The News & Record
South Boston News & Record
and Mecklenburg Sun
Home   •   News   •   Sports   •   Classifieds   •   Community   •   Health   •   Entertainment   •   Obituaries   •   Opinions   •   Weather
Advertising | Contact | Register
Advanced Search
News

South Hill veterans benefits office slated to close

Rent cited as site’s downfall

EASY DOES IT

After years of preparation and with help of seven area rescue squads, VCU-CMH completes ‘flawless’ transfer of patients to new facility Saturday

Hospital improves grade on safety evaluation


Sports

Comets focus on Xs and Os


Community


Opinion


A&E

News

Community leaders brainstorm over Halifax County’s future

SoVaNow.com / August 10, 2017


Members of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors, South Boston Town Council, Halifax Industrial Development Authority, school board and other policy-making organizations all came together Wednesday in an informal brainstorming session to set a path for Halifax County’s future development.

In the words of Supervisor Chairman Dennis Witt (ED-4), “our goal is to have a very informal discussion and hopefully a free discussion of ideas – nothing is off the table.”

Mediated by Alex Pearlstein, the vice president of the Market Street consulting company, the two-day event seeks to explore how Halifax can develop a modern workforce, improve employment and position itself for a prosperous future.

Market Street, established in 1997, has worked in 34 states with 165 different communities to “[help] communities proactively shape their own future. Supported by demographic research, target business analyses, and public input, the holistic strategies we deliver take into account every dimension of economic opportunity and quality of life.”

In the pre-emptive survey given to attendees, most identified the low costs of living, good quality of life outdoor activity opportunities, general family friendliness and access to medical facilities as a strength of the county – assets that could be built upon and could attract newcomers to live here. Businesses in the area have the benefits of low taxes, high-speed internet fiber via Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation and access to markets via the highway system, according to Market Street.

Challenges for the area center around the lack of education and population loss due to “brain drain” of the young and educated and aging. Secondary issues relate to lack of interstate access, public resource aesthetics (the appearance of the area) and limited upper-end professional housing.

Pearlstone assured the committee that “in every community we work in, workforce is the biggest [issue],” citing the economic powerhouse of Austin, Texas, grappling with attracting a workforce with needed skills.

Pearlstein and the attendees explored possible ways to combat the gaps: optimizing the school system – particularly in the specialized-job training aspects; better partnerships between schools and industry; better promotion of and incentives for new businesses; and a more robust transportation system. Also discussed was a long-term rework of the area – possibly emphasizing a more walkable community, more town housing and expanding the walking/biking trail system.

In order to attract new residents, particularly millennial professionals, Mark Estes of the Halifax County Service Authority cited the need to grow restaurants and increase the numbers of “things to do,” citing the Virginia International Raceway, The Prizery Art Center and the South Boston Speedway as examples.

Halifax town manager Carl Espy stressed the importance of environmental stewardship and tourism in attraction of residents and employers – the boat landings, trails, bike paths and parks. The sentiment was supported by Dr. Betty Adams of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center who said that young people may want to live in cities and population centers for a few years, but ultimately “they don’t want to stay there and raise a family.”

J.T. Davis (ED-1) echoed the sentiment: “People leave their concrete world to come here.”

Adams added that, “There is a consistent dialogue in how we as a region [don’t] advertise ourselves,” and suggested the group had to focus on “Who are we inviting and how do we get them here?”

South Boston town manager Tom Raab said the shortage of market-price professional housing was being alleviated with the successes of the New Brick Historical Lofts in South Boston, the nearly-complete Halifax Lofts in the old Halifax Elementary School and the ongoing Imperial Lofts project in the former South Boston Tultex Building.

Mark Lineburg, the new Halifax Public Schools superintendent, endorsed the further development of such housing projects, citing his own ease of access to restaurants in downtown South Boston and to the trail system.

Matt Leonard of the Halifax Industrial Development Authority said that jobs in local industries were not being filled with locals because industries can’t find locals who qualify and because of lack of communication. To bridge the gaps, he suggested a regional website that would post job openings, skill providers and prospective employees.

Members of the panel voted that the key issues facing Halifax include the capacity to attract businesses, K-12 school performance and a lack of consensus on how to move forward with development.

After the panel broke into discussion groups, all reported back with a series of possible solutions to attract new investment and businesses. Given the successes of Microsoft’s massive billion-dollar data storage facility in Boydton, all suggested increasing the attention to advanced communication technology and infrastructure. Estes suggested starting industrial hemp production and a low-interest credit program for farmers – citing Europe’s hemp industry currently worth nearly $2.5 billion. However, as Espy noted, the proposal would necessitate lifting the state’s ban on the crop and construction of expensive processing facilities.

Raab suggested the development of drone-piloting training facilities and manufacture – arguing the open sky and wide spaces would be the perfect match for the enterprise, combined with a skilled workforce. The drone’s potential in the fields of repairs, surveys and even law enforcement, “is coming and we need to be on the cutting edge of that.”

Raab also called for the increased emphasis on the healthcare and patient-care training industries, a necessity for Halifax’s aging population: “We need not only facilities but also the people.”

Estes and Davis stressed the necessity of investing in communications and Internet technology, citing the successes of homegrown businesses selling online through sites such as Etsy. “We’re moving away from brick-and-mortar infrastructure … and moving to online [infrastructure],” said Estes.

Lineburg added that increased investment in education was crucial to attract new families. “People are going to look at the high school before anything else. It’s our flagship,” he said.

Other suggestions included the creation of garden centers and healthy living initiatives, a makerspace and increased investment in art programs.

The second day of discussion, this morning, will include a review of the group discussion notes, a presentation of planning efforts in other localities, practices that can help revitalize an area and further discussion of what Halifax could be in the next decade.



Tell-a-Friend | Submit a Comment

64

Comments

How about promoting a safe countywide bicycling environment. Educate the citizens that bicyclist tend to spend money wherever they ride. They tend to be professionals that can afford nice equipment. This county is a gold mine for riding with it's challenging hills and beautiful landscape. A county this size will require overnight stays to get it all in. The slower the vehicle the more likely they are to stop and explore too. Just saying.

Comments

As professional millennials who recently relocated here, the biggest and most frustrating problem we have come across is the overall terrible customer service. We have experienced this at restaurants as well as stores. Having such awful customer service highly discourages us from frequenting establishments in South Boston. We often travel to bigger cities to eat, shop, or be entertained. There needs to be a scene of urgency and thankfulness towards the customer, especially in a retail or food service industry. Without good service from engaged workers, customers will not return.


Classified Advertising

Buy and sell items in News & Record classifieds.