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Seth Coffman: Economic development plan balanced, innovative

Seth Coffman (Buy photo)

By Seth Coffman

Shenandoah Forum commends the Shenandoah County Economic Development Strategic Planning Committee, under the leadership of Shenandoah County's Director of Community Development Brandon Davis, for the high quality plan approved by the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 26.

The new Economic Development Strategic Plan is a vital addition to the county's comprehensive plan and community planning project recommendations. As Shenandoah Forum hoped when planning started in summer 2011, the plan reaffirms Shenandoah County's vision that agriculture and our rural setting are vital to prosperity.

Shenandoah County's roadmap for economic development addresses agriculture and tourism along with more traditional sectors like manufacturing and technology. The plan notes the county's distinct qualities and identifies innovative ways to build on this.

The plan recognizes that key elements of our high quality of life - welcoming communities, an extraordinary rural landscape, distinctive towns and hamlets, working farms and local foods, an effective and relevant education system, historic battlefields and busy main streets - are important for our long-term economic success. Stewardship of these resources through compatible economic development will help Shenandoah County remain an attractive and vibrant place to live and to work.

An outstanding resource in the news recently is Shenandoah National Park. The National Park Service reported it draws 1.2 million visitors a year, half entering at Front Royal, who spend $74 million in surrounding communities, supporting 938 jobs.

Shenandoah County offers plenty of additional attractions to capture even more of these visitors' dollars. These range from our four Civil War battlefields to farmers markets, cafes serving local foods and award-winning wineries.

In industrial development, the county's new plan offers a fresh approach dubbed "economic gardening." The county will focus on helping existing local businesses grow and thrive, instead of just struggling to compete with thousands of other localities to convince new firms to move here.

Growing local businesses generates more community impact, including far greater growth in net new jobs. The plan highlights recent examples - plant expansions at Bowman Andros Products,LLC (apple processors), Mercury Paper, Inc. and CMC Howell Metal Company (copper tubing for air conditioning and refrigeration).

The plan could use a few tweaks. It should highlight the great opportunity in local foods for farm entrepreneurs, up to $9.6 million a year in new agricultural revenue in Shenandoah County, according to state projections. Also, the proposed Industry and Education Roundtable on workforce development should include an agricultural component, a strategy that has been very successful in strengthening the farm economy in Lancaster County, Pa., and also would leverage the county's multi-year state and national award-winning agricultural science teachers and Future Farmers of America clubs

Shenandoah County supervisors noted that the economic development plan is a living document that will be adapted and changed as opportunities are realized and new ones emerge.

Shenandoah Forum applauds the adoption of the plan as a promising road map for our future economic prosperity and our high quality of life.

View the plan at www.shenandoah-ed.org.

Coffman is chairman of the Shenandoah Forum, a non-profit group that encourages active and informed participation by county residents on important community issues. Visit the Forum at www.ShenandoahForum.org.


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