Checking out the operation

20th District Senate candidate Kim Adkins speaks to the Blue Ridge Airport’s on-site AirCare team as she tours its rescue helicopter Monday. Pictured are (from left)Melissa Gentry, paramedic; Tom Schmitz, pilot; and Jacob Moore, nurse.

Kim Adkins on Monday unveiled a plan to strengthen the middle class and create jobs in Virginia’s 20th District through the creation of a “Former Local Elected Officials Caucus” in the General Assembly.

Adkins, the former Martinsville Mayor who is running against Sen. Bill Stanley for the 20th District Senatorial seat, explained the plan at a press conference at Blue Ridge Regional Airport in Spencer.

Adkins said that the proposed caucus would bring together delegates and senators – regardless of political affiliation – to support legislation that would help create an environment for businesses to thrive.

According to Adkins, Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s current economic development agenda says that in order to have a stronger economy, Virginia needs to build on its five strengths: the expansion of Virginia’s project ready economic infrastructure; attraction of new high-growth industries; protection and enhancement of the state’s business climate; the fostering of greater innovation and entrepreneurship; and the building of a world-class workforce development system.

The success of that agenda depends on whether or not each locality has the ability to execute its plans, something that she feels would be made easier by the creation of the Former Local Elected Officials Caucus.

“I envision this caucus changing the conversation at the state level on what it takes to grow our economy,” she said. “We will get back to basics, where relationships are built and things get done. … It means our district is taking a leadership role to get short term projects completed and long-term initiatives in a position to become a reality.”

Adkins chose to hold the press conference at Blue Ridge Regional Airport, she said, because it serves as a perfect example of a short-term project that could greatly benefit the locality.

The airport is one of three smaller, general aviation airports in the 20th district, she said, all of which are gateways to the district and crucial to economic development.

“A recent study by the state found that Blue Ridge Airport contributes $4.6 million to this region’s economic activity each year, of which $2.2 million comes from outside visitors,” Adkins said. “Expanding general aviation airports like Blue Ridge will allow our region to not only bring in money from visitors, but also to attract new business and retain existing business. … From here a business person can travel anywhere along the eastern seaboard to the west coast within a few hours.”

Blue Ridge Airport has shovel-ready capital improvement plans in place, Adkins said, including the expansion of the aircraft parking apron near the terminal to accommodate larger business aircraft and more aircraft in general, and also lengthening the airport runway by another 500-1,000 feet to better accommodate existing aircraft.

“Blue Ridge Airport’s 5,000-foot runway is not long enough for many business aircraft to operate on,” she said. “In addition, when the runway is wet, many aircraft must …divert to Greensboro, N.C. This situation denies the airport fuel sales and the region revenue that the airport needs to capture to best serve our area.”

By giving the Virginia Aviation Board the discretion to allocate carryover funds to any approved but unfunded capital projects for airports, those capital improvements could be addressed immediately, she said.

“This is just one example of short-term projects we can get done immediately with the (Former Local Elected Officials) Caucus advocating on behalf of localities’ strategic priorities,” she said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

In the long-term, Adkins said, the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Office of Intermodal Planning has predicted that Virginia’s growth in its economy, population and industrial structure through 2040 will impact state-wide transportation needs and position rural areas of the state – such as the 20th District – to transition to higher-value jobs and industries.

“With the (Former Local Elected Officials) Caucus in place, we can advance these initiatives sooner rather than later, which will lead to a more urgent need for the state and federal governments to complete U.S. 58 and put funding in place to start the construction of I-73,” she said. “My plan for creating jobs and strengthening the economy will work.”

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