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Bowman: Economy top priority
Former Pittsylvania economic development director seeks 16th seat
Ken Bowman, shown at his desk, spent four years as Pittsylvania County’s economic development director. Now, he says economic development is his “first priority” in his campaign for the 16th District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. (Contributed photo)
Thursday, March 28, 2013
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Ken Bowman vows to be the legislator who knows how to work with local economic developers to attract companies to Southside — including Henry County and Martinsville.
Bowman is seeking the Republican nomination for the 16th District House of Delegates seat being vacated by Del. Don Merricks, R-Pittsylvania County, who chose not to seek re-election to a fourth two-year term.
Until this month, Bowman had been Pittsylvania County’s economic development director for four years. His job was eliminated when the county’s board of supervisors voted to disband the department, passing industry recruiting responsibilities to the county administrator’s office.
Economic development is “the first priority for me and this region,” Bowman said in a phone interview Friday. “Without job opportunities for citizens, nothing else matters.”
Having job-training programs and land that can accommodate industries as well as being able to offer companies economic incentives “to a certain extent” are important in being able to attract companies, he said.
“It’s about the entire package, not just one thing,” he added.
Bowman said he has worked closely with Mark Heath, president and chief executive officer of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., as board members of the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance.
As a result, he is familiar with the economic needs of Henry County and Martinsville, he indicated.
He said he supports the New College Institute and its efforts to help lure high-tech jobs to the area by establishing programs to teach people skills needed to do those jobs.
However, the area should seek to recruit jobs of all skill levels, Bowman said. He mentioned companies in manufacturing, distribution and food-processing — ones needing skills that local workers already have or can be trained for quickly.
“We’ve got to find a happy medium,” he said. “We just can’t box ourselves in and say this (working to attract high-tech companies) is all we’re going to do, forever and ever, amen.”
With his economic development experience, Bowman said if he is elected to the House, he knows “which (state) agencies to tap into” for help in getting companies to locate in the area.
Bowman said when he talks with executives interested in bringing their companies to Southside, he would find out their specific needs, such as the types of buildings they seek or sizes of tracts they need to build a plant. He then would search area databases to find appropriate buildings or land, then refer the executives to the appropriate local economic developers.
“I’m not going to do their jobs for them,” he said, referring to economic developers, “but I’ll make sure the introductions are made.”
Efforts must be made to better maintain roads in the region or it will be hard to attract companies, Bowman said.
He wants to see Interstate 73 built, he said, because many companies want to locate on or near interstates, and they will not come to areas without one.
U.S. 220 and U.S. 29, which runs through Pittsylvania County, must be maintained similar to interstates, according to Bowman. But it would be hard to keep up U.S. 58 that way, he said, due to the large amount of development in its path.
Those three highways, like interstates, are four-lane, divided highways.
Although he has no specific ideas yet, Bowman said K-12 public education “needs to be looked at hard” to see if changes need to be made in courses or how they are taught.
In preparing students for the modern working world, “we’re failing so badly compared to other countries,” he said. “We’re not competitive” anymore.
He also said the state should stop placing unfunded mandates on localities.
“Our budgets are so lean at the local level,” he said. “All it does is start crippling” local officials’ efforts to provide services that people expect.
Bowman, 62, lives in the Dry Fork community. His wife, Brenda, represents the Chatham-Blairs District on the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors.
A Carroll County native, Bowman grew up in the Williamsburg area and lived in York County before moving to Pittsylvania County in 2008 so he and his wife, who is from Danville, could be closer to her family.
He spent more than 30 years in the Army, National Guard and civil service before retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He was on the York County Board of Supervisors for four years, serving stints as chairman and vice chairman.
Bowman said he is running for a delegate’s seat because after working for Pittsylvania County, “it seemed like a natural transition to move to the state level” so he can continue working to help the area attract companies.
When he lived in York County, he said he had thought about running for a state office, but then he decided to move to Southside.
Bowman has a master’s degree in public administration from Troy State University and a bachelor’s degree in human resources administration as well as an associate degree in applied arts from St. Leo University. He also has attended various military training programs, his résumé shows.
Bowman is expected to face Les Adams, a Chatham lawyer who also is seeking the Republican nomination for the 16th District seat, in the June 11 primary.
Adams on Friday did not return phone calls for comment.
Bowman said Merricks has done “an outstanding job, (and) I’m sad to see him step down” from his General Assembly seat.
Merricks will leave behind “hard shoes to fill,” Bowman added.