Region's localities form alliance for marketing
Thursday, March 17, 2011
DANVILLE - Economic developers must think regionally in efforts to lure new businesses and industries, according to state and local officials.
Many workers are willing to cross city and county lines to get to their jobs, and companies are attracted to regions - and not necessarily geographical boundaries - that best suit their needs, officials said Wednesday during an announcement of a new regional economic development alliance.
The Southern Virginia Regional Alliance (SVRA) is a marketing partnership between Henry, Patrick, Pittsylvania and Halifax counties and the cities of Martinsville and Danville.
It will be funded over two years with a total of $600,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, Virginia Economic Development Partnership and participating localities. Each of the three components of the alliance contributed $200,000.
If the alliance is successful at helping local economic development agencies attract companies, it likely will receive more funds to continue it well beyond two years, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said after he announced the venture during a gathering at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville.
Such partnerships have been successful elsewhere in the state, he said.
Both Bolling and Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC), acknowledged that several previous attempts at regional partnerships in southern Virginia failed.
However, they are optimistic that this one will succeed.
"The time is right," Bolling said, because today's economic climate is forcing people to cooperate to succeed, and current state and local leadership is committed to making the alliance successful.
"We can't afford to fail," said Heath, because "the world has become more competitive."
In a release, Gov. Bob McDonnell said Virginia and the United States often compete with countries such as China, India and Singapore in attracting companies. He said localities "cannot undermine our collective effort as a commonwealth by inadvertently competing against each other."
McDonnell was not at Wednesday's announcement. Bolling represented the state because he oversees economic development efforts at that level.
The alliance is "an opportunity ... to stop working against each other and start working together," said state Sen. Frank Ruff, D-Mecklenburg County and a member of the tobacco commission.
In helping fund SVRA, individual localities' shares of their $200,000 portion were based on their populations. Henry County's and Martinsville's shares totaled about $30,000, and the EDC paid it, Heath said.
SVRA will not take the place of the EDC and similar economic development agencies serving the other participating localities. Instead, it will work with those agencies to create a regional economic development marketing plan and find ways to creatively promote the region, officials said.
Heath said the EDC still will work to market Henry County and Martinsville specifically.
By marketing the southern Virginia region, SVRA's job will be "to get them to us," he said of the EDC. "We'll (still) do the deal-making."
The alliance essentially consists of the chief administrators of the agencies such as the EDC who together will act like a board of directors, Heath said.
Already, the administrators worked together to host a dozen CEOs and site selection executives from companies nationwide at an October gathering at Primland in Patrick County. The group toured the region, discussed regional economic development assets and went to a race at Martinsville Speedway.
An executive director is to be hired by mid-May to oversee the alliance. The director will be based at an office in a small-business incubator in Pittsylvania County, which basically is in the middle of the region, officials said.
SVRA also will have its own website.
Bolling said that in the 14 months he and McDonnell have been lieutenant governor and governor, respectively, 335 economic development deals have been reached statewide. Of those, about 13 percent have been in southern Virginia, he said, citing as examples projects involving firms such as Kimball Hospitality, Monogram Foods and Drake Extrusion in Henry County.
He attributed those deals largely to Virginia developing "the most aggressive economic development plan in the history of our state," Components of that plan, he mentioned, included increasing the Governor's Opportunity Fund and making it more flexible to benefit rural areas, as well as hiring longtime Henry County resident Mary Rae Carter as the state's first deputy secretary of commerce and trade for rural economic development.
Yet predominantly rural areas such as southern Virginia - officials at the announcement indicated they prefer that term over Southside - have not been as successful at luring companies as areas with larger populations.
SVRA will give the region the "little bit of extra help" it needs, Bolling said.
For additional information contact Ibbie Hedrick at 804-225-2487 or firstname.lastname@example.org.