Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy
The process of verifying and developing the vision for the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for the Southside Region of Southern Virginia included conducting stakeholder surveys that demonstrate a strong theme regarding the regional economy.
Twenty-first Century industries are the focus of Southern Virginia’s economy. Today’s advanced manufacturing is safer, cleaner, and better paying than ever. Information technology (IT) is a robust sector than can take advantage of the region’s strong broadband infrastructure. Most of today’s farmers use the most innovative practices and growing techniques to maximize their production of food, fuel and fiber, while minimizing their environmental footprint. The term “modern agriculture” depicts a commitment to innovation and stewardship and can occur on much smaller farmettes (farms generally less than 50 acres). High quality, innovative healthcare has further strengthened with two major affiliations with Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Community Memorial Hospital. Finally, the tourist industry promotes the area while continuing to improve quality of life for residents, and with relatively little infrastructure needed.
The same primary drivers for any healthy economy are land, people, and capital. Southern Virginia is no different except the region is land rich, has a seasoned and motivated labor pool, and has had some significant capital infusions from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission (Tobacco Commission).
Southern Virginia has an abundance of natural resources and raw land, as well as targeted sites with infrastructure that are available. The natural resources are so abundant they attract tourism and provide excellent recreational and cultural amenities for communities as exemplified by the Tobacco Heritage Trail and John H. Kerr Reservoir (Buggs Island Lake). More water and sewer infrastructure is needed, along with natural gas and better rail access to the Port of Virginia. The transportation system also needs to be maintained to continue to be an effective conduit to markets and for labor.
The labor pool has seasoned, middle skilled workers with a potential labor pool of students who are eager for training and new opportunities. Economic development efforts should target commercial and industrial activities that are compatible with the surrounding communities.
Working collaboratively with the public school systems, Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC) and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC) is necessary to effectively provide the training needed for a workforce ready for advanced manufacturing, information technology, healthcare, and other 21st Century careers.
Gap financing – or the last 10-25% of a project known as the “Valley of Death” – is critical to business success. This gap represents the last research and development dollars needed to fully fund a project. Micro lending and Federal programs, such as the Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program, are critical initiatives for company startups. The Tobacco Commission has been the primary capital infusion for the region, in recent years, and that funding has done much to reinvigorate the local economy and strengthen the area’s infrastructure.