With Congress on a two-week break, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner made a pair of stops Monday in Scott County to visit an advanced technology data center and meet with local leaders and constituents as part of a tour through the western portion of the state.
In between stops in Norton and Kingsport, Warner toured the recently completed OnePartner Advanced Technology and Applications Center in Duffield and hosted a town hall meeting at Natural Tunnel State Park's Cove Ridge Center with officials and residents from Lee and Scott counties.
Warner said the stops - part of a four-day, 17-event tour of western Virginia - were a way for him to not only field questions and concerns about the economy, but gather ideas to take back to the Senate as well.
"The one thing that's clear is politicians who only stay in Washington lose touch, and that's not the real world up there," he said. "My feeling is, this is where you have to get back on the ground to hear where some of the best ideas are going to come from."
During the town hall meeting, Warner fielded questions for about 45 minutes on a variety of topics ranging from energy initiatives to recent layoffs at area companies.
Warner told those in attendance that he thought Southwest Virginia could benefit more than many areas from federal money allotted in the recently passed American Reinvestment and Recovery Act for areas like medical reimbursements, water projects, education and rural broadband installation.
And Warner said he would try his best to make sure rural areas, like Scott and Lee counties, are not forgotten when it's time for additional money to be given out.
"Some of these areas - whether it's health care information technology, whether it's some of the new energy initiatives - we've been talking about these things for years," Warner said. "Now there are actually some dollars available, and as a new senator, I'm trying to make sure that the region gets its share."
Prior to the meeting, Warner paid a visit OnePartner ATAC, a sister company to Holston Medical Group that collects, stores and transfers electronic medical records, as well as other sensitive data for clients like banks and law enforcement agencies, throughout the United States.
Warner said the new facility - which is the only Certified Tier III disaster recovery and commercial hosting facility in the United States - could play a major role in the push for paperless medical records, especially since Congress has identified nearly $19 billion in stimulus funds to facilitate the transition.
It's projects like these, Warner said, that can lay the groundwork for not only lowering health care costs, but changing the way it is given.
"What I hear in general are concerns about where the economy is headed, focused a lot on health care and how we can make sure we can make it more efficient," Warner said. "I think a lot of the things that Dr. (Jerry) Miller was talking about over at HMG are real-life examples of what we've been talking about for years. This could be another example of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee leading the way for the rest of the country."