by Joan Tupponce
Leigh Cockram, executive director of the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance, spends a good deal of her time traveling across the country to promote the benefits of doing business in Southern Virginia. “I’ve been meeting one-on-one with consultants for companies’ site projects,” she says. “I’ve been getting the word out that we are a region, and we are open for business.”
Cockram stepped into her role in June 2011 when the Alliance was formed to accelerate job growth and increase the tax base for the counties of Halifax, Henry, Patrick and Pittsylvania, along with the cities of Danville and Martinsville. “There were talks about what we could do to help Southern Virginia get back the jobs it lost,” Cockram says. “The area has the highest unemployment in the commonwealth.”
The counties and cities in the organization offer a variety of incentives to new and expanding Virginia businesses. They include the Tobacco Regional Opportunity Fund, the Governor’s Opportunity Fund and The Virginia Economic Development Incentive Grant.
Cockram finds that it’s often difficult to change a company’s mindset. “We are trying to get people to realize that we are not in the middle of nowhere,” she says. “Companies think they have to be in the outskirts of a more urban metro region to have access to amenities, but that is really not the case. We have water and sewer. We have fiber-optic capabilities, and we have a four-lane highway that goes to the interstate.”
Companies are surprised at the region’s offerings, which include an 800-plus mile fiber-optic broadband network through Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative. “We also have some of the finest industrial parks in the state,” Cockram says. “We have amazing state-of-the-art work-force training facilities, thanks in large part to the Tobacco Commission.”
Since its inception, the Alliance has worked on 28 projects with companies interested in Southern Virginia. “We don’t have any announcements yet,” Cockram says. “I feel confident in the next year we will start seeing results. Right now we are trying to get as many people through the region as possible.”
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