OPINION – Don’t get upset, start fixing the problem

Published 9:35 am Thursday, April 22, 2021

Prince Edward County Supervisor Bobby Jones said it upsets him that professionals who work in Farmville live outside the area. The issue also came up in discussing the potential closure of the United Way.

As one of those professionals who does not live in Farmville or Prince Edward County, I feel uniquely qualified to discuss this subject.

My situation is a bit unique. Earlier in my career I had no trouble hopscotching around. My family moved between Old Fort, North Carolina; Marietta, Ohio; Hendersonville, Tennessee and Fishersville, Virginia from 2000 to 2005 picking up three wonderful children along the way. It was easier to move when you could throw the kids in the car with a juice box and their favorite stuffed animal while playing a “Bear in the Big Blue House” CD.

Things changed when the kids were able to talk and argue. Also, my wife answered a call to ministry nine years ago, so now thoughts of a move come with negotiations between three children, my wife and God.

Our youngest is a high school senior this year, so empty nesting is upon us. We are becoming more mobile, so a move may be in our future. That remains to be seen.

I’m sure other professionals have stories like mine as well. Instead of getting upset or bemoaning the fact professionals would rather live in Charlottesville, Lynchburg or the Richmond suburbs, Farmville needs to figure out how to be more attractive to professionals.

That process starts with building a great school system.

I remember when we were moving to the Staunton area, my wife spent hours poring over school data. We chose the community we live in today specifically so our kids could attend the public school she thought would be best.

Schools are a big deal for professionals with children. Prince Edward County has spent the year I have been in town discussing how to fix a leaky elementary school roof. Tuesday night, during his budget presentation, County Administrator Doug Stanley showed photos of a bag hanging from a ceiling of the elementary school funneling rainwater into a 35-galllon trash can. Another photo showed mold on the wall. He also revealed that Prince Edward County is last among its seven other peer counties in school funding. Those other seven counties are Appomattox, Amelia, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Lunenburg and Nottoway.

We don’t even talk about academics, adding extracurricular activities or magnet school programs. We are just trying to keep children from getting rained on in the classroom. That’s not impressive.

Farmville does have a lot cool stuff going for it. The outdoor activities are excellent with High Bridge Trail and the other state parks in the area. The downtown is unique and has that small, college town vibe. The recent addition of the Starbucks is a huge plus. The restaurant scene is surprisingly good for a town of this size. The culture and sports brought to the area by Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College bring rare opportunities not found in other small towns.

But there are retail gaps that are a problem.

I had an economic development person in North Carolina tell me once the question he was asked the most was, “How far is it to the nearest Target?” The answer for Farmville is at least 58 minutes to the Target in Lynchburg. That’s an hour there, an hour back and an hour to shop. A Target run suddenly takes half a day.

Another popular question is, where can I buy groceries? The choices in Farmville are pretty much Food Lion or Walmart. Most professionals will want a few more choices than that.

With remote working becoming more of a common occurrence, professionals are going to be able to choose where they want to live. We can make it to where they will choose Farmville, but it will take some work. The supervisors need to become closer partners with the school board and work to give them the resources they need to be successful. A well-funded, innovative school system will be a big key to changing attitudes.

We are likely not going to get a Target anytime soon, but small businesses and entrepreneurs can help fill those retail gaps for those searching for Walmart alternatives.

We also need to tell our story better. Farmville is a cool place. How is the area being marketed to those professionals we want to attract?

The fact that Farmville is losing its professionals to other localities is a problem, but getting upset and blaming them for living where they want to live is not the best strategy.

It’s time to stop getting upset, get to work and get better.

ROGER WATSON is editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia LLC. His email address is Roger.Watson@FarmvilleHerald.com.