Let’s breed some dolphins

Published 10:06 am Saturday, May 28, 2011

University of Virginia professor Greg Fairchild’s talk with Western Tidewater business and professional leaders Wednesday was equal parts sobering and encouraging.

First, the sobering:

Fairchild, an associate professor in the Darden School of Business, told of his visit earlier in the day with 60 students from Franklin High School, Southampton High School and Southampton Academy. Asked where they expect to be living and working in 15 years, only five said they will be in a 50-mile radius of Franklin/Southampton.

That’s fewer than 10 percent who see the possibility of a good career and life in their hometown.


The kids handpicked by their schools to meet with Fairchild presumably are some of the area’s best and brightest. The guess here is that similar surveys 10 and 20 years ago would have yielded the same results. The brain drain has been happening for decades.

Of those who have chosen to stay around, here’s some other sobering news:

Twenty-five percent of adults in Franklin and Southampton County do not have a high school diploma, compared with 14.2 percent statewide. Fifteen percent of Franklin-Southampton adults have a college degree; statewide, 33.4 percent of adults are college grads.

Now, the encouraging:

Fairchild and the Darden School see an alternative future for economically depressed communities that want to change their course. And the Darden School’s Tayloe Murphy Center, which Fairchild leads, is willing to be a partner with this community and others that seek a viable future for their children and want to be a player in the global economy.

Wednesday’s visit by Fairchild and other Darden School representatives was an exciting first step. In addition to the luncheon with community leaders and visit with high school students, he networked with young professionals at an evening reception. The Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce, Paul D. Camp Community College Regional Workforce Development Center, the Camp Foundations and others deserve commendation for reaching out and making Wednesday’s events happen.

Western Tidewater needs good partners to realize its economic potential. This columnist can’t think of a better one than the globally respected Darden School.

It should be noted that Fairchild and his colleagues bring no magic wands. A Tayloe Murphy Center partnership will require much hard work — and likely some attitude changes — by community leaders.

More regional cooperation will be required. “Where the political borders end, economic borders don’t,” he told the luncheon crowd Wednesday.

In a community that has long hitched its economy to a single anchor employer, Fairchild will preach the value of breeding dolphins — his metaphor for encouraging entrepreneurship and keeping the best brains and talent engaged right here at home.

Given Western Tidewater’s recent experience with the alternative, breeding dolphins strikes me a refreshing and worthy strategy. If Fairchild and the Darden School are willing to help us, let’s let ’em.

STEVE STEWART is publisher of The Tidewater News. His email address is steve.stewart@tidewaternews.com.