Finding New in the Familiar

When I considered the opportunity to participate in VALOR I knew that there would be many experiences that were outside my comfort zone. It was something that was both a little terrifying and also exciting. My days are typically spent at my desk or in meetings with other local, state, and federal bureaucrat types. With this in mind, there was much about the January seminar that was familiar to me because many of the sessions aligned with my “day job” role with Tobacco Commission. I enjoyed the chance to catch up with several existing contacts and I was introduced to many new faces that I hope to build stronger relationships with.

I’ve made countless trips to Richmond during the past (nearly) two decades and I always enjoy being there. I like getting my “city girl” fix for a few days before I return home to my quieter SWVA life. There is something special about a January visit when the city is just alive with the energy of the General Assembly Session. My January trips are always busy but this one was extra and we somehow managed to include a little bit of the things I love about Richmond into three exhausting but fun days. While there was much about the trip that was familiar to me, it was also full of new experiences.

I am a bit of a government/ history nerd so this seminar was a lot of fun for me. Our first meeting was with a conference room full of Cabinet Secretaries. Three Secretaries serve on the Tobacco Commission (Agriculture, Commerce and Trade, and Finance) so I am most familiar with those positions. This was a great opportunity to meet others and to hear more about their roles. A highlight of this meeting was hearing Secretary Merrick (Commerce and Trade) discuss her role on the Commission. I always appreciate when others share TRRC’s goal of revitalizing Southwest and Southern Virginia.  The next day we attended the opening session of the General Assembly. I felt like a kid on a school field trip again (in the very best way possible!). We later ended our time in Richmond with a tour of the Capital (again… more awesome field trip stuff). I haven’t been though the Capital in several years and had a great time. I was tripping over myself with excitement!

It’s impossible to discuss a trip to Richmond without mentioning the food. It’s true that I have a list of restaurants that are on my “must eat” list for when I am in town. This list has changed over the years as restaurants have come and gone. Our culinary options on this trip did not disappoint!

The culinary and social highlight of the trip was our attendance at the Virginia Agribusiness Council’s 51st Annual Legislative Appreciation Banquet. In addition to a fun opportunity to dress up, this event provided a chance to sample numerous Virginia wines, spirits, and food products. It’s absolutely my idea of a fun time! Apparently hundreds and hundreds (maybe thousands?) of my new friends agreed with me.  I was shocked at how many people from SWVA were in attendance! I really couldn’t turn around without seeing someone I knew from the region. This just simply doesn’t happen very often when I am in Richmond and is the strongest possible indicator that the Banquet is a big deal.  Those of us from the SW end of Virginia don’t travel 5+ hours for just any meeting or event. I can’t count the number of times I heard (or said myself) “I can’t believe we had to come all this way to catch up”. We caught up on work related stuff and we caught up on life stuff and we all had a wonderful time.

I describe myself as a social introvert. I really enjoyed a lot about working from home for a good bit of 2020-2022 but I don’t think I realized how much I missed professional social interaction. I think many of us have a renewed appreciation for the role face to face communication plays and there is an increased level of joy when we have these opportunities to connect. While day to day business is easy to accomplish remotely (and I appreciate and need my telework time), ideas happen when people are together. Projects grow when those ideas are shared from contact to contact, relationship to relationship. There is no better example of this than Richmond in January.

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