Pittsylvania split over economic development
Pittsylvania County’s decision to eliminate its economic development office in March has left county officials divided.
Callands-Gretna Supervisor Jerry A. Hagerman says he proposed closing the office to save the county money. “This area is pretty conservative as far as money being spent. That was the sole reason for it,” Hagerman says.
Hagerman brought the motion forward in early March as a solution for pay grade increases for Greg Sides, the county’s assistant administrator for planning and development, and Finance Director Kim Van Der Hyde. Their salaries each increased by $17,659. The motion passed by a vote of 4-3.
The proposed budget for Pittsylvania County’s economic development office for the 2013-14 fiscal year was $173,000, up from $152,000 the previous year. The budget increase would have added a full-time administrative assistant, says Ken Bowman, the county’s former economic development director, who lost his job as a result of the office’s closure. He now is running as a Republican for the 16th District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. His wife, Brenda Bowman, is on the Board of Supervisors and voted against Hagerman’s motion.
Economic development duties will be split between the Pittsylvania County administrator, assistant county administrators, county attorney and the director of agricultural development. Hagerman estimates that at least $130,000 will be saved as a result of the office’s closure.
Westover Supervisor Coy E. Harville voted to get rid of the department, but he says that economic development efforts are not dead. “One person doesn’t do it all, and that is the key to us,” Harville says. “We’ve got people in place to do the job.”
Harville says the county’s major economic development projects were partnerships with Danville. The Danville-Pittsylvania Regional Industrial Facility Authority operates three jointly owned industrial parks. Harville also says that Pittsylvania County works closely with the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. An option for economic development in the future, Harville says, may be hiring a consultant.
“[Consultants] find these companies and bring them to us, and they don’t get paid unless they produce,” Harville says. “That is getting to be a viable thing in the country. We are looking more toward that.”
Others don’t think the transition will go so smoothly. Marshall A. Ecker, the chairman of the board of supervisors and its representative from the Staunton River District, says the new economic development approach doesn’t incorporate all of Pittsylvania County, just the county’s partnership with Danville. “We were trying to develop other industrial parks in Gretna and Hurt, and those are going to the wayside because of what transpired,” Ecker says.
Banister Supervisor Jessie L. Barksdale is skeptical about splitting economic development duties between current staff. “I don’t think that they are going to be able to devote the time and attention to it and I think a lot will be left to chance,” Barksdale says.