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Prince Edward supervisors urged to invest in economic development

The Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors’ Jan. 14 meeting included input from a member of the public providing a philosophy for economic development that was much different to one advanced by two supervisors during the board’s December meeting.

Paul Hoffman

Paul Hoffman, of Prospect, addressed the board, highlighting the importance of economic development to Prince Edward County’s future.

“Don’t neglect investing in economic development, please, for the citizens of Prince Edward County,” he told the board.

Hoffman said he was the executive director of the Cody Economic Development Council in Cody, Wyoming, for 12 years. He described Cody as a town about the size of Farmville in Park County, which has about the same population as Prince Edward but happens to be about 20 times the size of Prince Edward.

“I continually, as an economic developer, faced a lot of the same questions you’re asking,” he said. “‘Where’s our return on investment?’ ‘Where are the businesses you’ve brought to town?’ ‘How do we know we’re getting what we’re paying for with our money?’”

Drawing from his experience, he pointed out that economic development is like fishing.

“If you don’t wet a line, you’ll never catch a fish,” he said. “If you don’t buy a pole, you’ll never catch a fish.”

He advocated for the value of the county’s partnerships found within the Virginia Growth Alliance (VGA) in the endeavor of economic development.

“Sometimes I don’t have a boat, so I have to partner with somebody who has a boat, just as the Virginia Growth Alliance is your opportunity to partner with other communities that have strengths that are different than yours, weaknesses that are different than yours, but they’re your partners, and they’ll provide feedback for you,” he said.

Jim Wilck

His comments came in contrast to those made by Farmville 701 District Supervisor Jim Wilck during the December board meeting when the board addressed the possibility of leaving the VGA.

“We have spent in excess of a quarter of a million dollars on dues to this (alliance), plus the $150,000 we loaned to the company that went defunct after about four months, not to mention the amount of money we’ve spent on travel expenses for our county administrator and the two different economic development people that we’ve had, and we’ve gotten absolutely zero, nothing, nil, nothing out of it,” he said.

Hoffman, during his Jan. 14 comments, continued his fishing analogy when he said that sometimes he will get frustrated when his buddies are catching more fish than he is, even though they have invested similar amounts of money.

But in these cases, he said, “I look in the mirror. Maybe I’m not fishing right. Maybe I can learn something from something they’re doing. But the only way I can learn from what they’re doing compared to what I’m doing is by participating with them in the process. Economic development is a process, not an event.”

In Hoffman’s conclusion during the Jan. 14 meeting, he addressed the county’s 2019-20 budget, noting the county is spending $20,000 in 2020 on economic development.

“That is a whiff,” he said. “I can’t even smell that in a $23 million budget. You’re spending $9 million on education, education whose principal purpose is to prepare students to enter the workforce. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had jobs in Prince Edward County so that after we spend that kind of money educating them, they could maybe stay here, buy property, contribute to our economy?

“Please, please consider investing in our future.”

The board voted 7-1 to approve the TransTech Alliance bylaws and 6-2 to approve the ordinance approving a Regional Development Agreement and the amended agreement for the Board of the TransTech Alliance, which is doing business as the VGA.