VGA benefit to area disputed

Published 5:13 am Friday, October 19, 2018

At the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors’ regular October meeting, Board Vice Chairman and Farmville 701 District Supervisor Jim Wilck challenged the notion that the county has received anything from its membership with the Virginia Growth Alliance (VGA).

Jim Wilck

Wilck’s charge came after VGA Executive Director Jeff Reed had finished giving a brief update at the meeting to the board. As noted in the board meeting packet, the update was on the work of the VGA, including programs, funding opportunities and prospects for the county.

“In the last five years we’ve put in approximately $108,000,” Wilck said. “We haven’t got any companies in here to show for that. I talked to some other counties around. I happened to talk to the chairman of the board of supervisors of Amelia. His comment to me was, ‘We’re pulling out of it. We’re tired of financing the tours of Europe for the executives of this.’”

Email newsletter signup

During his presentation, Reed had mentioned a recent trip abroad with the European American Investment Council.

“We’re not like other counties in that we have great transportation,” Wilck said. “We don’t have rail, we don’t have north-south four-lane roads and so forth. But that’s not to say we don’t have things. I’m very impressed by something Longwood (University) has to offer, and that is they have one of the best cybersecurity things around. That doesn’t seem even promoted. Carnegie Mellon (University) is one of the top schools in the country as far as cybersecurity goes. They have an intern program every summer. For two years in a row, Longwood was the only school in the country that had more than one intern there, and the applications come in from (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Harvard (University), all over the place.”

Getting to the crux of his point, Wilck said, “It just looks like we’re going in a different direction than the rest of you guys. We’re paying more money because of our population. I’d like to see us put our money in with Longwood and Hampden-Sydney (College) and Farmville and locally develop what the hotspots are here, and what I see as hotspots are like the cybersecurity program, we’re becoming a medical center and those things.”

“We’re not going to get the data centers like Microsoft and those,” he continued. “We just don’t have the things they’re looking for. We don’t have the transportation. I think they require also, in addition to that, two different sources of power, electricity. We don’t have that. I thought we did. I thought Dominion (Energy) and the Co-op were two. They said, ‘Yeah, but the Co-op buys their power from Dominion,’ so we don’t have that either.”

“So, I’m kind of inclined to agree with the chairman of Amelia,” Wilck concluded. “I don’t see that we’re getting anything out of it. Churchill said that planning can be beautiful, but every once in a while, you have got to stop and count the chickens.”

“Sure,” Reed agreed.

“And I count the chickens, and I don’t come up with anything,” Wilck said.

“Well, I regret that you don’t come up with anything,” Reed replied, “but maybe you’re not looking for the right chickens, and maybe I can help you do that, because I would disagree with a lot of what you said. I think Prince Edward County has a great deal to offer, and I think that you are ripe for certain industrial opportunities. Cyber may or may not be one of them. Just because the program is here doesn’t mean that the security people are going to be here. Most of those people are in northern Virginia …”

Wilck again advocated for applying money in that direction rather than elsewhere.

“It’s tough to sell industrial when you don’t have a rail and you don’t have the transportation and you don’t have gas,” he said.

Reed interjected, “You do have transportation; 460 is an excellent, excellent network of —”

Wilck interrupted him to say, “Our north-south road is absolutely terrible.”

“I agree with that,” Reed said. “The north-south does leave a little bit to be desired, but rail is not critical for industrial development. It’s important to certain clients, and it’s a great thing to have when that client comes calling that needs that, but it’s not critical for every project. Natural gas is more important, which is one of the reasons that we did the study to identify these sites so we could look at ways that we could try and get natural gas. Buckingham County is leading the way in doing that. They’re looking at installing a tap so that they can have access to that as well as developing a site that they could actually own the gas line.”

“That’s Buckingham,” Wilck said. “We have a very small pipeline coming through here. Buckingham has a lot.”

Reed replied, “The same pipeline (that) is coming through Buckingham is coming through here.”

“I’m talking about mileage in the county,” Wilck said.

“OK,” Reed said. Returning his focus to Wilck’s earlier main point, he said, “So, I disagree with you, but that’s fine.”

Wilck cut in again to say, “But you haven’t given any examples. I mean, we have nothing. We haven’t gotten anything from you.”

“Actually you have,” Reed said. “We’re working on two retail projects right now that would not be coming if you were not a member of VGA. They’re evaluating three additional sites right now for that. You’ve had the opportunity to respond to over 40 (Requests for Proposal) and (Requests for Information). You’ve been a finalist for three of those. You’ve won one of those. Unfortunately, it didn’t go the way any of us would have liked (it) to have gone. You are still competing for another one that you’re working with regionally with Buckingham County and Cumberland County, and that’s 75 to 100 jobs.”

“But none of those have come through yet,” Wilck said. “And we’ve been in for five years …”

Reed disputed that Prince Edward had been a member of VGA for that length of time, and a brief discussion concluded with the statement that this would be the fourth year the county has been a member.

At this point, Buffalo District Supervisor C.R. “Bob” Timmons Jr. entered the discussion, suggesting Reed provide a spreadsheet listing how the county has benefited from its VGA membership. He then added that what Wilck and the board was concerned about was that they had heard nothing from Reed for a certain period of time.

“When you first came in, you made a couple of reports, but then you sort of went away,” Timmons said. “We just need to know what’s going on, on our behalf. If your marketing for us wherever you are, it’d be nice to know what’s going on.”

“Sure,” Reed readily agreed. “And I’m happy to come as often or as little as y’all want me. I can come monthly, I can come quarterly, I can come annually, I can come weekly, if you need me to. My office is in Keysville …”

Timmons said, “I think if you could just sort of put out a summary of the benefits of what we’ve received since we’ve been a member … We’re going to look real hard and evaluate whether we’re going to continue or not, and so that would be good. But I thank you for your information tonight. This is very helpful with what we have, and I know that marketing doesn’t happen today and then you get the project tomorrow. And you don’t get everyone you go after — I understand that, and I think the board does also. But we’re bumping the four-year period. We should have some history of what we’ve done. So for me, that’s what I would like to see.”

“Absolutely,” Reed said. “And I think the important thing to understand is my task is to go out and find thirsty horses, and it’s up to the county to make them drink. So, the county has put together some really good proposals for some good projects. One of those projects hasn’t even announced yet. They may pick up the phone tomorrow and call, who knows. The other one we’re still working on, so to be a finalist for three projects, it’s a pretty good record. It’s something that the board should be very proud of that the staff has been able to do. It gets you from the heap of proposals that come in to the top because that’s something that your staff has to do, and you’re blessed with an excellent staff.”