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How the winds blow
SoVaNow.com / May 01, 2014I missed “Noah” when it came out in the theaters, but the weatherman said we’d be able to catch the special effects in person yesterday, so I guess that’s eight bucks saved. I dunno — between the violent storms and the record-setting droughts and other weather-related weirdness, you might think something was up with the planet. Good thing the folks on Fox News say it ‘taint so.
OK, my apologies for that last remark — now truly there’s a different column for another day. Just to be clear, (1) weather and climate are not the same thing, (2) the link between violent storms and climate change is inconclusive, and (3) you’ll never see people who spout off with statements like OMIGOD IT’S 15 DEGREES OUTSIDE AND AL GORE IS FAT offer similar caveats. Luckily for them, this isn’t a column about climate change, it’s about nailing down loose ends before the next news tornado hits. Let’s stick our heads out the window and see which way the wind blows:
• Charlotte County sure did land a nice new industry this week, didn’t it? The Corsi Group is coming to the Heartland Business Park in Keysville to build custom cabinets, bringing 110 new jobs with it. It’s become accepted wisdom that it’s better for a community to have ten businesses with 100 jobs each than one big plant with 1,000 jobs that could leave for China at the drop of a hat. At any rate, Tuesday’s announcement represents a terrific pickup for Charlotte County. Good for them.
Whenever a locality on our periphery scores an economic development win, inevitably some people use the news as a club to beat up on our own Industrial Development Authority. Which is fine, to a degree: I don’t think our local economic development crowd has quite cracked the code on recruiting new manufacturing jobs. On the other hand, Charlotte County isn’t exactly known for its muscularity in this department, either; for companies concerned about ease of transportation, perhaps the fact Charlotte has no stoplights constitutes a strong selling point, although I sorta doubt it.
In February, the Virginia Tobacco Commission’s Southside Economic Development Committee held a meeting to discuss Charlotte County’s request for money to purchase the building that will house The Corsi Group. The meeting minutes are illuminating; speaking on behalf of the county, Del. Tommy Wright (Charlotte is part of his legislative district) called the request “out of sight;” another speaker noted that Charlotte was the only location in Virginia that the company was considering. All this, plus the fact Charlotte officials were working with the building’s private owner to recruit the then-unnamed prospect, suggests rather strongly that the county caught lightning in a bottle with the courtship of Corsi. Put another way, sometimes new companies are found and wooed outside the governmental framework of IDAs and such. Who knew?
One of the best things that ever happened to the Town of Clarksville was the arrival of some high-flying Northern Virginia contractor-types who snapped up the shuttered Russell Stover Candy Plant and fixed it up; the new owners arrived with a passel of big promises and departed with a trail of debts, but they did recruit the EDS data center (now Hewlett Packard) to take over the building. The moral of the story is you can never quite know what will work in the realm of economic development, and dumb luck sometimes trumps even the smartest plans. I do think it’s important for communities to (1) maintain a good inventory of easily-adaptable, spacious sites ready for prospective companies to occupy, and (2) stay in close touch with the companies already in operation in town. The networking effect can be a powerful force in identifying potential prospects. The Halifax County IDA purports to take this approach in its own efforts to recruit new companies; one example is the IDA’s partnership with TMI AutoTech, makers of specialty racing vehicles, to branch into new product lines. (TMI manufactures The Atom, which looks to be just as much fun as the name.) Whether any of this stuff pays off is anyone’s guess, but you gotta like the concept.
For some odd reason, the office of Fifth District Rep. Robert Hurt e-mailed out a story a few weeks ago by the Fauquier Times that featured Hurt’s latest deep thoughts on the Affordable Care Act, nee Obamacare. (I try in this space to highlight reporting and commentary that I think is deserving the widest possible distribution, but I’m sorry: The Fauquier article was just putrid. If you feel compelled to give it a read, probably the easiest way is by visiting the congressman’s website, hurt.house.gov. Look under the “Newsroom” link.) The title of the piece is “Rep. Robert Hurt: Obamacare fixes needed even before repeal.” Notice something new there? After voting 50-odd times to repeal Obamacare along with the rest of the Republicans in the House of Representatives, all of a sudden Robert Hurt is expressing a desire to “fix” the law. Is our congressman learning?
Maybe the fact that eight million people have signed up for insurance on the ACA’s new marketplace exchanges, while millions more are now covered with the state-by-state expansion of Medicaid (although, alas, not in Virginia — not yet anyway) has prompted a change in heart for our congressman. Or maybe he’s seen the handwriting on the wall. If so, would it be too much to ask for Rep. Hurt to pick up the phone, call some of his old buddies at the General Assembly, and tell them to knock off their dead-ender opposition to Obamacare?
This is, after all, the only thing that is preventing Virginia from expanding its Medicaid program to provide health care to an estimated 250,000 low-income citizens across the state. It ain’t the budgetary impact. It ain’t the “job-killing” nonsense that Hurt has been peddling about the ACA since day one. (Medicaid expansion in Virginia would be paid for almost entirely by the federal government, which will collect the same amount of tax revenues under the Affordable Care Act whether Virginia chooses to take the money or not. By the way, the estimated number of new health industry jobs statewide that would spring up with Medicaid expansion: somewhere between 22,000 and 30,000.) It’s encouraging to see that Rep. Hurt is finally coming around on the subject of health care. There are certainly aspects of the new law that could use improvement. Is Hurt finally willing to get real and pitch in with an actual contribution?
Uh-oh: This week our congressman is out with a new column that suggests job creation in the Fifth District hinges on the Keystone XL Pipeline. Has anyone told him the pipeline would be built out west? Hurt’s argument that the Keystone pipeline will lower energy prices on the world market is so absurd that you almost have to wonder about the origins of such nonsense. Maybe the congressman grew up hearing this kind of talk around the house. Maybe his dad believed the same thing about uranium mining in southern Virginia. Oh wait ….
Every once in awhile, I’ll hear someone lamenting all the money that Halifax County will spend to fix up its Courthouse, but anyone who doubts the need should take a moment, step inside the building and witness its truly lamentable condition. (You don’t even need to go inside. The water damage to the exterior is plain enough to see.) I’m actually pretty excited about the multi-step, many-moving-parts renovation and expansion plan that the Board of Supervisors has drawn up for the courthouse — and for other departments, including the Sheriff’s Office, county administration and building office, and assorted others. The project should vastly improve the workings of local government, to say nothing of providing the Town of Halifax with a nice shot in the arm. Lavish digs aren’t necessary for the work of local government, but adequate space is. And it’s a shame we ever let the Courthouse fall into its current sad state. So let the lamenters lament; for everyone else, the project should be a source of community pride