Cumberland Is 'Open For Business'

Published 4:19 pm Thursday, September 29, 2011

CUMBERLAND – There's a new community development director in rural Cumberland County and the sign on the door reads that it's “Open For Business.”

With a new person comes a new shift, and the focus is now on businesses that already exist and provide services to citizens.

Greg Baka, new director of community and economic development in Cumberland, provided this update to the Board of Supervisors recently.

With the slight shift in focus, Baka will be focusing his attention on “business retention in Cumberland County,” he said.

“And also helping grow existing small businesses in Cumberland County and…trying to attract new businesses when possible and opportunities arise for that,” he added. “The emphasis of the director of economic development portion of my position is one I hope to be able to focus even more on as time increases…It's exciting for me…”

Another task Baka is currently working on is the daunting task of managing how many grant dollars actually currently exist in Cumberland and identifying future grant opportunities for the County to take advantage of, he said.

“There are a number of grants that have actually been changed and repurposed…so we are doing our best to identify where we are and get up to speed on all of the projects and look forward to the new opportunities so we don't miss any while we are trying to simply figure out where we are,” he noted to the Supervisors.

Baka also wants to find a general way that businesses in Cumberland can connect with one another.

“There may have been a lack of connection in the past,” he offered. “We certainly have folks who go shopping in at least three different directions-the southern end of the county heads to Farmville, the other end might head to Powhatan or Midlothian to spend their dollars, and then up in Cartersville in another direction and then…to Dillwyn. When you think about that, one of the general themes that I am going to address…is how do we begin to slowly change perspective that they can look to call on Cumberland businesses first.”

What Would It Take To Call Cumberland Businesses First?

This was a question and general goal posed by Baka to the Cumberland Board.

“A lot of times folks might not know that there is another local business that might serve their needs when they are used to calling someone in Richmond or Farmville when that's what they have been doing for years,” said Baka. “That's a big task and something that takes a lot of time but maybe we can take some small gradual steps or baby steps in that direction.”

Something as simple as a meet and greet, added Baka, would be one way to start the process of getting Cumberland businesses together.

“We would like to find a way to organize these businesses and create some new opportunities amongst citizens and businesses or business-to-business relations in Cumberland that might not exist today,” said Baka about his future expectations.

Another one of his missions is to hit the Cumberland roads and meet as many of the local businesses as possible and identify business prospects that include vacant sites in the county, he said.

“For example, if calls come in that say someone is looking for a specific site criteria for housing a business, how do we mesh that with what's there in the community right now,” explained Baka. “Someone might have a need to try or want to sell or lease their existing property-how do we mesh buyers and sellers…Many counties have a list of available properties for economic development not just those owned by the County but those that are privately owned also…That list could in term could be up on a website which is much easier to update…”

These big picture ideas are just the beginning for Baka and the new shift that is happening in Cumberland's Community Development Office.

“I just wanted to share these with you tonight as we move forward and find ways to help assist the citizens and growth,” added Baka.

A Grocery Store

Supervisor Elbert Womack, District Four, asked Baka about the number one question on just about everyone's mind in Cumberland County.

“What I hear in my travels in talking with the public is a lot of times about a grocery store,” expressed Womack. “I know what it takes. A person is not going to come here until they can make a profit; it's as simple as that. Is it some way we can go after that thing and see…you have to start somewhere for it to ever get off the ground. In your position, whatever you can do to help that situation to just get one thing started, it would mushroom from that point. It's just to get that one thing started…that's a continuous thing. I hear that…”

According to Baka, grocery stores are a “huge issue in and of themselves.”

“We have folks shopping in many different directions,” noted Baka. “And if a grocery store wants to make an investment they are going to very quickly identify what the trends are.

“It's our goal to take gradual steps in that direction,” he later added about pursuing a grocery store in Cumberland.