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Opinion

The future of Halifax County

SoVaNow.com / May 23, 2013
(The following letter to the Halifax County Board of Supervisors and Board Chairman Tom West was submitted for publication in Viewpoint — Ed.)

Dear Mr. West:

The Board members of the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) of Halifax County would like to share our perspective on where Halifax County is heading in the 21st century. But first we must look back to before the entire country went into the 2008 recession. The Southern Virginia Region suffered immensely from the loss of the tobacco and textile economy. Halifax County itself lost over 5,000 manufacturing jobs out of a population of 36,000.

We have lost some of our largest employers: Daystrom, Burlington Industries, JPS, Tultex, US Plywood, Craddock-Terry, and Halifax Cotton Mill. These industries, which were largely dependent on low wage, production type labor, will never return to our community or nation. Ninety percent of those jobs are now overseas. Hundreds of people had to uproot their families and move to other places to find employment.

Were it not for the IDA’s ability to attract and retain several thousand jobs since the 1980’s, along with financial support from local county government and other funding partners, the picture would be even more dire for our people and our area.

Equally important to our survival were those numerous local volunteer leaders who took action to change the local economic picture. The reliance on low skill and poor paying jobs would certainly be the demise of many rural communities across the United States. Halifax County did not accept this fate and proactively took the following action:

1. Created awareness among our people of the absolute necessity of higher education to become better and more technically trained in a more advanced and competitive economy;

2. Created access to local, affordable education through the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC);

3. Supported and encouraged our public school system to raise the level of expectations of its students by increasing the rigor and diversity of its educational and career training offerings;

4. Built opportunities for enjoyment in the performing and visual arts not typically found in other rural communities;

5. Built capability to offer services to industries needing a highly skilled workforce; Almost every community has land and empty buildings to offer prospects but few have the direct business services or skilled workforce needed;

6. And, in spite of the present economic recession, our community continues to recruit industry nationally and internationally.

To secure our economic future in Southern Virginia, we needed a sound and thoughtful plan of attack. Our local Board of Supervisors, Town Councils and the IDA commenced to use local funds to leverage substantial Tobacco Commission grants to help finance and implement this plan as evidenced by:

1. The SVHEC with its Center for Nursing Excellence, Innovation Center and Advanced Manufacturing Research and Development, and the Business of Art & Design components is in place and evolving, with programs supported statewide by the Virginia Manufacturers Association and other professional groups;

2. The Prizery, with its many award-winning performing and visual arts events, is already a major arts icon across southern Virginia; and

3. The robust and world-class Riverstone complex, developed and operated by the IDA, now includes:

Faneuil with 150 call center jobs;

Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) headquarters and hub of the Internet and dark fiber installation organization bringing Southern Virginia schools, and businesses access into the electronic and digital world. MBC has enabled $1.2 billion of private sector investment and helped create 912 jobs across the region.

Riverstone Energy Center with its research and development capabilities and services, and talent not normally seen in any other rural area of our size; and

National Center for Coatings Application Research and Education (C-CARE), the only one of its kind in North America, in its first eight months, has already attracted national and international companies such as PPG Industries, Honda, Falcone Jet, Kawasaki, Kremlin, with world class recognition and acclaim from national research entities such as Oak Ridge National Laboratories.

Further, 80 percent of the work the IDA performs is focused on retaining and expanding local business and industry. This is reflected in dollar tax-base increases and jobs. Listed below are some of the IDA’s successes during the past four years with new and existing businesses, while growing and managing over $41 million dollars in building and property assets:

January 2009 - Lasco Bathware, 50 new positions, 280 jobs saved, $1.7 million investment

August 2009 - Marriott Fairfield Inn Suites, 20 employees, $6.5 million investment

August 2010 - Construction of ten industrial pad ready sites at Riverstone Technology Park, $1 million investment

October 2010 - Acquisition and upfit of the South Boston-Halifax Visitor Center

February 2011 - NOVEC power generation plant, 40 full-time employees, $175 million investment, and over 300 temporary construction jobs

February 2011 - Launched renovation of the Green View Advanced Manufacturing Center formerly Daystrom Furniture, 420,000 sq. ft., $3 .5 million to date

June 2011 - Expansion of Presto Products, 22 new jobs, $6 million investment

June 20 II - ABB expansion, added 15 new jobs and saved the plant from closing, $4.6 million new investment

October 2012 - National Tire Research Center at VIR, facility expects to have 93 employees, $15 million investment.

Fully funding the IDA is critical to keeping these initiatives moving forward into the 21st Century. The IDA and the SVHEC have helped position our community for future success. However, there is much work to be done.

We can never forget the important connection between successful economic development efforts and a high quality, progressive local education and health systems. New and existing business and industry evaluate many things when deciding to expand in, or locate to, a community. At the top of the list is the availability of a trained or trainable workforce. This important concept must be clearly understood as we seek to expand our local tax base and create sustainable, good paying jobs.

One of our community’s core values has been and should be to support an outstanding public school system. The education of our children and young adults speaks volumes about who we are as a community, what’s truly important to us, and whether we are serious about attracting business, industry, professionals, and families to our community.

Consequently, to fund our public schools at the present level is not enough. The Constitution of Virginia puts local education funding ultimately in the hands of our county governing body. Toward this end, we must pay competitive salaries to recruit and retain excellent teachers. We are concerned that we rank in the bottom 25% statewide in teacher’s pay. In Virginia, Halifax ranks only III among 132 communities in teacher pay. Investment in our teachers is an investment in economic development.

To fail to adhere to these core values and not recognize the relationship between superior schools on one hand, and good paying jobs and a strong industrial tax base on the other, is shortsighted and self-defeating. It’s simply not good business.

Respectfully Submitted:

John R. Cannon, Chairman

The Board of Directors of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority:

Ted Bennett
K.M. “Butch” Blanks, Jr.
Mattie Cowan
Wanda Jeffress
Chris Lumsden
Garland Ricketts







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