The Halifax County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) is much like a prospector, searching for treasure in terms of new business or industry.
In order to find that treasure, the IDA needs a strategic plan, much like a road map to take it where it needs to go, and board members worked the entire day Friday at Berry Hill Resort and Conference Center to craft such a plan.
Halifax County has its challenges, but it also has its positives, according to Kimball Payne, who served as facilitator for the event, and IDA executive director Brian Brown, who presented a comprehensive PowerPoint outlining what the future may hold for Halifax County and surrounding areas in terms of job opportunities.
Infrastructure upgrades as far as properties and buildings already owned by the IDA will need to be addressed, board members agreed, an example being the awarding on Friday of a $87,665 contract to Comfort Systems USA for the replacement of the server room HVAC system in the IDA-owned Southern Virginia Technology Park building two.
After emerging from closed session, board member Rick Harrell made the motion to award the contract to Comfort Systems USA, with a second from Nancy Pool. Board member Brandon Scearce abstained from the vote.
Board members absorbed a day’s worth of statistics and information before listing their priorities for a strategic plan, including an occupation snapshot from the website JobsEQ provided by Brown that listed the area’s largest employer as office and administrative support occupations with 12,356 workers, followed by production operations with 10,477 workers, all within a 45-mile radius surrounding Halifax County.
Compared to the national average, higher concentrations of employment in the area within a 45-mile radius of Halifax County are production operations, farming, fishing and forestry occupations (970 workers) and community and social service occupations (2,441 workers).
The highest average wages per worker are found in management occupations ($104,500), legal occupations ($76,700) and computer and mathematical occupations ($75,400), with unemployment rates varying from 1.6% among management occupations to 7.1% among farming, fishing and forestry occupations. Hospitality and tourism were deemed important to the quality of life in the region, and an analysis of those industries were added to the PowerPoint presentation provided by Brown at Friday’s session.
Some of the feedback from Friday’s meeting included several board members suggesting a more cohesive and inclusive message to the public by changing the name of the organization from the IDA (industrial development authority) to EDA (economic development authority), referring to economic development engines such as tourism, including hotels and motels as opposed to just attracting industry.
The board also agreed in forming a strategic goal, it should meet more often with the board of supervisors and fine-tune its message to potential employers.
The board also wants to focus on more marketable sites, such as property it owns at the Halifax County Fairgrounds, and it agreed it may want to focus on larger sites, perhaps those greater than 25 acres.
Harrell wants the IDA to focus more on fine-tuning its message to prospects with an emphasis on what type of site infrastructure they want and focus its efforts on investing in the most promising sites.
Suggestions from board members came early and often regarding a strategic plan.
Halifax County administrator Scott Simpson said he envisioned his role with the IDA as a liaison or go-between, someone who could keep supervisors up to speed on IDA activities, making sure both bodies are not going in different directions and finding common ground.
The group agrees not only is it important to recruit new business, it’s important to retain and support current businesses.
Board member Ryland Clark suggested further emphasis be placed on locating college-level employers as opposed to hourly jobs.
“People who go to college need something other than hourly jobs,” said Clark. “Match the resources in the county with potential employers in order to set them up for success.”
Board member Jeremy Satterfield added the IDA has been working at presenting a unified front in seeking employers and needs to have a more unified vision of where it’s heading.
Further development of broadband capacity throughout Halifax County continues to be crucial to economic development, board members agreed.
“All of us need to sing from the same hymnal,” said Satterfield.
One of the younger members of the group, Satterfield noted many millennials, generally considered in the 23 to 38-year-old age range, need flexibility to work from home, and lack of broadband access throughout Halifax County is hurting economic development.
Other suggestions made by board members included those by board chairman Robert Bates and board member Mattie Cowan concerning the need for the IDA to be positive and proactive.
“We need to have a road map, look ahead and be proactive,” said Bates.
Cowan suggested the IDA needs a strategic plan to direct its path and stay committed to that plan to make them successful in the future and to be able to agree to disagree and stay committed.
Payne suggested everyone should be open to new ideas.
“Some ideas come out of another idea that may seem crazy at first. You need the freedom to speak openly and honestly,” Payne said.
Part of the IDA’s vision should be collaboration, communication and leadership, and board members agreed success equals economic development, good paying jobs and an increasing tax base.
Scearce told fellow board members he disagrees with the perception no jobs are available in Halifax County.
“Look it up,” said Scearce, noting the VEC lists more than 500 jobs within 10 miles of his house.
“When Southside does well, we do well,” added Scearce.
Pool, former Halifax County Chamber of Commerce president, told board members to “keep your fingers on the pulse of the business community,” but beyond that to seek alliances with other agencies and groups promoting business and industry throughout Southside.
Stay focused despite setbacks, added Harrell.
“We live in a world of practicalities. In business, there are ups and downs every day,” Harrell concluded.