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Adkins: Martinsville resilient, poised for growth

Thursday, September 19, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville has been resilient in dealing with economic problems and is poised for growth, Mayor Kim Adkins said Wednesday.

That is because local leaders have a sense of purpose, connections to other places and control of the city’s destiny, Adkins said during the annual State of the City and County luncheon, held at the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

Local leaders have shown resiliency by viewing challenges as opportunities rather than problems, she said during her State of the City speech.

For every setback the city has had due to industry closings, downsizing and “an unprecedented number of job losses” that spurred the highest local unemployment rates in Virginia, Adkins said, “we have been able to leverage millions of (dollars in) public and private investments” to improve the city’s infrastructure “at a time when other cities have seemed to be sitting idle, waiting for the economy to recover.”

She mentioned several examples, including agreements between the city and Henry County to share revenues from companies that come to local industrial parks.

Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre, under development off U.S. 220 South near the North Carolina line, is one of the parks. The project has been stalled due to officials not being able to get a permit needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Officials still are pursuing the permit.

“As a community,” Adkins said, “we should stay resilient, strong, tough and even feisty to get this park developed sooner rather than later.”

“We’re in the fight. We’re going to stay in the fight” to get Commonwealth Crossing developed, Henry County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim Adams said during his State of the County address. “We’re a community that’s going to move forward.”

Adkins also pointed out that:

• The city has completed various energy-related projects, such as installing equipment at its former landfill to turn methane from eroding garbage into electricity, automating turbines at its hydroelectric plant and developing energy-saving measures in city buildings.

Those projects together are expected to save the city about $400,000 a year, Adkins said.

• Construction of a new building on the Baldwin Block uptown for the New College Institute (NCI) is ongoing. The city conveyed the block, which had an assessed value of about $540,000, to the institute for the building.

“This investment is proof,” Adkins said, that city officials consider education to be a driving force in creating jobs and increasing people’s wealth.

She noted that Martinsville has higher percentages than statewide averages of residents with high school diplomas or GEDs, community college associate degrees and some four-year college experience but no degree.

Martinsville’s high school dropout rates must be reduced, and more people must earn at least a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college, Adkins said.

That will happen in the next decade, she predicted, due to NCI’s presence and “a growing need” among businesses for highly skilled, better educated employees.

According to economic developers, companies often initially look at regions in which to possibly locate rather than individual localities because they know many people are willing to travel to jobs away from where they live.

Adkins indicated that is why Martinsville needs strong connections with other localities, such as Henry County.

“We are always looking for ways to build connections and strengthen relationships” that enhance city residents’ quality of life, she said.

In controlling the city’s destiny, Martinsville officials have been able to keep the city financially solvent by determining what services are most important to residents and focusing on funding those services, Adkins said.

But they need the state’s help, such as by not taking away funding sources, she said, mentioning a proposal before the General Assembly to eliminate the Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) tax.

Eliminating the tax “sounds good from a legislative point of view,” but it is not good for localities, Adams said.

The locally levied tax generates about $1.7 million for Martinsville annually, Adkins said. Without that money, the city will have to raise taxes paid by residents or “drastically cut” services and school funding, she said.

So far, however, the city “has made smart, yet tough, decisions to stay viable without drastically reducing services,” she emphasized.

Martinsville’s economy has grown. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the city saw 211 new jobs and more than $2 million in new capital investment by companies, Adkins said.

The city also has seen an increase in construction permits, stability in its tax base, houses on the market being sold and its unemployment rate fall to the point it is no longer the state’s highest, she said.

The latter comment brought cheers and applause from the approximately 100 people at the luncheon.

Adkins cited several ongoing efforts that she thinks will help grow the city’s economy, including redevelopment of the former Henry Hotel, NCI’s expansion of local educational opportunities and the development of the College of Henricopolis School of Medicine.

She added that she sees signs that Martinsville, especially uptown, is “becoming a college town.”

 

 
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