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Economic development is a team sport

The days of individual towns and counties having separate economic development departments who play nice in person while fighting over prospects behind each other’s backs are gone.

Economic development is much more difficult than it was pre-Great Recession. The retail apocalypse combined with a continued drop in industrial production, the coming affects of artificial intelligence sprinkled with the politics of tariffs and trade wars have narrowed the field of prospects to a minimum with fewer potential employees and less of an economic impact.

What do counties like Prince Edward and Buckingham do? Do they take their ball and go home?

Buckingham has sent a six-month notice to the Virginia Growth Alliance (VGA) they may pull out of the organization. Two members of the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors have had public discussions about the value they are getting from regional economic groups like the VGA.

Now is not the time to give up on economic development.

Buckingham and Prince Edward should remain engaged with the regional groups. Virginia’s economic development strategy has been to use the 16 regional organizations instead of having potential companies communicate with 95 counties and 38 independent cities all screaming for their slice of the economic development pie.

If Buckingham and Prince Edward pull out of the VGA, they will lose any voice they have at the table.

What the counties’ leaders need to do is continue to improve infrastructure to make themselves as attractive as possible when economic development opportunities come along. Broadband internet, four-lane roads to and through the counties, an excellent educational system and a qualified and skilled workforce are all needed to bring new companies and economic opportunities to the area and retain the businesses that are already here.

Yet, with all that, this economic development game is still very difficult. Small victories must be celebrated. The new coffee shop downtown, the tech start-up in the basement and the new fast-food restaurant must all be recognized as a piece of the puzzle to move the business community forward. Economic development has to take more of a Chamber of Commerce approach as targets become scarce and business retention becomes a crucial part of the county’s strategy.

This is not the time for Buckingham and Prince Edward to save a few dollars by exiting the regional economic development organization. It is time for them to build infrastructure, improve the labor force and take a seat at the table in order to get their fair share in a dwindling market for new businesses.