Smith brings dual roles to craft industry talent solutions

With years of experience at state and local economic engines, Jason Smith brings a rare blend of expertise in business growth and talent development to Virginia’s Gateway Region (VGR).

Since becoming VGR’s director of talent solutions and business development in March, Smith has been on the road meeting with local officials, business leaders and other community stakeholders to identify key regional opportunities to support in the months ahead. He also holds a dual appointment at the Community College Workforce Alliance, (CCWA), the shared workforce development division of Brightpoint and Reynolds community colleges. 

“Working at the state level, you’re communicating with the regional team when it comes to project management or development,” he said. “The enticing piece about coming to work in the region is getting back to grassroots and back in the trenches.”

Smith joined VGR after six years with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, where he served most recently as senior business manager for business retention and talent solutions. Before that, he spent six years in Fluvanna County, including three years as community and economic development director.

Between his new roles, Smith balances two symbiotic needs: Ensure current and prospective businesses find qualified employees in the region and prepare local residents with the skills they need to work and advance with industries growing in the area. 

After all, talent solutions – an emerging new term for what has long been referred to as workforce development – is frequently the top pain point cited by any business when asked to name its challenges.

“Whether it’s an existing business or a new company coming into the region, that’s top of mind: What is the talent pipeline? Who can we get connected with from a business resource and talent solution standpoint that will help us find the workers we need?” Smith said. “This role can help fill that needed gap for both employers and employees.” It’s that need to connect business to talent pipelines that inspired VGR leadership to propose a shared position with CCWA with its proven track record of enrolling job seekers into training programs for technician and trades occupations for which industry is seeking work ready applicants. 

Within VGR, he’s already been on the road to national trade shows, promoting investment opportunities in the region. He also will take the lead in compiling workforce and utility information on requests from potential investors.

Within the CCWA, he’s focused directly on business outreach, going out and understanding what companies need and how VGR and CCWA can support them. “Both VGR and CCWA are the boots on the ground, working directly with companies,” he said.

Others at CCWA focus on job seekers, and together the team is developing a target list and strategy for building effective relationships with companies. As those discussions take shape, the team can present talent solutions including tailored programs, from upskilling the existing workforce to launching traditional and new workforce credential programs.

“What it comes down to is understanding where the companies are, what their challenges are not just from a talent solutions and workforce perspective, but to help them in navigating how to do business with the state – because Virginia has a lot of resources,” Smith said.

As part of his continuing listening tour across the region, Smith is identifying themes and learning about effective strategies that can be redeployed in other ways. For example, he recalls a recent meeting with a local company that had struggled to find and retain the right workers. A state labor market analysis showed its starting wage was too low for the market. The company raised the pay rate, which attracted the right candidates; retention increased and recruiting costs dropped.

“That’s a good example of relationship building,” he said. “The more companies that we’re meeting with and learning what’s working, the more we can make recommendations and provide the value stated in my job description, and we can show the supporting data that we’re collecting.”

More importantly, Smith strives to get ahead of what businesses might need – at the same time that those jobs require even more new skills to keep up with the ever-changing pace of workplace technology.

“If we can get in front of industry fast enough, we can showcase how the CCWA can customize a training approach to help them move quicker and achieve their goals,” he said. “We can offer programs to upskill their workforce to meet the needs of whatever they have planned in the next three years, five years and so on.”

To discuss economic development opportunities and talent solutions, contact Smith at