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Leonard to depart as Halifax IDA director

South Boston News
Leonard
SoVaNow.com / September 21, 2018
Matt Leonard, executive director of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority, will be departing his position Nov. 1 in a decision that the IDA described as “mutually agreed” upon.

The departure comes after IDA directors met in a lengthy closed session on Friday to discuss personnel matters as part of their regular meeting. Leonard and Deputy Director Kristy Johnson were not in the room when the directors went into executive session, a rarity for the IDA board.

Leonard, who took over the reigns at the IDA in 2012, leaves with a record of reducing the dependence of the IDA budget on county tax dollars, and he initiated a number of projects that are ongoing, including the proposed Henrietta Lacks Science Center to elevate cancer care in the Southside region. But his tenure was lacking any major economic development announcements — issued through the Governor’s Office and reflecting the work of the state, regional and local economic development groups — and his exit follows the postponement of “Project Noon,” a bid by Halifax County to land a U.K.-based advanced manufacturing prospect.

In a statement, IDA Board Chairman Chad Francis said Leonard had expressed his wish to leave for other opportunities.

“This is a mutually agreed to departure,” says Francis. “Matt has made it clear that he wants to pursue other opportunities, and the IDA has reached a point in its mission when we can manage this change. We are, in fact, very proud of what we have accomplished together with Matt over the last six years.”

The announcement by the IDA board also stated, “During his tenure, Leonard helped the IDA Board reshape the organization and its mission into better alignment with 21st century best-business practices and the new economic realities and challenges it faces.

“We developed a Five-Year Strategic Plan in 2013-14,” stated Mattie Cowan, IDA Secretary/Treasurer. “We have met or are about to meet all of those goals, including financial stability and security.”

According to the announcement, “The IDA has reduced its dependence on taxpayer funding of its operations from nearly $1M annually to $223,000, which is less than 9% of its annual operating budget, resulting in an effective 3.5 cent savings on the real property tax rate. They project taking zero taxpayer dollars beginning in FY 2020.

“Over the last six years, the IDA has successfully deployed its new vision mission and goals, resulting in the following:

» A focus on existing Business Retention & Expansion
» A reduction in the unemployment rate from nearly 12% to below 5%
» 1,000 more people working
» Successfully competing with other U.S. locations for expansions of major industries including ABB
» Helping to attract Acadia Healthcare to the former Carlbrook location resulting in 125 planned new jobs paying an average annual wage of $50,000, and adding $15M in new taxable capital
» Attracting ChemQuest Technology Institute, who will add 25 new jobs in Chemical Research & Development paying an average annual wage of over $60,000 and establishing a new advanced industry sector to Halifax County
» Piloting new transformational projects including the launch of the Henrietta Lacks Commission, which will establish the Henrietta Lacks Science Center in Halifax. This will be a new $50M biotech research and cancer treatment center in the IDA’s Southern Virginia Technology Park, creating 50 to 100 new well-paying professional and technical jobs, and establishing a new advanced sector in Halifax County

“Five years is up on our current Plan, and we’ve achieved it,” said Jeremy Satterfield, IDA Vice Chairman. “Now is a logical time to reset our Mission and Strategic Plan. So, if there’s going to be a change in the Executive Director, then it makes sense to do it at the same time we make a new Plan.”

The IDA board and Leonard have executed a separation agreement that includes confidentiality and non-compete clauses, four month’s severance, and agreement that Leonard will be available to advise and consult to the IDA on a limited basis at no fee for projects and programs started under his tenure.

The IDA will name an Interim Executive Director prior to Leonard’s departure.

“The IDA Board is well engaged in this next opportunity to further improve itself, and its mission,” said Francis. “We will take a thoughtful and thorough approach toward hiring a new executive director with an eye toward the long view.”

Before joining the IDA in July 2012, succeeding outgoing director Mike Sexton, Leonard was manager of the construction services group with Dewberry & Davis where he planned and managed public and private projects and programs, teaming owners, designers, funding sources, regulatory agencies and contractors. He is a civil engineer by training.

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