Herald 2022 Candidate Q & A — Prince Edward County District 7 Race

Published 5:30 pm Wednesday, November 2, 2022

As we move into mid-October, early voting has already started and for those who want to wait, it’s less than a month until Election Day. With that in mind, we’re reaching out to candidates in all contested races across our coverage area, asking them to answer several questions. Each candidate in a race receives the same questions and the same amount of time to send answers in.

In this edition, we’re focusing on the race to be the next representative for District 7 on the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors.

Cannon Watson holds that position on an interim basis. Supervisors appointed him in July to fill the seat of Jim Wilck, who resigned in June after 12 years on the board. Citing bad health, Wilck and his wife moved to Texas this summer. Watson is the senior vice president for investments with Davenport and Company’s operation here in Farmville and has previously served on the county’s planning committee. His father also represented this district, serving from 1993 to 2003.

Competing for the seat is Bruce Davis. He and his wife Susan Sullivan moved to this charming community 25 years ago. Bruce has a background in the business and the hospitality industry. He is employed by Prince Edward County Public Schools overseeing the Food Service Department. Bruce is involved with Prince Edward Farmville Youth Association, Rotary Club, served on the board for the United Way and is active in The Knights of Columbus at St. Theresa Catholic Church.

1. What is the biggest challenge facing Prince Edward County and how would you face it?

Cannon Watson: Jobs and Schools. And they are completely linked. Prince Edward County has a college, a university, a wonderful hospital, and plenty of outdoor recreation. But we desperately need good clean industry that can offer a living wage and a career path. There are people with key jobs in our area that choose not to live here — instead commuting from afar. These folks often cite “schools” as their reason for not taking root here with their families. We can certainly presume that decision makers responsible for locating industries in our county have come to the same conclusion. The Farmville area is the best community in our part of the state — by a good margin.

Why aren’t our school buildings at least as sharp as those in surrounding counties, which often have lower tax bases? We need to allocate the necessary resources and work alongside the school board to ensure we have the right people to make lasting improvement. I was appointed to the Board of Supervisors because its current members thought I could add something, and I think I’m off to a good start. If elected to continue in the role, hustling for new jobs and improving our schools will be my top priorities.

Bruce Davis: Rather than challenges, I see opportunities to make our community a better place to work and live. I believe we all need to do our part in positively promoting the great things we have happening in Prince Edward County. We also need to come together as a community to support and help make the changes. We want to make this community a place where people want to stay. No matter what side of the political aisle you sit, we need to come to the table as one to support our county school system. Moving forward we must join together to make the school system one of the Top 10 in the state of Virginia. Having great schools leads to economic development. In time, the community will grow because people will want to raise a family here. The more dollars that stay in the area, the better.

Partnerships are also a major concern. We need to involve Longwood, HSC, Centra Health, local business and community leaders, residents, parents, and Prince Edward County School students and staff. We sometimes forget that the students have ideas too; I am open to listening to them and anyone who cares about this community. We need to lean on our representatives in Richmond to secure the resources that will fund a safe, fun learning space for our children to go to every day. We want the best education in the state of Virginia. In order to achieve this, we have to work together because the result will benefit us all.

2. Are you satisfied with the current economic growth in Prince Edward County? If not, what steps would you take to improve it?

Bruce Davis: As far as economic growth in Prince Edward is concerned, we are heading in the right direction with countywide broadband and the development of the new HIT Park, but we have more to accomplish. The data center will help keep taxes low, but it will not bring a surplus of jobs. As a county, we must attend industry trade shows and continue to connect with our representatives in Richmond to promote business growth for Prince Edward County. I am very interested in looking at how we can benefit from the new SEED Innovation Hub. Some of those new ideas could be perfect for our community, but more research will need to take place. We must also work to influence business leaders to remain here and grow within our community. We must work with Longwood University, Hampden-Sydney College, and Southside Community College to see how we all can grow together.

Perhaps there are opportunities to open an education center for trades where we can support businesses with the end goal of bringing more jobs and people to the area. We also need to take advantage of the great offerings of tourism and hospitality that our area offers. We have opportunities to look at ways to expand activities around the Appomattox River and High Bridge Trail. For example, I would be interested in determining if a new youth sports complex could work here.

Cannon Watson: I love this area, and it has been my home for nearly all of my 54 years, but there hasn’t been much economic growth in the last 3 decades. Fortunately, we have a talented new county administrator, and we have some new blood in the courthouse. The positive energy is really flowing right now, and we are confident we can do better. The Heartland Innovation and Technology (HIT) Park has the potential to be a prime catalyst for the county.

For many reasons enumerated in this newspaper, the HIT Park is in an outstanding location for a new data center. A data center would be a solid job creator, but its real value would be the tax revenue generated each year that we can use to build better school facilities and retain & attract quality teachers.

3. Over the last decade, we’ve seen Prince Edward’s population decline. What steps would you take to reverse that trend?

Cannon Watson: The answers to the first two questions address this issue well. In addition, it will take a continued spirit of cooperation between the Town of Farmville and the County to land more key pieces that we need so badly for jobs and additional tax dollars. If the town wins, so does the County, and vice-versa. In the past we’ve seen some friction between Town Council and the Board of Supervisors, between the Town and Longwood…but that seems like ancient history now. I have friends on Town Council, and I will certainly do my part.

Bruce Davis: Rural communities have taken a hit across the state because young professionals want the big city life. To attract and retain citizens, we need to make sure Prince Edward County is a place people want to move to and remain. We need affordable housing options for young professionals and families. We need to increase job opportunities in the health care, education, skilled trades, and small business fields. We also need to provide activities for down time such as restaurants, entertainment, parks, and recreation but still maintain our small-town feel. We need to build a strong community that will make people want to be here.

Another way to reverse the population decline is to hold town hall meetings throughout the year with our partners and stakeholders. We must listen to the citizens of the county to see what they need and want. Getting to know people, building relationships, and listening to what they have to say will include community members and make them part of the process. We cannot make our community alone; it must be done with everyone’s input.

4. Current projects will help improve broadband around the county. What are the other infrastructure improvements the county needs?

Bruce Davis: Infrastructure improvements are needed such as road improvements and bridges. We must also move forward with creating safe and easy access on and off route 460. I know this has been in conversations for years, long before the roundabouts and 307 project. Creating easy access from 460 will cut down on the Millwood Road to Main Street shortcut traffic. It will help the flow of traffic to and from the future data center easier.

Also, when it comes to infrastructure, I love to see community parks throughout Prince Edward County such as playgrounds, basketball courts, pickle ball courts, trails, and walking paths. They provide people of all ages a place to go and enjoy. Citizens of this community should be able to drive a short distance to enjoy a walk with their neighbor or take their children to play on the swings. I would also like to see community centers where young people can have a safe place to go after school for tutoring and recreation.

Cannon Watson: Water, or lack thereof, is increasingly in the news these days with drought hitting some heavily populated areas in our country. Not that many years ago, the Town of Farmville was down to just a few days of water remaining, and Longwood nearly had to be shut down because of a lack of water.

This could certainly happen again — especially given the extreme weather events around the country recently. Sandy River Reservoir is a wonderful water source in our county, and a water facility there would make Prince Edward much more attractive to all types of development, provide water security for LU and HSC, and could also serve neighboring communities that have aging water infrastructures. Remember that urban localities in Virginia have been successful in recent years claiming water 100 miles away for their own use.

5. What role do Hampden-Sydney College (H-SC) and Longwood University (LU) play in the county’s future? Is Prince Edward doing everything necessary to help with that role?

Cannon Watson: H-SC and LU are vital to the future of our county. I called over 1000 games as the radio voice of Hampden-Sydney on WFLO before recently retiring from that role, and 25 years ago, I somehow convinced a beautiful young Longwood grad to stay here and spend her life with me near the campus. We soak up everything these schools have to offer our community, but our local governments need to stay aggressive in meeting their needs. Both schools have experienced a drop in freshman enrollment a couple of times recently — and it leaves a mark, as we see so many FOR RENT signs around Longwood.

But there are so many positives, too. The new basketball arena at Longwood is going to open for the ’23-24 season, and it is going to be gorgeous. The Joan Perry Brock Center should certainly draw even more people to see the Lancers and hopefully make more high school seniors on a visit want to be a part of it. It will also provide us the ability to hold more and bigger concerts and events, which will help fill our restaurants and hotels. We toured Hampden-Sydney’s new science building as a Board recently, and it may be the finest of its kind anywhere, and a valuable tool to recruit students. H-SC just also announced its endowment has grown significantly the last few years, which bodes well for its future.

We need to keep asking what these schools (and their students) need from us, and be proactive with solutions.

Bruce Davis: Hampden-Sydney, Longwood, and Centra Health all should play a large role in this community now and the future. They should be some of our greatest partners in forging the path forward. I am sure these partners would love their staff and students to stay in Prince Edward County, both to live and work, and I would like to see to it that that happens. The support we give our schools has a lot to do with everyone’s future.

How we handle affordable housing will impact the hiring of staff at all three. Professional and small family housing is something we need in this area. By teaming up with our greatest partners, we will work together so that we all succeed in this journey.

6. What can Prince Edward do to better market itself to the rest of the Commonwealth and beyond?

Bruce Davis: The county administrator and the director of economic development and tourism do a wonderful job of promoting Prince Edward County. I think we need to continue their great work while getting our partners to do the same. We need to make sure they are successfully marketing what we have to offer. We need to sell our community. We need to let corporations know about the gem we are and know they can be successful here in Prince Edward County.

Cannon Watson: We need to decide who we want to be and then show that image to the rest of the Commonwealth. I think we are doing this very well with respect to tourism, but more work needs to be done to attract industry and residents. We have a first-rate golf course that needs housing developed around it. Our YMCA is on solid footing, but it needs to expand to better serve the community. The High Bridge Trail, Sandy River Outdoor Adventures, our reservoirs, Wilck’s Lake, the Sarah Terry Trail, and Green Front Furniture are all examples of what we have to offer residents and visitors. We are bringing in visitors but we need more businesses, industry, and residents. Again, employment and good schools are vital to this effort.

7. What is your vision for Prince Edward? How would you like to see it change in the next 5-10 years?

Cannon Watson: My vision for Prince Edward County is a place where crime remain low, our public schools attract families looking for a new community more affordable than the metro areas, both Longwood and Hampden-Sydney grow at a desired rate, and a couple of large employers move in and employ workers of all skill levels. All of this is well within reach.

Bruce Davis: In the next 5-10 years, I see a school system that is in the top ten in the state, growth in economic development, and partnerships that will make Prince Edward County a place where people want to live. I want people to be proud to raise their families here in neighborhoods where they feel safe to let their children play out in the yard.

Remembering back when I first moved to Prince Edward County, I was driving to town, and I passed a gentleman who just out of the blue waved at me. I thought that was the strangest thing but as time went by, I learned that is what Prince Edward County is about. Here you can find friendly, down to earth people who care about one another. I see that same spirit being a large part of who we are in the future.