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Posted February 19, 2014 | comments Leave a comment

County IDA looks at name, focus change

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK -- A Shenandoah County panel wants to shift its focus from promoting industry to the overall economy.

The Industrial Development Authority also needs to change its name to reflect the new direction, members of its board of directors said Wednesday.

The idea came up at an authority board meeting last year. Director of Community Development Brandon Davis recalled that at the time the board considered the change "to get with the times and signify that economic development is more than just about heavy industry." Davis said the authority board could modify its charter to make the change.

Chairman Vince Poling asked Davis if the group's mission would change with the name.

"Do we still just function as an IDA or do we have any direct involvement in the actual strategic plan in the county for economic development," Poling asked.

Shenandoah County had an Economic Development Committee that included representatives from the towns, the Board of Supervisors and other residents. When Douglas Walker replaced Poling as county administrator several years ago, he eliminated the board's committee structure in favor of holding work sessions for discussion of individual topics.

Davis noted the advantage of having a board that would include representation by the supervisors and the towns. Strasburg recently annexed the North Shenandoah Industrial and Business Park that includes land owned and marketed by the IDA. Strasburg can't be a member of the IDA.

"If our role doesn't change it doesn't make any difference what our name is," Poling said.

The chairman suggested taking the idea to the Board of Supervisors.

"I kind of get a sense of a lackadaisical attitude on economic development matters from the board [of supervisors]," Poling said.

Authority board members considered the pitfalls of taking on economic development for the county, specifically if an initiative falls through, and the backlash they may feel.

Vice Chairman Jay Winkfield pointed out a benefit to changing the name and focus.

"We could become more actively involved in the market if we became an EDA," Winkfield said. "Right now we're more of a facilitator."

Davis concurred with Poling.

"Like Vince is saying there, it's an opportunity to kind of change the way we look at what the IDA is and why it exists," Davis said.

The authority board could seek to change its charter by including language that gives the entity an expanded role beyond the financial function it currently serves, Davis said.

Asked if supervisors discuss economic development at its work sessions, Davis said the board addresses topics as they arise. Davis gives a department report at the board's day meetings that includes economic development efforts.

"That's the biggest place where the board hears about economic development -- in that staff report on a monthly basis," Davis said.

Winkfield noted that most counties have made the shift from industrial to economic development authorities. Poling added that most EDAs go a step further to hire an executive director. An EDA serves Warren County and Front Royal and has an executive director, as does Winchester. Frederick County's IDA changed to an EDA in January and, in July, may hire its first executive director. The counties with the most aggressive economic development efforts also have executive directors, Winkfield said.

However, Davis advised that to hire an executive director would cost money. Davis wears several hats as head of his department but said he can spend only a small portion of his time focusing on economic development.

Poling pointed out that the county recently adopted a strategic plan for economic development that could provide some guidance to the authority board. In addition, the board has planning documents from the Shenandoah Valley Partnership -- a regional organization that Davis said helps market the county.

"Our marketing line item [in the budget] for economic development is a big, fat goose egg," Davis said. "We participate in this economic development partnership and the value that we get out of them far exceeds the dollar amount that we pay, in my opinion, because we get to take advantage of all the economic development professionals up and down the valley."

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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