sustainable solutions for these problems to help bolster the industries that are already here and to help communities capitalize on the resources that they have, so that wages for people that live and work here can increase,” says Murray-McClain.
Many universities have existing outreach programs with their neighboring communities. These partnerships work by benefitting both the community and university involved. Students and faculty of these universities gain real world experience by benefitting their community and applying their knowledge to real world situations. Similarly, partnering communities benefit by gaining access to university resources and experts.
Most VASG-affiliated universities, however, are far from the Middle Peninsula and would not typically partner with the community. MPPDC and VASG are trying something new by working to connect these centers of campus engagement with the community needs that are here in the Middle Peninsula. The goal: to develop university-community partnerships that foster sustainable economic development in the Middle Peninsula.
Murray-McClain says there are many factors that make the Middle Peninsula a strong candidate for universities to partner with. “It will give universities a chance to look at a unique environment,” she says. “The Middle Peninsula is coastal and rural, it has these natural resource industries, and it wants to do something that’s sustainable.”
In her research, Murray-McClain has noticed that many universities and communities are interested in sustainability. “A lot of communities that I’ve seen are trying to work with universities to find sustainable solutions,” says Murray-McClain. Such interests align with MPPDC’s goal to create sustainable economic development in the Middle Peninsula.
Typically in university-community partnerships, the universities are the instigators, reaching out to communities with project ideas. Here, MPPDC and Virginia Sea Grant are approaching VASG-affiliated universities with their own ideas.
“It’s not about developing the whole peninsula, but helping industries that are here find a balance between protecting the rural culture and environment and helping the people who live and work here,” says Murray-McClain.