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Area officials plan task force to discuss economic woes
A Roanoke County supervisor suggested revenue sharing with other cities and counties.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Officials from across the region promised to get together in a task force to tackle economic development challenges at the Economic Regional Summit convened by Roanoke County's board of supervisors on Thursday night.
They had just heard some tough news about the region's challenges, but officials from Roanoke, Roanoke County, Salem, Vinton, and Franklin, Botetourt and Montgomery Counties said they would do something about that by each assigning senior staff to meet with their counterparts to work on a strategy to woo new businesses.
Roanoke County supervisors Chairman Mike Altizer said the strategy could include revenue sharing from projects.
"Together we're strong enough to accomplish anything," Altizer said after the summit held at the Green Ridge Recreation Center.
He said he pushed to convene it because the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the entity that leads the state's efforts to woo new businesses, has said the region is not competitive.
"What that means is we never even get to step up to the plate to take a swing at deals," Altizer said. "We never even know."
A lack of large sites means projects that create 200 to 300 jobs and that represent investments of up to $200 million will go elsewhere, he said.
"We have to change, or we will be left behind," Altizer said.
But the good news, an economic development consultant told the crowd of more than 140 government and business officials, is that those officials are eager to do something about economic development.
"You have a future. This is a great place. But the future is not going to take care of itself," said John Rhodes, a senior principal with the Florida-based site selection consultancy Moran, Stahl & Boyer.
He praised the area's community college training programs and utilities infrastructure.
But he said the area does have challenges with available sites.
"You do not have a lot of the 100 acres, and a lot of people are looking for that 100-acre site," he said.
Another issue is the age of available buildings.
"The vast majority of buildings you have are 40 years old or more, and if you own a company and get into a 40- or 60-year-old building, you get into all kinds of code issues and chopped up space," Rhodes said.
Another challenge : Many of the sites available aren't really "shovel ready" - that is, ready for construction to start. A lack of rail connections at many existing sites is a problem, too.
"Having real estate and being at the right level of readiness will not guarantee a company will show up, but not having real estate or not being at the right level of readiness will guarantee they won't show up," Rhodes said.
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