Amid leadership shuffle, Halifax sees silver lining
The Halifax County Industrial Development Authority has seen some upheaval recently, but officials say there are several projects in the pipeline as well as a new shell building ready to be occupied.
In October 2020, IDA executive director Brian Brown was fired after being hired a little more than a year ago, a move that appeared to surprise Brown himself, who could not be reached for comment.
Rick Harrell, former owner of R.O. Harrell Inc. trucking company and an IDA board member, says, “We made that change because we saw an operational weakness. It wasn’t any … malfeasance of any kind.” Unlike many IDAs in Virginia, Halifax’s authority is self-funded and focuses on all economic development in the county, not just industrial sectors.
With recent expenses — including $1.7 million spent on constructing the 50,000-square-foot shell building at the Southern Virginia Technology Park and $3.2 million for a building that is to house the hemp processing plant for Golden Piedmont Labs — there was a $359,000 deficit in the authority’s 2020 fiscal year budget.
“It’s such a wide gap between those that have a lot and those that have a little bit and those that have nothing,” Harrell says of the state’s IDAs. “The economy’s put strains on our self-generated income,” which primarily comes from leasing buildings to businesses recruited to the area. And successes like Golden Piedmont Labs, run by two Halifax natives — “favorite sons” who found success in Richmond — are fairly rare, he adds.
However, Halifax has some things working in its favor: Microsoft Corp.’s presence in South Boston, broadband access through Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corp., multiple workforce training programs and marketing assistance from Virginia Economic Development Partnership and the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance.
With Brown’s departure, Mike Davidson, who recently retired as Campbell County’s economic development director, is serving as Halifax’s part-time interim executive director. He says he doesn’t expect his tenure to last more than a few months as the board hires a search firm to find a full-time replacement. But he feels positive about conditions in the county.
“The economy is improving. There are some things going on,” Davidson says. The shell building has “an active prospect that is considering us and four other states,” he adds, and there are a few other projects that aren’t quite ready to be announced.