Does Central Virginia Need a New Economic Development Group?

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Does Central Virginia Need a New Economic Development Group?

Posted 8:30 a.m. on Friday, October 28, 2022

FARMVILLE – They all said no. Over the past two years, Buckingham, Cumberland and Prince Edward counties have joined a growing list of withdrawals from Virginia’s Growth Alliance (VGA), arguing that the cost of being in the economic development group was not worth the return on investment. Now, along with several other counties and Longwood University, they want to form a new regional economic development organization, which focuses only on this part of central Virginia. But first, they have to see if such a project is feasible. This is where the Commonwealth Regional Council (CRC) comes in.

CRC is a planning organization that works with Amelia, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Lunenburg, Nottoway and Prince Edward counties. They do everything from helping a county write a grant to providing research on a local proposal. That’s what’s happening here. When five of CRC’s seven counties, excluding Charlotte and Lunenburg, left VGA in 2021, they asked for help. They wanted to see what it would take to create an economic development operation. Otherwise, it would be more difficult to work on projects with the state.

“The state really likes working with regional organizations,” said Prince Edward County Administrator Doug Stanley. “They like having only one call to make with a prospect.”

Basically, Stanley said, the idea would be for the regional group to help connect the dots. You may have a business that is the best match for Cumberland, but you don’t know who to contact. Maybe the land development in a part of Prince Edward is a good size for a company looking to build. The proposed regional group would make it possible to provide answers to these questions, while linking companies and departments.

The study is progressing

Now, a study like this doesn’t come cheap. That’s why CRC contacted GO Virginia, one of the state’s economic growth projects. GO Virginia responded on Thursday, October 20, with a $65,000 grant for the project to develop a business plan and long-term strategy. In addition to the grant, CRC has received matching funds from Longwood University and the seven counties it serves, as mentioned above.

In addition to cash from the CRC and in-kind from the advisory committee, the budget to develop the business plan is $109,500. The plan will include recommendations on the current and desired state of the region’s economy; a work program; business attraction, retention and expansion; creation and support of small businesses; development site; technical support; governance structure; and fiscal and financial sustainability.

“Really, the process is going to look at whether this is viable,” said CRC chief executive Melody Foster. “All of our counties, (they) don’t want to create something just to create it. We want to make sure it’s financially viable (and) find ways to sustain it financially for the future, beyond just membership in the locality.

Additionally, counties want to see a return on investment. This is, after all, why they left the previous development group. They want to see a list of prospects. They want to see which businesses are interested in moving and which are on the fence. And if there’s any hesitation, if a business says they’d like to move in if X or Y happened, then county officials want to know that as well.

“I’m looking for information,” Stanley said. “We think this region has huge potential, but we need data. Currently, this study is to determine the elements and partners needed to help realize the potential. »

What about Lunenburg County?

Charlotte and Lunenburg counties, although they did not leave Virginia’s Growth Alliance, are participating in this study. Additionally, Longwood University is getting involved. A university involved in an economic development group has a precedent. James Madison University, for example, is involved in the city of Harrisonburg and neighboring Rockingham County.

“It is natural for us as a higher education institution to support CRC’s feasibility study for a new economic development organization that could effectively market our region and attract new business opportunities,” said Sheri. McGuire. She works as Longwood’s Associate Vice President for Community and Economic Development.

“We have been participating as non-voting representatives in CRC meetings for several years, to understand how we as a university can work with and in the region to support (economic development),” McGuire said. . “I participated in the CRC committee to help develop the overall economic development strategy for this region. I am also actively working with GO Virginia Region 3, alongside SOVA Innovation Hub and Mid-Atlantic Broadband in implementing the regional entrepreneurship and innovation investment strategy.

All of this work, McGuire said, gave Longwood a chance to see a full picture of the area’s strengths and opportunities. And the university wants to partner with the counties to take advantage of these opportunities, to see the region grow and develop.

What’s next for Central Virginia?

CRC expects to complete the study by October 2023. At that point, our counties here in central Virginia will have a choice to make. All groups involved will decide on the next steps.

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