A frank, open and oftentimes emotional discussion Thursday afternoon between the Halifax County Board of Supervisors and Halifax County Industrial Development Authority Board ended with both sides agreeing that despite different opinions in how autonomous the IDA should be in recruiting business and industry, differences should be put aside for the betterment of the county.
“We’re not here to cast blame, there’s enough to go around on both sides,” said Supervisor Chairman Dennis Witt.
The fact that Thursday’s meeting was the first time in several years the boards have met under similar circumstances is perhaps a symbol of the frustration both boards feel in trying to work together, Witt pointed out.
The board of supervisors created the Halifax County IDA in 1971, and the board reserves the power to appoint board members, explained Witt.
“That being the case, you cannot extricate the board of supervisors from the operation of the IDA,” added Witt. “Sometimes micromanagement has been mentioned, but I don’t really think that’s on the radar screen.”
The county continues to face an uphill battle in bringing large industry to the county since the departure of textiles and furniture manufacturing industries, Witt added.
“We can’t lay the fault of not getting the ‘big one’ at anyone’s feet,” Witt said.
IDA board member Mattie Cowan asked that egos be put aside for both sides in deciding which route to take in attracting business and industry, including the possibility of appointing an economic development director.
“I agree we may have to take another path to get somebody to work with both boards,” said Cowan, who also supports leaving the IDA intact and having the county administrator attend IDA board meetings as an ex-officio member of the board.
IDA board member Nancy Pool, who formerly served as executive director of the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce, agreed with the idea of appointing an economic development director, but she added a thorough vetting should take place before such a position can be filled.
Pool explained that an economic development director should be compensated at such a level as to be competitive, and that such a director should be allowed to operate independently, a position with which IDA board member Robert Bates agreed.
IDA Board member Brandon Scearce suggested a nationwide search be conducted for the position, with supervisors and the IDA each paying half his or her salary.
Supervisors and IDA board members all agreed they should all work together for the good of the county and its residents, but two of them, ED-2 Supervisor Jeffrey Francisco and ED-6 Supervisor Stanley Brandon, said that their constituents have told them they want more results.
Brandon said he is a big proponent of the Vision 20/20 program that could prioritize projects for the county and help give both groups a direction to follow.
ED-7 Supervisor Garland Ricketts and ED-8 Supervisor W. Bryant Claiborne support the model of the county administrator serving as an ex-officio member of the IDA board, serving as a primary path for communication between the two bodies.
Ricketts added he would support the board’s sharing in the cost of an economic development director.
Getting involved in the day-to-day operations of the IDA is “not our charge,” said Ricketts, himself a member of the IDA board before being elected supervisor.
Pool reflected on the success of the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce as proof the board of supervisors, IDA board and county can work together to achieve business and economic development, becoming the smallest chamber of commerce in the United States to achieve five-star status.
“That was the people of Halifax County that made that happen,” said Pool, while noting the successful effort in creating the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.
“The people of Halifax County are creative, they’re strong, they are committed and dedicated, and all we need to do is provide leadership and have high expectations of what we can accomplish. We didn’t have Dan River Mills, an interstate highway or university. This community created a higher education center, and it did it from nothing. Nobody gave us anything, and we can do this,” she added.
Interim IDA Executive Director Kristy Johnson, Deputy Director Chad Francis and board members Joni Henderson, Jeremy Satterfield, Pool, Bates, Cowan, and Scearce attended Thursday’s meeting, held in the conference room in the Southern Virginia Technology Park.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Witt attended along with ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis, Claiborne, Ricketts, Brandon and Francisco, with ED-5 Supervisor Joseph Rogers and ED-3 Supervisor Hubert Pannell absent from the meeting.
The Halifax County Board of Supervisors is expected to continue discussion of an Office of Economic Development its Monday’s organizational meeting in Halifax.