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Speaker challenges businesses
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Allison Larsen

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A nationally known economic development consultant said Tuesday she is impressed by the numerous things that Henry County and Martinsville have put into place, or are doing so, to improve the local economy.

However, Allison Larsen suggested to local business leaders that they take some initiative and not leave all of the work to the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC).

Larsen runs TadZo Consulting, an economic development and site selection consulting firm in Yakima, Wash. She was the keynote speaker for the yearly Business Appreciation Luncheon, sponsored by the EDC and the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce and held at Bassett Country Club.

Larsen recalled that when she first visited the community last summer, one of the first things she noticed was what she called the “heydey of fast growth” during more prosperous economic times — strip malls that now have many vacant storefronts.

Yet she was impressed, she said, by the Martinsville Industrial Park and the Patriot Centre industrial park, which she called a “world class” facility.

When site preparation work is finished and it is ready for companies, the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre on U.S. 220 South will be “many notches” above the Patriot Centre, she said without elaborating.

Larsen said she is pleased that The Harvest Foundation, which invests funds from the sale of Memorial Hospital 12 years ago into local community and economic development efforts, is “challenging the return on (investment of) those dollars instead of just being a big bank.”

Larsen commended efforts by the New College Institute and Patrick Henry Community College to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow.

“You’ve got programs in place but you can’t get students in them fast enough” to train them to replace retiring “baby-boomers,” she observed.

The area is “very lucky” to have Angeline Godwin as PHCC’s president, Larsen said. Godwin has economic development as well as education experience.

Also, Larsen said she is impressed with the Smith River Sports Complex, which attracts sports enthusiasts from elsewhere as well as locally.

Out-of-towners visiting the complex boost the local economy by spending money with motels, stores and restaurants, economic developers have said.

Having all of those things, the community “won a sweet spot in my heart,” Larsen said.

The community now has “a great business climate,” she added, although “you don’t have a Daddy Warbucks trunk of money” to spend on economic development.

Larsen said she thinks current spending on efforts to attract and retain businesses and industries is adequate. In the current fiscal year, the EDC’s budget is $1.765 million.

Now, the community must work on attracting and retaining talent.

Some younger people in the local workforce live in cities such as Greensboro, N.C., and travel to and from jobs here because they like big-city amenities, Larsen observed.

They spend their money where they live, though, she said.

Efforts must be made to attract younger people who appreciate the way of life in smaller communities and will want to live here, Larsen said.

She challenged business leaders to find creative ways to boost the local economy. She mentioned efforts that have been successful elsewhere.

Along the line of recruiting and retaining younger talent, Larsen noted a program in Oklahoma in which business leaders mentor young people.

Sometimes it takes a lot of creativity to rejuvenate a place.

For example, Larsen said, Leavenworth, Wash., a town of roughly 2,000 people, went “almost to the point of extinction” after losing its railroad.

According to Larsen, a lot of businesses left, but remaining business people thought about what they could do to revive Leavenworth. They realized that the nearby mountains resembled the Alps, so they made the town look like a German mountain village.

“It’s a four-block town that could have died,” but now it gets more than 2 million visitors annually, she said.

If you want a more successful local economy, Larsen asked business leaders, “how are you going to make a difference?”


Joe Cobbe CPA - Click for Website
PHCC - Click for Website
The Eye Site - Click for Website
Rives S. Brown Realtors - Click for Website
Martinsville/Henry Co. Chamber of Commerce - Click for Website
Lockman & Associates - Click for Website
The Spencer Group - Click for Website
New College Institute - Click for Website