How to guide Rappahannock County’s growth while keeping its rural character intact is the needle the county’s economic revitalization advisory committee is trying to thread.
For the past year, the 10-member committee examined the current economic state of the county, the underlying conditions impacting its economy and how to improve employment and business opportunities.
The committee came before the county board of supervisors, which authorized the study, on Monday with its findings and recommendations.
“The [county] comprehensive plan protects us from McDonald’s, Staples and Wal-Mart. We should not have to worry about it as we look for new opportunities,” said Bradley Schneider, committee chairman, during his slide presentation to the board and audience.
Members of the committee were in attendance. Besides Schneider, the other members to serve were Barbara Adolfi, John Genho, Ben Jones, Nick Lapham, Ron Makela, Kevin McCrohan, Cliff Miller, Chris Moyles, Doug Schiffman and Gail Swift.
Their 30-page report cited several areas of the county economy they felt should be addressed.
“Agricultural businesses are struggling. We need innovative thinking and coordinated support” to assist them, he said.
Better cellular and Internet reception for residents and businesses is needed in the county since it is “spotty,” he noted.
Residents should be encouraged to patronize businesses in the county and county programs and policies should assist county-based businesses, the report said.
“The county needs new businesses to locate in the county, and existing businesses to expand within the county. These businesses should be complimentary to a desirable Rappahannock business climate,” it said.
Among the recommendations in the report are identifying incentives to create jobs for Rappahannock County residents and to solicit input from small businesses outside the county about what would make Rappahannock a more attractive place to do business.
“We need clean businesses. We need to promote those jobs within the community,” said County Supervisor S. Bryant Lee, of Hampton.
“We need businesses that will keep our young people here. Not all of them want to go to college. What resources do we have for them to start a businesses?” Schneider added.
He said the committee went into the process “with everything on the table” then the list was winnowed to “what makes sense.”
Agriculture and tourism were identified as the county’s two strongest economic engines.
Among the committee’s recommendations were tax incentives to allow farmers to diversify their income and incentives such as tax rebates to encourage landowners to lease their property for agriculture.
Also recommended was the formation of a committee to seek funding to market the county effectively through the Office of Tourism and development of a strategic plan for tourism.
Supervisor Chris Parrish of Stonewall-Hawthorne said the county currently benefits from having a number of residents “who come in on weekends and don’t send their kids to school [here] and don’t demand services.”
He cautioned that “if we create a situation that we have people coming in and taking some of those jobs, we might find we need a new high school and that would break us.”
Preston Whilhelm, director of the Virginia Jobs Investment Program, and Deborah D. Melvin of the Department of Business Assistance also attended the meeting and were invited to speak.
Whilhelm said the state has resources, such as the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, that can help local decision makers with their economic development strategies.
“Be sure you don’t leave any resources untapped. You’ve got to have incredible perseverance,” he said.
The supervisors took no action on the report. They are expected to review it and discuss its recommendations at a future board meeting.
In other action, the board adopted a county budget the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011. The budget projects $21,010,615 in total expenditures. In separate unanimous votes, the board also approved appropriations for various county offices and property tax that remain unchanged.
Download a copy of the report:
ERAC Report (PDF, 3.6 MB)