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MESSAGING SERVICE

South Boston News
IDA board members and staff hear from Kimball Payne, retired Lynchburg city manager and facilitator for the IDA’s planning session Friday at Berry Hill Resort.
SoVaNow.com / November 18, 2019
The Halifax County Industrial Development Authority wants to get the word out that jobs are available locally, businesses and industries have a friend in the IDA, and opportunities exist to attract new business prospects and high-paying jobs to the county.

Members of the IDA board also acknowledged they must do more to sell that message to the public.

“Just because we’re not in the paper with a trophy and a thumbs-up doesn’t mean we’re not creating jobs,” said IDA board member Brandon Scearce during a day-long IDA strategic planning session held Friday at Berry Hill Resorts.

“There are so many thing that we already have” in Halifax County, including existing businesses and industries that go begging for workers, added Scearce. From his review of Virginia Employment Commission data, Scearce said there are currently 501 job openings in Halifax County — “not just $10 an hour jobs,” but also openings for management and professional positions.

“We need a better message,” said Scearce.

The challenges ahead for the IDA drove the discussion at the strategic retreat, which was facilitated by retired Lynchburg city manager Kimball Payne. As board members peppered the conversation with observations about Halifax County, the public perception of the IDA, and comments on the state of the job market and overall economy, Payne scribbled notes on an oversized drawing pad to present to new IDA Executive Director Brian Brown, who will use the information to write a strategic plan for the group going forward.

Board members largely emphasized the county’s positives — “I think we need to be an advocate for businesses, and be on the lookout on the horizon for any negative messages,” said director Nancy Pool — but they also asked what the IDA needs to do to be more effective, and what should change.

Defining their benchmarks of success — good paying jobs, a prepared workforce, expansion of the county’s tax and employment base, partnerships with business and industry — board members tossed various ideas for achieving those goals.

One recurring message was a desire to work more closely with the Board of Supervisors on economic strategy. That brought forth a comment by Ryland Clark on the county’s efforts to bring high-speed broadband service to underserved and completely dark areas of the county.

“We’ve got to do whatever we can to speed up the internet. Young professionals are not going to move here without it,” he said.

Jeremy Satterfield brought up another key collaboration, with the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, which offers an array of job training and adult education courses.

“We have wonderful programs at the high ed center that are completely unknown,” said Satterfield.

At one point during the planning session, members delved into an unpleasant memory for the IDA — a long-ago attempt to form a separate economic development authority, led by prominent business leaders in the county. “What consequences came of that?” asked director Mattie Cowan.

Retired businessman Rick Harrell, a recent appointee to the IDA — along with Clark, an IDA newcomer — replied to that question by noting the “dysfunctionality” that hampered the county’s business recruitment efforts at the time. He and others convinced the Board of Supervisors to create a competing organization, the Halifax County EDA, but that effort fell apart amid a spat with the incumbent IDA.

“I was chairman at the time and we all resigned en masse,” said Harrell.

That anecdote, however, spurred a discussion on changing the name of the IDA to EDA — because “economic development authority” works better than “industrial development authority” to describe what the group actually does, members suggested.

“Do you want to be boxed into ‘industrial’ when you’re talking about the economic development of the community?” asked Payne, the session’s facilitator.

Cowen suggested that along with better messaging and public presentation, the IDA needs something else to bring new jobs to the county — better business incentives for prospective employers.

Payne counseled caution on that score. “Help me understand the relationship” between incentive payments to businesses and industries and the county’s interests, he asked. “If you have to pay someone to come here, why are you doing that? It defeats the purpose.

“An incentive program needs to have a positive benefit to the county, and I’d say the timeframe for that needs to be shorter and not longer,” he said.

One area where the IDA plainly needs an upgrade, members said, is in the number and variety of sites that it can to market to prospective businesses and employers.

Halifax County lacks “pad ready” sites that can be quickly tailored for industrial use — locations with ready access to four-lane highways, rail service, natural gas, water and sewer and other industrial necessities. The county does not have so-called Tier 3 sites that are valued and highly promoted by state economic development officials, said Brown.

“We do have some sites that are lowly-ranked but can be brought up,” noted Harrell. “I think you logically want to do that before you go looking for something else.”

The IDA has sites at the Southern Virginia Technology Park — previously known as the Riverstone park — and on both sides of U.S. 58, behind the Bojangles Travel Plaza and at the Route 58 Industrial Park behind Presto, Annin Flag and other industry mainstays. It also has the Daystrom building on Green’s Folly Road, refashioned as the Southern Virginia Advanced Manufacturing Center.

Another available site is the county fairgrounds, which is owned and controlled by the Board of Supervisors. Since acquiring the fairgrounds a decade ago, county supervisors have had on- and off-again discussions about using the site for industrial use. That cause was set back when the county built a waste transfer station nearby, but Brown called the fairgrounds “an interesting piece of property” that could be developed for larger industrial clients.

“Having a larger site opens you up to being able to do a larger facility, a larger property,” he said.

In an extensive presentation, Brown outlined ways to attract new business to Halifax County, relying on a fairly straightforward theory — many area businesses and industries are forced to purchase goods and supplies outside of the region, and the IDA should use that information to pitch supply-chain companies on the opportunities that would come from locating here.

Examples of industries where Halifax County can build on an existing base include automotive products, agribusiness, forestry, advanced manufacturing and others. In a 45-mile radius around Halifax, the automotive sector employs 3,607 people paying an average annual wage of $81,753, said Brown, citing data by Chmura Economics and Analytics, a national research and consulting firm.

With assets such as Virginia International Raceway and South Boston Speedway, “we have a unique cluster in our community, and part of that is how we grow, because we have a unique story [to tell],” said Brown.

The importance of telling an attractive and compelling story should be at the heart of what the IDA board members take away from the planning session, Payne said.

“I’m encouraging you to take control of your message,” he said, “rather than it get created out there for you.”



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Comments

What can't they do better. IDA has not made money for the county. Need to shut it down.

Comments

The development of this county involves a far more complex approach than just finding businesses and giving incentives to come here. The county needs to shift their approach to land business and have them stay. Recent studies have shown, in major markets who acquired businesses such as Amazon, the focus is less on monetary incentives but instead quality of life and community opportunities. Businesses need to know they can operate not for 5 years but for 25 years and their workforce will be happy doing so in their area of choice. Make Halifax appealing, do not simply provide a shell building and tax incentives to open a business. There have been a few movements to improving the appeal of Halifax, the healthcare upgrade being one. The recent discussion for improving the school is another step in the right direction, but it doesn't end there. To make Halifax great, invest in making Halifax County a top choice to live, not just the best financial incentive to get started.

Comments

Growhalifax, you are either a politician or not a native. Halifax, way of life is just fine. Our healthcare was fine to obozo caused doctors like Dr. Mitchell to retire. I stayed in Halifax county because it was not growing like NOVA, why do people like you always want to change things.

Comments

Born, raised, and live in Halifax. No politician but rather a citizen who wants to see the best possible community to live and raise my children. In your original comment claiming the "IDA has not made money for the county. Need to shut it down," you reference a need to make changes to improve revenue and job creation. How would you expect to do so without growth, without change? I do not necessarily want to do see a drastic change to way of life so many have grown accustom, however, I do want see the citizens and especially the children offered the same opportunities for success as lets say a NOVA. Change is necessary to maintain or improve for what the future brings. Otherwise, the county we live falls behind and eventually begins losing more than it can withstand.

Comments

SO you admit you want it to be like NOVA? Industry that supports most of the educational level. Factories, non high tech jobs, trades is what should be the focus. Not a new high school. My idea is to reduce spending. If I was putting the budget together. I would cut all departments by a minimum of 20%. This new tax is a terrible. Since I farm I will buy what I can in Halifax with my tax exempt status. I will go to a neighboring county to purchase items that I have to pay tax on. I know many people that will do the same. We need to cut not enlarge. My family has been here since before the Revolution and I want the farm that has been in the family to go to my kids, not tax them out of it.


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