An Open Letter ...

To the Committee and the People of Grayson County, Virginia


I've studied Grayson County for many years but I do not know it well. I already know and have recorded much information about it. I've visited it often and created computer maps of it 30 years ago, and my students continue to do so, many times better, today within the Conservation Management Institute. I've subscribed to the "Declaration" and I know the daily problems so I do not have to summarize or study them further. The problems are great and they affect citizens deeply and they need attention, action now, not more study...until after major new steps are taken in a new strategy. It can be good for the county and for other similar counties in western Virginia. The time is not right for studies or caution. For individuals in the county the time is right for they are in real trouble now.

I'm 73 and after teaching and doing studies at Virginia Tech for 37 years I do not think it is appropriate to delay much longer or spend much more money on more studies about the issue. They are real and they have not changed. There are no more big surprises, they are bad and can hardly get significantly worse, and answers will not be found in the conventional old dusty plans. Saying this is not politically correct. It is correct for one who professes and knows the time limits for so many citizens there. We can spend a minimum of $25,000 on a paper on " recent trends, current conditions, direct and indirect economic impacts (of factory closures and out migration)", and we can "make projections of costs, threats, and opportunities." We can spend $50,000 on interviews and texts on the agriculture of the county, documenting land sales to federal and state agencies and graphing the changes over time in USDA agricultural reports. As a county, we have little or no possible impact on state or national agricultural or forest policy that might positively affect us. That realization will have cost us at least $50,000. We are going to spend an uncertain year seeking those funds, lose a large proportion in "other" costs and at the end be one year be at further disadvantage and wondering where the staff is that will be paid well over $50,000 to seek other funds for the next year.

I sound like a hostile, negative, angry old man. I am not. I love the people and the lands of Grayson and western Virginia. I got the Powell River Project started for Tech, developed TVA software, and taught your students for years. I am deeply concerned about helping and about major change in the county in

There is the Internet now, new technology, new data bases, and millions of dollars of yet-unused research results. Since retirement I have been working on a solution … a solution system. The system is large and complex but that is the nature of the problem and it will not yield to simplistic, temporary solutions. I would prefer to suggest one or two minor changes or techniques - things like how to improve wildlife habitat or how to use computer maps...or even money-making projects for sporting organizations ... even starting a new sport of "bird golf"but these will not affect the major, dark foreboding problem of the county … converting the wealth of the lands and waters to people and their communities … and keeping it that way for the longterm. To do that, we need money and that money must, like in any business, have a stable "cash flow." Grants will not work. One-time gains in financial health are no better than one-time gains in a family in which all are unhealthy. New taxes will not work when people are unemployed or under-employed. Current taxes do not seem adequate for citizen services. No new scientific discovery will provide the economic boost needed for everyone within the County and surrounding areas. Federal lands will not be privatized for financial gains. The county is federal-land-rich and river-rich and financially poor. We need an entrepreneurial approach, a new rural resource oriented business conglomerate within the County.

I have shared my ideas with many people and many have said to me to "start small." Build a company…do one thing…demonstrate success. I have small time. Small businesses fail. Inadequately funded businesses and research projects fail. People lose money in the stock market if their diversity of holdings is inadequate. Small farms fail. Teams without backup players lose games. A big system is needed and the people of the county can achieve the right size because it is for them and about them and their future.

We need a new approach and while it may include tourism, that approach is not tourism. Tourism, as now promoted, tends to be narrow in scope, sector limited, seasonal, costly, provides few financial gains for the county itself and new costs, often produces dissatisfactions, produces few desirable high-paying jobs, and trespassing and disrespectful visitors bother local people.

The proposed strategy and readily available information about the county and its people are in Grayson Greatness (developed for 2005) and the major concept is presented in Grayson Ranging. The concept fits (I perceive) like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle with "LandCare" and many areas fit well the Land Trust work and with desires for the lasting beauty of the county. In a nut shell:

Rural System unifies about 70 small rural- and natural-resource-related businesses. It manages land and water, and provides services, products, and other benefits. It offers new employment and a community tax base. It's a system using computers and the Internet in the business end of the work, but with their big payoffs being in planning, decision-making, and in gaining efficiencies from using our computer maps and satellite data. It provides comprehensive services for using and developing land for sustained annual profits for the long run. It will become a worldwide franchise to meet growing environmental and human needs.
Ranging is an alternative name for the results of RuralSystem and the diverse recreational and high quality outdoor conditions that it preserves and manages.

The time seems right for a committee to move the Grayson Initiative and the Rural System concept into public discussion. It is suprising, for it involves work down the not-for-profit pathway but insists that the failures of the past can only be overcome when people clearly perceive significant financial returns from their natural resource management. It uses past research. It needs to develop a dynamic planning system. Rural System, when developed will be a private entity that works for the county and its people. It works with the National Forest gaining financially from its presence rather than counting it as untaxable acres. There are many opportunities and openings for innovations and these need to be sought and augmented. Not an incubator, one part provides economies to the others. Affiliations with existing companies can be helpful, non-competitive.

I'll share ideas and resources, answer questions, and be as helpful as possible.
Robert H. Giles, Jr., Ph.D. Professor Emeritus
College of Natural Resources
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg 24060 540-552-8672
September 13, 2006

Perhaps you will share ideas with me about some of the topic(s) above .

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Robert H. Giles, Jr.
September 13, 2006