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William & Mary plays a large role in Historic Triangle’s economic diversification report

William & Mary played a significant role in the Historic Triangle Collaborative’s Economic Diversity Task Force, which released a report of its recommendations in September after a year of research and discussion.

The report seeks to find mutually beneficial ways in which James City County, Williamsburg, York County and other major institutions can work together to diversify the Historic Triangle’s regional economy while also strengthening the tourism industry. Much of the report emphasizes the importance of supporting entrepreneurs, small businesses and young professionals and creating an environment that is conducive to opening new businesses or expanding current ones.

The task force was led by Jim Golden, vice president for strategic initiatives at William & Mary and immediate past chairman of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance. Leonard Sledge, the College’s director of economic development, also served on the task force. Golden explained that although the tourism and hospitality sector of the regional economy has been growing over the past two decades, the sector was hit hard when the national economy took a downturn beginning in 2007.

“There’s a general interest in what we can do to diversify the economy and make it less vulnerable to downturns in any one sector. We certainly want to have a strong tourism and hospitality sector, but it would be good to expand in other areas as well where we have strengths and where we can attract and grow businesses,” he said. “We think William & Mary can play a strong role in helping the region do that.”

The task force report lists six major goals, including: leveraging the location of Williamsburg between Richmond and Hampton Roads, engaging in collaborative economic development planning, providing a support system for entrepreneurs, using major institutions to support economic initiatives, creating a regional business brand and diversifying the tourism industry’s offerings.

Sledge said the College is particularly interested in three aspects of the goals: entrepreneurial assistance, joint business marketing and tourism.

“William & Mary is a major economic driver in the Historic Triangle,” Sledge said, noting that the College accounts for about half a billion dollars in economic activity in the state and approximately 7,000 jobs. “We have research facilities, we have other types of venues. We are very much a part of the fabric of the regional economy. So we need to continue identifying things we can do to help grow the region from an economic development standpoint outside of just having students come and be part of our campus.”i