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OPINION – 868 days and counting in economic slump

It’s been quite some time since Prince Edward County has had an economic development project deemed worthy of an announcement from the governor’s office – 868 days to be exact.

The last time the county was the subject of an economic development announcement from the governor’s office was Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, when Yak Attack announced a $34 million expansion of its facility projected to create 34 new jobs.

Since that announcement, Virginia has announced 167 other projects creating more than 22,500 jobs and investing more than $4 billion in places that are not Prince Edward County.

Even during the pandemic, the state’s economic development engine has continued to roll steadily forward. From March of 2020 to the end of the year, Virginia announced more than 7,000 new jobs with investments of almost $777 million. This year, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, 2021 has brought more than 3,200 new jobs with investments of almost $300 million.

So why has Prince Edward been missing from the economic development party the past two years?

It seemed in the past administration, economic development was another item on a plate filled with responsibilities for those who handled that area. That situation has changed.

The county recently hired Chelsey White as its director of economic development, tourism and grants. Hopefully White can plan renewed focus on economic development and be the one who gets Prince Edward out of its slump.

This combined with the hiring of County Administrator Doug Stanley from Northern Virginia gives the county fresh, but experienced, eyes to see how we can accentuate our advantages to prospective job creators.

The 868 days without a major economic development does point out that Prince Edward is definitely due for big news, and recent moves by the county have helped set the table.

The investment in a data center site that happened before White and Stanley arrived is good because it is something. It may not work at all, but it is better to try something than do nothing and expect some sort of economic magic to occur.

The problem is data centers seem very enamored with Northern Virginia. Prince William County just approved a 46-acre data center outside of Haymarket expected to bring in 200 jobs with an average annual salary of $125,000. The project is expected to generate $79 million in tax revenue over nine years. Can we get some of that, please?

The Prince Edward data center site gives us a line in the water. Currently it seems we are fishing in the wrong part of the lake, but that could change. A development like the one approved in Prince William would be a game changer in Prince Edward. What is most surprising in the story about the development from “Inside NOVA” is that Prince William supervisors actually voted against it.

One of the reasons Prince Edward residents will have a 4-cent tax increase this coming year is due to a lack of organic growth in the local economy. We do not have that new industry, retail center or housing development to bring in new tax revenue. The 868 days without any new developments is taking a toll.

Prince Edward County cannot sit around and wait for the $79 million data center blue marlin to take its bait. I’m encouraged by the changes I’m seeing in county government. The Industrial Development Authority is not content with its data center site and recently approved money to make it more shovel-ready, moving up a tier on the site readiness scale.

After 868 days of nothing, Prince Edward is due for some good economic development news with new jobs. May it come soon.

ROGER WATSON is editor of The Farmville Herald. His email address is Roger.Watson@FarmvilleHerald.com.