Last month, the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) board discussed plans for a job fair and ways to attract new businesses in a time of economic prosperity and growth.

Talks at this month’s meeting on Friday morning turned to supporting local businesses and employees as unemployment rises and the economy spirals downward because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s amazing in three weeks’ time, we go from a job fair with about 20 businesses to talking about layoffs and how to help people with unemployment,” said IDA executive director Brian Brown.

Brown shared with the board that Halifax County’s unemployment rate for January was 4.7%, and unemployment is expected to rise because of the impacts of the coronavirus on business. The county’s January unemployment rate compares to a rate of 3% in Virginia and 4% nationwide.

The IDA had worked with Virginia Career Works and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center to reschedule a job fair, which now has been postponed indefinitely because of the governor’s ban on gatherings of 10 or more people.

While the job fair had to be canceled, the IDA moved forward with other plans to help support and grow businesses in the county. The board unanimously approved a resolution authorizing Brown to apply to USDA Rural Development for a grant to create a revolving loan program to support new and existing small businesses. The towns of South Boston and Halifax are supporting the IDA in the grant application. Board member Brandon Scearce made the motion to approve the resolution.

Brown also shared with the board that a customer service training for retail, hotel and food and beverage locations has been postponed. Restaurants and bars have been forced to close for dine-in during the coronavirus outbreak.

However, Brown said the IDA is working with the presenter to revamp the program and offer it online. The IDA is working with the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce and the Longwood Small Business Development Center to offer that training.

“This gives businesses a chance to give employees training so they will be ready when they do come back to work,” Brown said. “It’s a way to grow business.”

In other business, the board unanimously voted to accept a $50,000 grant from the Virginia Brownfields Restoration and Economic Redevelopment Assistance Fund for further assessment of the former Daystrom Furniture facility (Southern Virginia Advanced Manufacturing Center) at 1120 Greens Folly Road, South Boston. Board member Nancy Pool made the motion to accept the grant.

“This assessment will help us bring the building to a clean bill of health to help us market the building effectively,” Brown explained.

Despite the current economic downturn, the IDA also is moving forward with the construction of a shell building at the entrance of the Southern Virginia Technology Park to attract new businesses to the county. Construction workers with the Samet Corporation, a company based in Greensboro, North Carolina, recently broke ground at the project site.

At Friday’s meeting, Brown also shared with the board various coronavirus-related updates pertaining to small businesses:

w The South Central Workforce Development Board has received a rapid response grant from the Commonwealth of Virginia to help small businesses with certain costs related to the coronavirus crisis to minimize potential job losses.

Each county in the region, including Halifax, has a proportionate share of the funding based on labor force data, and funds will be awarded for eligible costs on a first-come, first-serve basis. Businesses interested in applying for funding should call 434-542-5871 or email Debra Crowder at dcrowder@vcwsouthcentral.com.

w The IDA is broadcasting a series of webinars to keep industries informed abut the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on businesses and employees.

w Frequently asked questions regarding Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 53, effective from March 24 through April 23. The order mandates the closure of recreational and entertainment businesses and restricts the operation of non-essential retail businesses.

Brown also told the board the IDA office would remain open to provide information to businesses throughout the developments of the coronavirus outbreak. On Friday, the building that houses the IDA office and Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation in the Southern Virginia Technology Park was nearly vacant with the exception of the IDA board and staff members. The board observed social distancing practices in its meeting, with each person seated at his or her own table.

“We are doing a deep cleaning of this building starting today, just as a precaution,” Brown added.

While most of the discussion at Friday’s meeting revolved around supporting local businesses during the coronavirus crisis, board member Mattie Cowan raised an idea to help community members overall. She said she had seen other communities adding wireless Internet hotspots in various places and asked about the possibility of doing that in Halifax County.

County administrator Scott Simpson, a guest at Friday’s meeting, responded that both branches of the public library have wireless Internet that can be accessed from the parking lots. The libraries are currently closed.

“Unfortunately the way the broadband is, there’s really no way to add hotspots at other places,” Simpson said. “There’s no connectivity in some areas, period.”

The next IDA board meeting is set for April 17 at 8:30 a.m.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.