From The Editor’s Desk: If Prince Edward doesn’t grow, stores won’t come

Published 12:55 am Thursday, January 25, 2024

Promises alone won’t attract companies. I know that’s not what some people want to hear, but if you are serious about wanting to bring in new shops, new restaurants and new businesses in general to Prince Edward County, then we need to be realistic about some of the challenges involved in recruitment. 

That was one part of last week’s editorial that didn’t sit well with a few people. I pointed out that companies tend to focus on growing and developing areas, when looking for places to move. If you want that new steakhouse or more shopping options, companies need to see numbers going up before they usually consider it.

But through email and direct messages off Facebook, some Prince Edward residents refused to accept that. They argued about another way to bring companies in and yes, it’s true. If you give away boxes of cash, companies will be inclined to listen to your pitch, But there’s a critical problem: Prince Edward doesn’t have boxes of cash sitting around for such a pitch. And no, all of those federal grants that came in during the pandemic, they’re shutting down too. So let’s just get that out of the way first. There’s no magic box of cash we can offer a company to come here. Instead, we have to do this the old fashioned way. 

The old fashioned way

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It’s not a simple case of Farmville 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. 

But there are a few problems we need to address. First, people are leaving the area. Prince Edward has seen the second largest percentage of people leaving from 2010 to 2024, higher than anywhere but Charlotte County. Since 2010, Charlotte has suffered a 9.44% population decline. Prince Edward is second in the region with a 6.41% drop during that same time period. Appomattox, on the other hand, has seen a 15% increase. 

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? Companies don’t just look at today’s numbers. They’re looking five, 10 years down the road. Projections from the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia show those declines are expected to continue. Which company agrees to move into an area with a shrinking population? 

Who’s going to work in Prince Edward?

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. 

Prince Edward needs growth

And here is what it all boils down to. If you want more companies to move in, you need growth. 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. 

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.