A local organization on Thursday presented Gov. Bob McDonnell with its highest award for his efforts to help Southside revive its economy.
The Chamber’s Partnership for Economic Growth (C-PEG), an affiliate of the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, gave McDonnell the Fred Herring Award during the chamber’s annual meeting, held at Chatmoss Country Club.
C-PEG supports and uses private money to help fund efforts to boost the local economy.
The award, named after a late local businessman, is presented to people who devote a lot of time and effort to improving the community.
C-PEG Immediate Past President Ron Haley said McDonnell has had a major impact on improving the economies of Martinsville-Henry County, Southside and all of Virginia.
Haley recalled that McDonnell appointed Mary Rae Carter, a former economic development official for the county, as the state’s first deputy secretary of commerce and trade for rural economic development. He said she has been “an integral piece” of the region’s economic growth and “we are lucky” to have her looking out for the economic interests of rural areas.
McDonnell told the roughly 235 people attending the meeting to consider Carter as “your link to Richmond” and get to know her so they can find out what she can do to help their businesses prosper.
Since McDonnell became governor nearly three years ago, there have been 49 economic development announcements in Southside, resulting in 4,081 new jobs and $216.22 million in capital investments, Haley said.
About 118,000 new jobs have been created statewide under McDonnell’s leadership, he pointed out.
It is “no coincidence that he is recognized as the ‘jobs governor,’” said Haley.
He also noted that McDonnell was involved in efforts to help the Martinsville Speedway retain its two annual NASCAR races.
McDonnell closed $6 billion in state budget shortfalls without raising taxes and reduced unemployment, Haley said, mentioning that Virginia now has the lowest jobless rate in the Southeast.
Haley also praised the governor for increasing funding for roads, railroads and bridges as well as adding more slots at colleges and universities for in-state students and working to reduce college tuition.
Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said McDonnell is devoted to improving Virginia so much that it seems he is working “every hour he’s awake, and probably while he’s sleeping, too.”
However, McDonnell indicated that economic improvements in Southside mostly are the result of perseverance and “a can-do attitude” put forth by local business leaders, economic developers and government officials.
Despite the region’s economy being hit hard by losses of businesses and industries, “we all believe ... opportunities (to improve the economy) are immense,” said McDonnell, the keynote speaker for the chamber event.
The state must help businesses by keeping taxes low and reducing the number of regulations with which they must comply, McDonnell said. He mentioned that Virginia now has about 24,000 pages of regulations.
McDonnell said the state encourages Northern Virginia businesses to expand into Southside because of the quality work force and low cost of land here.
Foreign investors also are being encouraged to locate business ventures in Southside, and several such projects are in the works, he said.
Improving educational and training opportunities are “a key to long-term revival” of the region’s economy, the governor emphasized.
He said the state has put about $350 million extra into higher education in the past three years to help lower the rising costs of going to college.
The state also has put more money into K-12 public education and ended the practice of “social promotion” — children now must be able to read by the third grade or they will not be promoted to the fourth grade, he said.
Supporting teachers by making sure they have tools they need to teach effectively is “going to be a top priority for me” in next year’s legislative session, McDonnell said.
Along with his award, the governor received from C-PEG a gift basket as a token of appreciation for speaking during the meeting.