These aren’t Dustbowl farmers

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Print this page Robert C. Powell III, Editor

Frequent comparisons between the current recession and the Great Depression conjure up images of soup lines, men selling apples on street corners and farmers fleeing the Dust Bowl for the green fields of California.

So naturally, people would think that, no matter how bad things are now for the typical worker, the nation’s farmers must be at the brink of desperation, ready to sell the family farm for the first offer.
But that impression is not correct, at least not in Virginia. As Todd Haymore, the state’s commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, points out in our cover story, most farmers in the Old Dominion probably are faring better than the average wage earner. The reason is not that farmers make more money, but they are old hands at coping with difficulty. Virginia’s farmers also are an adaptable, savvy group, reports Heather B. Hayes, who lives on a farm in Amherst County. They have learned to use technology and new marketing techniques to persevere in local and global markets.
Farmers, however, don’t have a monopoly on market smarts in this issue. It includes the Fantastic 50, an annual list of the 50 fastest-growing companies in Virginia. Richmond writer Donna C. Gregory reports that Hanse Hill, the owner of the top company in the group, got his start by buying the firm from his brother.

Nurturing a company toward success requires protecting it from risk. Karen Haywood Queen of Williamsburg says those risks can exist inside the company as well as outside. She interviews a group of Virginia experts who offer tips on protecting against employee theft and fraud.

While protecting their companies from risk, owners also are concerned about maintaining the health of their employees. Billions of dollars included in the federal stimulus package could help that effort. Heather Hayes reports that the money will be used to jumpstart the use of electronic health records, which could lead to lower costs and fewer medical mistakes.

While dollars have been flowing from Washington, D.C., in the federal stimulus package, the city’s commercial real estate developers have been waiting to see if all the government activity will help revive the local market. Managing Editor Paula Crawford Squires notes that Washington typically is immune to recession, but that is not the case this year.

One place that is doing well in tough times is Newport News. The city has collected a stunning list of economic development announcements that promise to bring thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment. Williamsburg-based writer Andrew Petkofsky says the benefits of this good fortune could help the city complete a makeover that has been in the making for decades.

Given the industrious nature of Virginia farmers, maybe city officials should make room for few rows of corn and soybeans.

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