Tuesday, May 10, 2011

On economic development

Once again, Goochland County may actually do something about economic development.

At its May 3 meeting, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to hire a consultant to craft a strategic plan for economic development. Completion of the plan is expected by October, ten years after it was first needed.

The Board also voted, after a convoluted discussion, to simultaneously search for an economic development director (EDD) to implement the strategic plan.

The very fact the county administration keeps economic development on the agenda is a hopeful sign.

Indeed, Goochland has approached the fast moving digital three dimensional chess match arena of contemporary economic development with a checkers by the pot-bellied stove mentality.

The administration of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is working hard to keep its election promise of economic revitalization and job creation.

At a recent appearance in Goochland, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling explained that the state is willing and eager to do whatever it can to assist local government to attract new business and create jobs.

Many localities have their economic development plans on file with the state to ensure that they are considered when a prospect seeking what they have to offer comes along. Goochland’s file is empty.

Economic development is not a one-time thing, but requires a paradigm shift in the thought processes of those who make the important decisions for Goochland, whoever they may be.

Geographically and attitudinally, Goochland is part of the Richmond region but has managed to keep itself isolated except for the Byzantine arrangements that created the Tuckahoe Creek Service District (TCSD.) The county needs to join the Greater Richmond Partnership, an entity that scours the world to bring new business to the region.

Our supervisors cited cost (about $250,000 annually) when they declined to join this organization when the TCSD was under construction. The real reason may have been a reluctance to help major TCSD landowners market their product even though that would have translated into increased tax revenue. The county frittered away far more money on fruitless plans for a central maintenance garage instead of reeling in new businesses.

The main duty of the new EDD will be to entice new businesses large and small to Goochland. This person must be a consummate salesperson intimately familiar with every facet of Goochland. The best salespeople understand that thorough knowledge their product is essential to close deals.

An EDD must be involved in every phase of bringing new commerce to Goochland from the initial contact to the issuance of final permits. The county must cooperated here and streamline its regulatory process.

A global knowledge of business is also necessary to avoid mistakes of the past like those made during the Capital One negotiations.

For instance, no one on the Goochland side seemed to understand that Capital One is a bank when incentives were considered. This is important because banks are exempt from local personal property taxes in Virginia so Goochland does not realize any revenues from the computers, office furniture and items considered personal property.

Capital One was also led to believe that law enforcement and fire-rescue services for its West Creek campus would be provided by Henrico County.

Any economic development strategy must include additional deputies and accelerate the move toward paid fire-rescue providers. (This is not a denigration of our amazing skilled and well-trained volunteers who give freely of their time and talents to save lives and protect property in Goochland. They are wonderful, but too few in number.) Businesses will not move here if they do not believe that their employees and customers have a reasonable expectation of a safe environment.

Skills of a matchmaker, marriage counselor and ombudsman should also be requirements for an EDD. The salesmanship must be multidirectional to sell Goochland to a prospect and sell the prospect to the community.

The EDD must be able to visualize how all pieces of the puzzle that is Goochland fit together and interact. The ability see how every rezoning affects other parcels of land several moves ahead is vital.

Recent heartburn over a proposed rezoning along Broad Street Road adjacent to the Bellview Gardens subdivision is a case in point.

The application to rezone lots in an old existing subdivision, Bellview Gardens, that had never built out because the land did not perc, should have been denied in 2004.

Instead, the supervisors focused solely on the fact that houses there would be connected to the TCSD and ignored the comprehensive land use plan’s designation of that entire stretch of land for “flex use,” which does not include residential use.

Someone should have had the presence of mind to look at the big picture and make it clear to the owners of the large parcel north of Bellview Gardens that new homes in the old subdivision would impact future development of their land.

If the ultimate goal of revitalizing an old subdivision— besides making a quick buck—was to expand the existing subdivision road as a gateway to the rear parcel, no new homes should have been permitted anywhere near Mills Road.

Instead, a new home was built almost at the end of the existing road in line of sight of all future construction.

Either no one looked at the big picture, or strings were pulled behind the scenes to quash dissent on the matter.

Although it seemed like an odd place to for an upscale community, little attention was paid. Developers of the project seemed surprised and annoyed at the furor over the proposal to plunk a large Goodwill facility literally in the front yard of a subdivision.

The matter blossomed into a major land use battle that could have been avoided for mutual benefit. When the county’s comprehensive land use plan was last updated, about two years ago, the Bellview Gardens use change was overlooked paving the way for mischief.

Goodwill dropped it rezoning application last month.

Recent embarrassments like the failure of the supervisors to pre-zone land at the Oilville interstate interchange for personal rather than sound business reasons have got to stop.

The process to craft the strategic plan for economic development, as presented to the supervisors, includes the solicitation of input from a wide range of “stakeholders” in the county.

These include: major landowners in the TCSD; homeowners in Kinloch, The Parke at Centerville, and Bellview Gardens, which are served and taxed by the TCSD; Goochland Chamber of Commerce; local realtors; Goochland Rotary; School Administration; representatives from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership; representatives of the Greater Richmond Partnership; JSRCC and possibly two open community meetings.

This economic development initiative is filled with great promise. Let’s hope that it brings forth much sweet and nourishing fruit and is not blighted by the puppet masters behind the curtain.

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