Whitus talks town economy: Part one of two-part Q&A

Published 3:33 pm Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Halfway through his first term as Farmville’s mayor, David Whitus sat down with The Farmville Herald Publisher Steve Stewart, Managing Editor Martin L. Cahn and Senior Staff Writer Jordan Miles to talk about town government, economic development and the approved Farmville Town Center apartment project.

David Whitus

David Whitus

Herald: Talk about economic development and downtown revitalization in Farmville.

Whitus: Economic development is something really near and dear to my heart. The downtown group … and I think it’s one of the best things the town has funded. We made a commitment, I guess almost five years ago now … to fund them $60,000 a year for five years… (and) they’ve done a wonderful job with the downtown and there are lots of great things on the horizon. But, economic development, that’s one of the things I’m asked about all the time. And I think it is everybody’s job to participate in economic development … The thing I think we hear the most about is grocery stores. Can Farmville have another grocery store? And, we’ve had Kroger, they left. We have talked to Kroger on numerous occasions; Kroger will not come back … The grocery business is very low margin, very high volume … They (the Longwood Small Business Development Center) are taking the remainder of those funds and working with a grocery consultant and looking at some numbers and looking at a plan, which they will talk more about when it becomes a reality, when the plan is back, about the grocery industry … When you look at the demographics, it’s going to be tough.

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Herald: Are the town and county working together at all on economic development?

Whitus: Short answer is, nothing specific that I am aware of … Their economic developer retired. And, where they are with that, I am not sure.

Herald: Any reaction to the decision to eliminate that position and turn it into a clerical position and let (County Administrator) Wade (Bartlett) lead job recruitment?

Whitus: My theory, and I think it’s council’s theory, we let them do what they want to do and we do what we want to do and we kind of do not give each other advice.

Herald: Did you ever see it making sense for the town to have its own economic developer?

Whitus: Yes.

Herald: Could we talk about rental housing needs in the town, and, in terms of the need for more housing for young professionals?

Whitus: That’s interesting you bring that up … Both of them (referring to new teachers he met) are living somewhere else because they couldn’t find a place here to live … But, yes, there is a need. I’ll use three or four examples, The Woodland being one. We probably have about 30 therapists … Therapists are pretty well paid. They’re usually in the $75,000-$80,000 a year range. And, of those 30, probably 20 of them live in the Midlothian/Richmond area. They commute in … Hospital professionals, it’s the same thing. I had a long conversation with someone at Longwood who does placement … They have the same issue. Theirs is with their new professors their new administration … Most of them don’t want to rent a house. A house isn’t really what they want. They’re looking for that apartment and etc. So there’s definitely a need. How that need gets fulfilled, I’m not sure at the moment.

Herald: Do you think the Farmville Town Center will play into this in terms of the availability once it’s built?

Whitus: I do. I, like everyone else, am now anxious to see what goes with the Farmville Town Center. I mean, the ball is back in the developer’s court. And what he does from here, I certainly don’t know where he’s going with that. (The developer) was given multiple options and he could always just choose to do nothing. So, I think over the coming months there’ll be some activity and what that will be, I’m not sure. I was disappointed a little to learn that, as I call it, the old Farmer’s (Cooperative) building that’s being renovated, I thought that was going to be professionals and I think that’s now going to be for students … And I understand it from an economic standpoint. It’s much easier to rent it per bedroom than it is per unit, and you get a greater return on your investment. But I was hoping (it) would be for professionals … I still think it’ll be a beautiful building.

Herald: Other than price, how can you legally, without discriminating, how can you almost ensure that multi-family is professional as opposed to students?

Whitus: You can’t.

Herald: Is there a way other than price to do it?

Whitus: It’s a tightrope … But yeah, there’s no legal way … because you’re discriminating.