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Retail among goals

Thursday, February 7, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Henry County Board of Supervisors’ goals for the coming year include retail recruitment and development.

Deputy County Administrator Dale Wagoner said the supervisors identified four main priority areas — economic growth, raising the education levels, public safety and community appearance — during their planning session Tuesday.

Addressing litter issues and looking for ways to improve the community’s appearance were listed as goals in the community appearance category, according to Wagoner, who added that exploring possibilities for adding fire and EMS (emergency medical services) programs in high schools, enhancing school security and looking for economical solutions to increased jail overcrowding were among the goals listed in the public safety area.

To raise education levels, the supervisors support upgrades to county facilities, the New College Institute, Patrick Henry Community College and others, Wagoner said.

Work on Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre is the top goal in the economic growth category, followed by developing Lot 2 in the Patriot Center and constructing a shell building on Lot 8 in the Patriot Center.

The fourth goal was retail development, and the fifth goal was eco-tourism (basically promoting the Smith River as a tourist attraction), according to Wagoner.

Specifics — such as funding for the new retail effort proposed by Horsepasture District Supervisor Debra Buchanan in January — were not discussed Tuesday, he added.

Buchanan had suggested approaching the Harvest Foundation for funds when she formally asked the supervisors for input on the idea of creating a retail recruitment effort to attract businesses to the area.

Her vision for the new retail venture is an office that will identify and focus on market niches and develop new avenues to help attract retailers, according to previous reports. The office would be located with the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., Buchanan said during the January presentation.

Mayor Kim Adkins is among those to support the concept.

Recently, Adkins said she thinks other Martinsville City Council members also will support the idea “mostly due to formalized plea and ongoing discussion since then.”

A similar concept was brought up during council’s budget discussions last year and is likely to resurface again this year, because “we definitely see the benefits of commercial and retail growth in Martinsville. I just think we have a very strong infrastructure developed to have a broad array of commercial and retail” establishments, Adkins said. “I think we have the potential to do both.”

Blending the new office into the EDC “absolutely, I think ... is best. I am a huge proponent for the holistic approach” to economic development, Adkins said, and “having a public/private, joint city/county entity manage that whole process” is the best idea.

She also supports asking the EDC board to consider incorporating a retail/commercial office into the agency’s infrastructure.

The retail proposal also likely would be supported by the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, according to Amanda Witt, chamber president.

“I definitely think the retail strategy is appropriate (and) I definitely think that our board would be supportive,” she said.

Like Adkins, Witt said she thinks the new effort should focus on both commercial and niche businesses, and she suggested a meeting of city, county and EDC officials on the subject.

“We need to look at it and figure out who the target should be and see what a strategy would look like,” Witt said.

Mark Heath, president/CEO of the EDC, said the agency is researching the concept.

Members of the EDC board would make a final decision on the EDC’s role in such an effort.


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