There Is Reason For Economic Optimism

Published 3:06 pm Thursday, May 2, 2013

Retail sales in Farmville last year didn't knock anybody's socks off but we need to keep our shoes tied tight anyway to continue walking toward recovery and prosperity.

The time for socks-knocking hasn't arrived, though we all look forward to it.

As the nation continues pulling out of the Great Recession, we can take heart in our faith in the future and the fact that retail sales held their own here in 2012. Total dollar volume topped $536 million. More than half a billion dollars worth of business transactions, large and small.

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Total retail sales, on the other hand, did show a slight decline, less than one percent, down from approximately $351 million to about $348 million, but still they were higher than in 2009 and 2010.

The retail sales information also underscores Farmville's good fortune in being home to Longwood University, a saving grace on many levels since 1839, and even more so today. LU-related construction was a major contributor in 2012, to go along with the steady annual contributions the institution, its students, faculty and staff make in the retail economy. We are hugely blessed by Longwood University, a major driver of the economic engine.

And let's not forget Hampden-Sydney College and its students, faculty and staff. Both institutions of higher learning provide a wealth of jobs for local and area residents, while bringing thousands of retail-boosting students to call our home their home, our stores and restaurants their stores and restaurants. New money coming into the community, the strongest boost there is, economically, a transfusion, not just re-circulation.

Both institutions also attract folks for cultural and athletic events. As rivalries grow between Longwood and other nearby Big South Conference schools, more and more people will come to the Farmville campus, and they will spend money in the Farmville economy.

Looking over the data released by the Town of Farmville, one sees that grocery stores held their own. In fact, business done inside their doors actually increased by about $700,000. One cannot, however, type the words “grocery stores” without thinking, with great sadness, about Kroger's decision to close its Farmville location next month. The store's employees are in our thoughts and prayers.

Restaurants saw an increase of $1 million last year. Essentially, $40 million was spent at local eateries in 2012, which says something about disposable income and consumer confidence. Another positive sign is the $3-million-plus increase in the retail automotive sales category.

Wholesale merchants saw a slight decline, as did the “other retail sales” category for retail sales other than those related to food and automotive expenditures.

But there is reason for optimism. It was announced last Friday that the U.S. economy grew at an accelerated rate in the first quarter of the year, lifted mostly by what was described as the strongest consumer spending in more than two years. The annual growth rate, according to the U.S. Commerce Department, hit 3.2 percent. Compare that with the previous quarter's barely visible 0.4 percent annual growth rate and one sees there is cause for at least polite applause, if not cheering.

Our local economy, obviously, is impacted by the national economy. As the nation continues to turn the corner, our own pace will accelerate, we have reason to believe, given Farmville's continued role as a regional hub for commerce, in addition to the dependable contributions of Longwood University, H-SC and Centra Southside Hospital, which are teammates in bringing people to this retail focal point.

Other reasons for optimism include the fully operational Moton Museum, which will increasingly attract people to Farmville, and High Bridge Trail State Park. And, of course there is Green Front Furniture, which is its own magnet, for years a vital leader in the retail economy, and another blessing, like Longwood and the hospital, that most towns Farmville's size can only dream dreams about.

Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College are also worth repeating for all the reasons previously mentioned, and contributions not enumerated here.

The Farmville economy will continue to benefit from progressive decisions by its local elected leaders and those who volunteer. These two examples spring readily to mind: the Farmville-Prince Edward Community Library, thanks to the terrific facility built by the Town and the County, is another destination for many people, some of them from outside the county. The YMCA also contributes to the flow of people coming into the retail community, as well as to the quality of life.

A community's economy and its prosperity, of course, are comprised of so many pieces and players. A team effort, certainly.

And, yes, there are teammates who are hurting and there are empty buildings and buildings soon to become empty. Buildings and space we need to fill. Jobs we need to replace. Jobs we need to add. We are, indeed, all in this together. We must avoid taking steps at the expense of our communal corporate economic health. Let's all work together to grow the economy and increase the quality of life for as many people as we can. Sometimes that is one job at a time. But one new job fills somebody's entire life.

Look around us. There is new construction, new investments that show a real faith in the economic future of this community. Those of us who are already here are free to join them.

A positive attitude, in any and every aspect of our daily lives, helps build a positive reality.