Developing a modern high school with a program to match, advancing the motorsports industry, establishing Halifax County as an industrial hemp center and pursuing the Henrietta Lacks Science Center were some of the key takeaways from the Community Strategic Plan Rollout and Celebration at The Prizery on Wednesday.
Individuals who served on a committee for more than nine months who poured through thousands of survey results, helped conduct focus groups and worked to write the plan took turns Wednesday sharing the results.
According to Halifax County Board of Supervisors chairman and strategic plan co-chair Dennis Witt, the number one need that emerged from the plan was a modern high school.
“This is a critical moment in local history,” said Witt as he spoke about the 1-cent sales tax incentive for school capital projects the general assembly passed.
The public will have a chance to vote on a referendum in November that will tell the tale of whether the majority of voters are in favor of the one-cent sales tax hike.
Tri-County Community Action Agency president Petrina Carter said when talking about a modern high school facility, they aren’t just talking about a structure.
“We’re talking about an educational system that will be able to compete against any other educational system in this country,” said Carter.
“We want to establish the college and career readiness initiative. For the economy, we want to attract outside jobs. We want to retain and support existing businesses. We want to grow small businesses and start ups. We want people to want to start businesses here, because they want to live here.”
She also said community leaders want to optimize the climate for investments in downtowns and promote resident-driven place-making.
Dr. Betty Adams, executive director of the Southern Virginia Higher Center, and school superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg co-chair the college and a career readiness initiative.
“For communities like ours that are losing population, it is critical for us to be able to produce and retain homegrown talent,” said Adams. “While we have the components of a talent pipeline, our feedback that we got from the community was that we need to do a better job in collaborating and coordinating that.”
To help bring together all of the talent pipeline partners, Adams said they plan to work to increase pre-K and head start enrollment, look into providing educational and training opportunities at satellite locations, particularly in the northern part of the county, and to encourage businesses to expand internship opportunities for high school students and recent graduates.
Calling current students “dynamic,” the superintendent said they long for the day when the school system can peel back testing and have more relevant work.
“And, that’s really where we’re going,” Lineburg said, also speaking about turning the high school into a career center.
“Yes, I would love to see us build a new high school, but it doesn’t matter if we do not have a great program in place, and we’re going to develop a good program, because we’re going to listen to business leaders. We will have a program that will fit our community.”
Speaking about growing the economy, IDA interim director Kristy Johnson said most people only consider economic success as bringing in new industry.
“That’s a big misconception,” said Johnson. “In reality, 75 to 80 percent of our new jobs and capital investments are going to come from existing industry.”
She spoke about the importance of supporting existing businesses and how they could be the county’s biggest advocates when trying to bring in a new industry.
Halifax County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mitzi McCormick gave recommendations on how to help businesses grow and thrive.
In addition to visiting and maintaining positive relationships, she said the chamber and town leaders need to help businesses identify areas of growth, respond to challenges and opportunities and work with regional and state partners.
“No one organization by itself can address the needs and challenges of a business. It takes a village,” said McCormick.
To help grow small businesses, Longwood Small Business Development Center director Lin Hite said the key thing they want to do is make it easier for someone to start or expand a business.
He said the plan is to create a website to promote resources, to use social media and to find a space for individuals to develop and test products.
Hite also would like to make it easier for startups to gain access to capital.
Speaking about transforming the county into an industrial hemp center, Witt said the county plans to assist farmers who would like to grow hemp, and they’d like to establish a processing center here.
“It’s critical that we find the right partner. Hemp is an emerging market that we need to get in,” said Witt.
Henrietta Lacks Commission member Mattie Cowan said the committee has met five times and will have its next meeting on June 26. They are still in the planning stages and are starting fundraising.
On the subject of broadband, country administrator Scott Simpson said 10 towers have been fully funded with grants, county funds and a private partner. He said the county has applied for another grant that could fund seven more towers.
As they work to continue to grow their downtown areas, South Boston and Halifax town managers Tom Raab and Carl Espy pointed to current projects such as the partnership recently announced by Mid-Atlantic Broadband and Microsoft to build the SOVA Innovation Hub in South Boston, the John Randolph Hotel, Halifax Lofts, streetscape and Rails to Trails.
Speaking about resident-driven improvements, Ryland Clark of ABB said the county plans to gain volunteers for countywide clean-up projects, do-it-yourself improvements and create a county amenable to all ages.
“I want to remove the stigma that there’s nothing to do in Halifax County,” said Clark.
Witt returned to the podium to offer closing remarks.
“We all know Halifax County is a good place to live and work, but we cannot sit idly and let the world go by,” said Witt. “We must set the table for success … this is all about quality of life, higher paying jobs and attraction to this county. It’s about building on existing economies while developing new economies. It’s about creating Halifax County as a destination for racing, canoeing, dark skies and places where people like to come together.”