Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
P. O. Box 3711
204 Broad Street
Martinsville, Virginia 24115
Toll Free: 800-234-6575
Alliance to seek new funds
The dots on this map show the locations of available buildings and sites in the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance. (Contributed graphic)
Monday, March 18, 2013
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
A regional marketing partnership will run out of funds in June if new sources of money are not found.
Established almost two years ago, the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance (SVRA) is a marketing partnership between Martinsville, Danville and Henry, Patrick, Pittsylvania and Halifax counties.
The alliance was funded for two years with $200,000 grants from both the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, plus the same amount from the six member localities, for a total of $600,000.
Localities’ shares are based on their population. Henry County’s share was $47,642 and Martinsville’s share was $12,703. The EDC paid both shares.
SVRA Executive Director Leigh Cockram said she is optimistic the alliance will be able to obtain funds to operate past June, when its current funding expires. She indicated that the tobacco commission may be approached for another allocation.
She did not know how economic development efforts would be affected if the alliance has to dissolve.
The alliance markets Southside to companies and site-selection consultants who help companies find new locations, according to Cockram.
Many people are willing to commute 25 to 50 miles for jobs, Cockram said. So when companies look for places to locate, they typically examine regions before they look at specific localities, she said.
She is the alliance’s only employee.
Since 2011, she said, she has taken 11 trips to meet with more than 50 site-selection consultants. She also has hosted events attended by such consultants and Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) officials, showing them why Southside is “a great place for companies to do business.”
She touts such things as a dependable, skilled workforce, skills training programs and amenities such as shell buildings, Cockram said. Shell buildings can help a company get up and running quicker and at less cost than building their own facility, officials have said.
The SVRA also has developed brochures and other publications, plus print advertising, to promote Southside.
Although it works with localities on projects to attract specific companies, the alliance does not get involved in reaching the deals that bring companies to specific localities, Cockram said.
That is the responsibility of industry recruitment agencies such as the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC), she said.
She noted that the SVRA forwards “leads” — prospective companies that it learns may be interested in locating in the region — to those agencies.
Cockram said she gets leads from sources such as the VEDP and companies she has visited, such as HanesBrands, which in 2012 expanded its operations in Patrick County.
That happened, she said, after HanesBrands executives told her they were interested in expanding operations and she referred them to county officials, who then were able to reach a deal with the company to help it expand.
Out of 33 industry recruitment or expansion projects in which the SVRA has been involved, HanesBrands is the only one to come to fruition, Cockram said.
However, 10 of the 33 leads directly resulted from the SVRA’s marketing efforts, she said.
It is easier for companies to get information on a region, as well as localities within the region, from one organization rather than having to go to multiple sources, said Mark Heath, the EDC’s president and chief executive officer.
Cockram, a former vice president of the EDC who lives in Henry County, and Heath both mentioned that Southside was one of the last regions of Virginia to set up a regional economic development marketing organization.
“The state was very adamant” that Southside establish one, Heath said.
Also, as much as the region needs jobs due to losing textile and furniture industries in recent years, “it would be foolish for us to be conspicuous” to prospective companies by not having one, he said.
The alliance’s board is comprised of Cockram and the top-ranking economic development official from each member locality, including Heath. They advise Cockram on how to market the region.
If a company cannot find the location it needs in one locality, an economic development director may refer the firm to another location nearby. Since many workers are willing to commute, a new company benefits the place where it locates as well as other places nearby, according to officials.
But the local economic development officials do not get involved in another locality’s deals with companies, Heath and Cockram said. For instance, Heath would not get involved a deal to bring a company to Danville.