Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Rural economic growth important for Virginia, Danville leaders told

By Tara Bozick
Published: September 21, 2010

“For way too long rural Virginia has been Virginia’s best kept secret,” Mary Rae Carter, Virginia’s first deputy secretary of commerce and trade for rural economic development, told local business leaders on Tuesday morning.

Carter’s goal is to change that and make rural Virginia known as the best place to start, expand and locate a business. Gov. Bob McDonnell created Carter’s position to make sure all parts of Virginia were equally represented in economic development efforts.

What does rural Virginia offer? Hardworking people, heritage, a wealth of natural resources, an abundance of land and a low cost of doing business, Carter told attendees of the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce’s Business at Breakfast at the Stratford Courtyard Conference Center.

While the Danville area diversified its economy from a mill and tobacco town, the area still faces challenges like the rest of rural Virginia, said Carter of Penhook. Now, it’s important for localities to nurture and grow existing businesses to position themselves for when the economy turns around.

The majority of job growth from 1993 to 2008 in Virginia came from businesses or companies with fewer than 100 employees, Carter added, citing Virginia Department of Business Assistance data.

Yet, small businesses continue to struggle with access to capital. McDonnell and state legislators advanced the job creation agenda through a number of measures, including increasing funding to the loan guarantee program by $1 million, increasing the appropriation for the Virginia Jobs Investment Program and increasing the Governor’s Opportunity Fund, Carter said.

Ken Bowman, director of Pittsylvania County’s Office of Economic Development, asked what companies and local governments could do to get ready for “when that tide turns.” He said companies and partners have good ideas but can’t get money to move forward.

Carter said she has been hearing the same thing everywhere and that the Governor’s Commission on Economic Development and Job Creation is looking for ways to help, possibly like an emerging technology fund. She said the commission’s final recommendations, due Oct. 15 to the governor, should positively and effectively impact rural Virginia.

Carter said having “shovel-ready” sites for industry to move in quickly is imperative and that Danville and Pittsylvania County are on the right track with the industrial megapark.

Bowman said he hopes to have the megapark certified by national firm McCallum Sweeney Consulting — which helps companies worldwide decide where to build —within the next four months. It would be the first in Virginia with that certification.

“We feel like we’re in a good position right now,” Bowman said.

Attendee Peter Howard, a registered representative with Tower Square Securities, knows local and state leaders are working hard to bring jobs even though the results are hard to see right now. He hopes residents prepare themselves likewise.

“I’m glad the governor’s on board with the idea of developing business in the rural areas,” Howard said. “It’s encouraging to hear.”

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