From the Editor’s Desk: You can’t have it both ways

Published 3:30 pm Wednesday, January 25, 2023

editor's desk

Target isn’t going to just move to Farmville because we ask them to. The same goes for a grocery store like Kroger or Harris Teeter, a store like Best Buy or Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. That last one is by far the most far-fetched, as I could comfortably pay rent with what it costs for one family to have a meal there. Basically, it takes more than good intentions or a simple request to bring companies into an area. The problem is that in Farmville and Cumberland, we have the wish list, but aren’t quite willing to do what it takes to make it happen.

As soon as we published the two stories last week, people had a very vocal response. The first story dealt with a proposed regulation change for Farmville, one that town staff hope will bring in more residents and offer the potential for more restaurants, a possible grocery store and other shopping options. The second addressed Cumberland’s status as a food desert and what’s being done to fix that.

“We need more options in Cumberland,” one resident wrote to me via email. “I see other counties with much better selection. What’s it going to take to bring that here?”

There were similar views here in Farmville when it comes to a new grocery store or shop.

“We need another grocery store in Farmville,” one person wrote to me. “I don’t know what the holdup is. The council just needs to sign off on whatever kind of paperwork they need to invite a Kroger or a Lowes Foods into town.”

That’s the problem. It’s not a simple case of Mayor Brian Vincent and the rest of the council taking a vote or signing a document. County Administrator Derek Stamey can’t snap his fingers and bring a new group into Cumberland. Companies have questions before they agree to move into an area. They look at the population size, population ages and available locations for a store. Then they determine if it makes financial sense to move in.

For both areas, there are some challenges with that. In Farmville, the population seems to be declining. By that I mean the overall permanent population, not counting Longwood students. The numbers dropped from 8,216 in 2010 to 7,846 in 2020. That’s a 4.5% decline and something that gives a company pause. And you can at times buoy that with Longwood students, but they’re seasonal. What happens in the summer when most of those students head home? Are there enough people in the area for a business not just to survive but comfortably thrive? The same goes for Cumberland County. They had 10,052 people in 2010 and now that’s dropped to 9,675 as of last count in 2020.

More than that, who do you staff the business with? One of the complaints about some companies already here is a lack of staff. That problem magically doesn’t go away when you bring a new operation to town. In fact, with a limited workforce, unless you’re bringing in people from other areas, I’d argue the problem only gets worse. And let’s be honest. Nobody is driving in from Charlotte County or Powhatan to work the jobs we’re talking about here. It’s only cost effective if you live in the area.

These are the things corporate heads and CEOs look at before moving in. And don’t just take my word for it. Multiple studies have been done, backing this up. In their paper “How Underserved Areas Attract Grocery Stores”, media research firm Buxton conducted interviews with more than two dozen companies. Their report spells out that a grocery store company examines the population, visibility, the amount of traffic that goes by specific sites and local competition when considering a move into a new area.

And here is what it all boils down to. If you want more companies to move in, you need a growing population to attract them. Notice I didn’t say a massive population or even a big population. You need a growing one. They need to see that the numbers are trending up. That doesn’t mean signing paperwork or saying how much we want Company X to move in.

It means doing something harder. It means investing in your community and promoting what you already have. It means making your community attractive to young families and young professionals looking to move. We’ve already seen Farmville make steps forward here, with things like the new splashpad coming next summer, with renovations and repairs. This proposed regulation change could also help, by recruiting developers to town.

But some people don’t want change. They don’t support investing in the community and prefer things stay as they are, only to complain when new shops don’t move in. You can’t have it both ways. If you want more shops, grocery stores and restaurants, then you first have to show them a growing community, you have to show them we have what they want. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when they continue to ignore us.

BRIAN CARLTON is the editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia, LLC. He can be reached at Brian.Carlton@ FarmvilleHerald.com.