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Bryant: Jobs remain key
In Collinsville District race
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
By BULLETIN STAFF REPORTS -
Joe Bryant, who is seeking a second term as the Collinsville District representative on the Henry County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 5, said job creation remains the key issue.
“Jobs and creating jobs are the key issue for everybody,” said Bryant, 57.
As a small business owner for many years, Bryant said he knows firsthand the importance of creating and retaining small businesses. Developing the retail sector also is an important component to a thriving economy, he said.
Bryant said he responds to those who ask him about the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.’s concentration on growing retail by telling them the focus is needed to bring restaurants and shopping opportunities to this area.
Although wages may be lower for those employed in the retail sector, the businesses themselves create jobs, and attract people to the community to shop, eat and enjoy other attractions, Bryant said.
When he first ran for and was elected to the board four years ago, Bryant said he was critical of the EDC and Mark Heath, its president/CEO.
But after seeing firsthand how Heath and the EDC work, and hearing praise from companies and state officials who work with Heath and the EDC, Bryant said he now realizes some of the challenges the EDC faces and how hard the organization and its staff work to recruit and retain jobs.
Bryant said he also now understands the need for confidentiality when working with prospective companies.
“We live in the real world, and in the real world, we are competing against other localities” for jobs and economic development, Bryant said.
Recruitment and bringing new jobs to the community also is important, and “we’ve worked hard to get jobs. We’ve had some success, but unfortunately, we’ve also lost jobs,” Bryant said.
Unfortunately, he said, that is common. “Most areas are suffering like we are, with unemployment” and projects that are incomplete for one reason or another, he said.
In Henry County, one incomplete project is grading and other site work at the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre, which has been hailed by many as a major way to help revitalize the area.
Work there is stalled due to federal policies, Bryant said.
“Honestly, that is frustrating,” he said. But “the CCBC is an ongoing project. We have too much invested in it to quit and walk away. I am hopeful we can reach some kind of compromise and get started on it soon.”
Bryant also defended his support for the county building a marina to serve visitors to Philpott Lake and bring tourism revenue to the community.
“I know some people have concerns about building the marina, but as an elected official, I had to make an informed decision as to whether to support it. The good outweighed the bad by far, and I actually believe the marina will be good for the locality” by attracting tourists, who in turn will spend money to support local businesses, Bryant said.
The marina will be open to local residents and will be a boon to them as well, he said.
“Anybody can ride up there and maybe have a picnic or sit on the boat dock,” Bryant said. “Look, if I didn’t think the marina was going to be good for the area, I wouldn’t have voted for it. We studied that project pretty hard and talked to a lot of people. The number of people who supported it exceeded the number who didn’t. The marina is still a priority, and it should be open in November.”
He said it is detrimental to the project and to the area when there “are people who say they don’t want it but they don’t know why. But if you look at the projected revenue from tourism and the fact that the EDC is already marketing the lake,” a marina “will help keep my taxes and your taxes low,” he said.
Strides have been made in economic development, Bryant said. But there is more to do, and the pressure continues to mount.
“Our EDC and Mark Heath, even though he is working hard, they need to step up the progress. We can’t afford to slack off any right now. We have got to go full scale on all development — manufacturing, small business and retail,” Bryant said.
Education also is a factor in luring companies, especially advanced manufacturing companies that offer above-average pay and benefits, Bryant said.
“We have to continue the focus on educating our workforce and making sure that we have people trained to take these jobs when companies do move here,” he said. “Right now, we are outsourcing some jobs. That is unacceptable. If we get our own people trained,” then the county as a whole would benefit.
Bryant praised the efforts of the New College Institute and Patrick Henry Community College, both of which are working with industries and businesses to tailor educational programs to suit workforce needs.
“The partnership between PHCC, NCI and even the elementary education system must continue, and I support that 100 percent,” Bryant said.
“I also am heavily supportive of Interstate 73, with a priority (being built) from the Patriot Centre to Ridgeway,” Bryant said. “If we could get enough funding to just get it started, that would show progress.”
Getting the entire road built might not be realistic right now, he said.
“It would be great if we could get the whole thing done, but at least let’s get part of it started,” he said.
Bryant is being challenged by Randolph “Randy” Stephen Scott, who owns a real estate company in Moneta.