A strategic plan that will serve as a road map for the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority for the next four years is being fine-tuned.
The IDA board and staff met with the Halifax County Board of Supervisors on Thursday afternoon to review the plan in its final stages. The strategic plan’s steering committee is expected to vote on the plan at its next meeting.
Beth Doughty, principal consultant for the strategic plan, presented the IDA Strategic Plan 2022-2026 for the two boards, outlining the IDA’s mission and vision, priorities and strategies for the organization.
“It’s a road map to a more organized approach to setting priorities. It’s not a performance evaluation,” Doughty stated. “It takes years to build out the kind of results that you want to see, so it’s a process. It’s going to take financial resources, human capital resources, and time resources.”
Doughty explained the creation of the strategic plan was a “deliberate and step-by-step process,” involving input from the steering committee and the IDA staff, as well as information gathered in the course of conducting 42 stakeholder interviews. A common theme stood out in the stakeholder interviews: wanting to see more from the IDA.
“I think the message is clear: The message is that people want more,” Doughty told the boards. “They want more interaction with the IDA. They want more jobs. And that comes from resources.”
She added, “You can’t keep doing the same things and expecting different results.”
The priorities of the IDA outlined in the strategic plan are business growth, real estate and infrastructure, regional engagement and partnerships, and organizational sustainability. Doughty added some of the tactics in the plan are aimed at “strengthening relationships,” and all are aimed at “helping the economic development community move forward together.”
On the topic of real estate and infrastructure, Halifax County Administrator Scott Simpson noted the IDA’s ability to “steer properties” would be key to attracting business and industry to the area.
“There’s a fine line between the IDA owning all the real estate versus the ability to control real estate in order to attract business,” Simpson expressed. “I think there have been opportunities lost in the past where property was privately owned and agreements couldn’t be made between the IDA and the property owner. It’s tough to market an existing property from the IDA’s standpoint and then they (the property owner) says, ‘Oh, we don’t want to sell it now.’”
IDA board chairman Rick Harrell commented the IDA should “probably own fewer sites,” but those sites should be up to standards and move-in ready for prospective businesses and industries looking to purchase them.
“If they’re not up to tier 4 or 5, meaning all the infrastructure readily available, you don’t have anything,” Harrell commented.
Harrell also noted the IDA’s readily available shell building at the entrance to the Southern Virginia Technology Park has generated a great deal of interest although it does not yet have a tenant.
“It really has put us on the map,” Harrell said. “I think all of us need to remember the importance of doing that.”
Aside from the shell building, IDA executive director Kristy Johnson noted the other IDA-owned sites at the industrial park all are graded and have utilities and infrastructure, and likely all would be tier 4 or 5 sites in 12 months’ time. However, she said the sites outside the industrial park are “very unprepared.”
While Johnson agreed with Harrell that having readily available sites is critical in the attraction of business and industry to Halifax County, she suggested the IDA should own more sites in the short-term for that purpose.
“Ultimately, things move so quickly today,” Johnson offered. “Owning and preparing sites is going to be critical. It doesn’t mean we have to own them forever…We need to go at it with a shorter vision that is still flexible.”
Harrell also noted the readiness of IDA-owned sites could impact its opportunity to have a stake in major industrial developments in the region. He told the boards the “largest megasite in the state,” the 3,528-acre Southern Virginia Megasite at Berry Hill, is “next door” to Halifax, in neighboring Pittsylvania County. Typically, when megasites like that develop, Harrell said they create offshoots within 30 to 40 miles, offering neighboring communities the opportunity to become involved in the industrial development.
One of the strategies Doughty outlined in the IDA Strategic Plan to further strengthen the IDA’s ability to attract new industry is to approach neighboring localities to gauge their interest in forming a regional industrial facility authority (RIFA).
“The state is encouraging this activity (RIFA’s), and there’s more funding available if you have a regional thing,” Harrell added.
IDA board member Ryland Clark asked how a RIFA works and how the Halifax County IDA would benefit from it. Doughty replied Halifax County would get a portion of the tax revenue from a RIFA site in which they had a stake.
“You share in the cost of the development of the site and you share in the benefits,” Liz Povar, a consultant working with Doughty on the IDA Strategic Plan, further explained.
“It’s really a win-win,” Doughty added.