VACo Internship Week II

Another exciting week in Richmond…

Week 2:

On Monday, I finished up a project for Beau on economic development incentives which I started working on last week. I realized that it needed to be proofed and read over a little bit. There was also a meeting of VACo’s Annual Conference Planning Committee on Monday. This was the biggest meeting I attended at VACo so far with more counties represented. The entirety of the VACo staff was present in addition to the leaders of the counties from all over Virginia that had a hand in planning the conference. During the meeting, Gage looked at me and asked me to send him my notes of what had gone on during our conference call on Friday. He used them to pitch the Double-dutch idea to the board, and they all seemed really interested.

On Tuesday, I met with Erik who was heading out on vacation with his family the next day, and he asked me to attend some of his meetings for him since he would be gone. I sat and smiled as he talked to me about the meetings, where they were located, etc. I also took notes on all the areas he wanted me to prepare a write up for so he could read it when he got back. However, I have to admit, as excited as I was, I was a little nervous to be representing a member of VACo at meetings by myself.

Wednesday was my first meeting. Well, actually, it was a Webinar. I researched the topic all morning. When I finally got logged in with the help of John, who is the IT guy at VACo, I was ready to hear what the speaker had to say about Blueprint Virginia. The presentation moved surprisingly quickly, but one of the most interesting topics that was covered was something called “the middle skills gap.” This is an occurrence where there are too many people qualified for high-skills and professional jobs and not enough to do middle-skills jobs. It’s a problem that I have knowledge of because of my work at a small business in Saltville called Tri Cities Dry Ice Co., Inc., where it is impossible to employ a CDL driver. There are men and women that apply for the job, but some do not have the resources or skill to pass the CDL test and those who could pass the test or already have their CDL expect to be paid much more than the small business can afford. Most of the qualified people from Southwest Virginia as a whole (I assume the same is true for other impoverished regions rural and urban) seem to try to make their way from their hometown to find a high skills job. Therefore, the work force that remains usually does not have the resources to make a positive impact on the community. The solution calls for a way of changing our societal thinking of success. The current ideology of success in my tiny community is getting into the best college, grad/law/medical school, and moving away to somewhere big and exciting. However, what really should and could be encouraged, especially by Blueprint Virginia, is the idea that success is using your degree, skill, or talents to contribute to the success of your community.

Today was my very first meeting away from VACo for the Virginia Retirement System’s Benefits and Actuarial Committee Meeting. It was informative, but my knowledge of pension plans and other items is sparse and definitely requires some more attention. What was difficult about the meeting was the second item on the agenda which was Damascus, Virginia. When the board brought up the subject, the president said, “Now, we’re going to talk about a little town called Damascus,” and the room filled with thunderous laughter. I just knew I was going to be mad at someone in that room. However, after the discussion, it wasn’t the board members making fun of a place that’s geographically close to me that made me upset. The fact of the matter is that the people of Damascus refused to work with the VRS, refused to call them back, and certainly would not make a trip to Richmond to represent themselves in that board room. Therefore, there is a lack of understanding on the big business end in Richmond that deals with billions of dollars on a daily basis of the ideology of the people in Damascus who are struggling financially. People from back home complain about people in Richmond not representing us, which I used to do as well. From what I can observe though, our communication problems and lack of trying to understand one another on the state and local government level is the cause of underrepresentation.

As of today, I have filled out an entire legal pad with research and meeting notes. I am pretty sure I am going to keep it with me forever. This thing is seriously a work of art. My commutes to work are getting easier; now I know two ways to get to and from work to the apartment without my GPS. The city is also not as scary anymore. I know all the sounds of things that go on in my neighborhood. I have made friends at the coin laundry down the street. When you overflow their washing machines and they still let you come back, you’re pretty much family.

Since I have become accustomed to the city, I am starting to look around more often and have become aware of a different kind of poverty. People in my hometown are impoverished, yes, but most still have the basic, if not a few basic, necessities. However, in the city, I met a woman who sits on the same bench all day long because she has nowhere she can go and nothing else to do. Sometimes we have lunch together, and I listen to her stories. I am saddened that this is a reality for her and many others in the city. I’ve met homeless people before, but I’ve never really known them. They’ve never known me. It’s crazy how close you can become to people with whom you have absolutely nothing in common when you just sit and listen.

BY: Katie Beth Bordwine ’16           

Photo Description: Katie Beth Bordwine in front of the Virginia Association of Counties’ office.