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County leaders discuss economic development spending

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK -- Shenandoah County may not spend any more money next year to boost the local economy.

The Board of Supervisors on Thursday discussed the proposed fiscal 2015 budget for the county that currently includes no substantial increases in funding for economic development. The board heard from Brandon Davis, director of the Office of Community Development, the department comprised of economic development, planning and zoning and other agencies.

The economic development budget of $72,852 consists of $55,852 to cover memberships with regional agencies. The total amount requested represents a $500 increase over the current budget, or 0.7 percent. The extra money would allow Davis to attend the twice-annual conference put on by the Virginia Economic Developers Association if he chose, he said. The budget also includes $18,000 to cover memberships with the Winchester Regional Airport, the Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center and Shen-Paco Industries.

"We do not have some of the resources that some other jurisdictions that we're in competition with have in order to compete," Davis said. "The only way we can do that is to stay fresh in people's minds who make the decisions and build those relationships.

Most of the money spent on memberships would go to the Shenandoah Valley Partnership. The county paid a membership fee of $23,278 for years. The county's fee increased to $31,586 for the current fiscal year.

District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz asked Davis if he was happy with the partnership.

"I can't imagine how it could be any better," Davis said.

"At this funding level I hope you would say that," Shruntz said.

Davis said the advantages they provide are more valuable than that dollar amount.

"The marketing alone that we are able to do through them would cost us probably hundreds of thousands of dollars," he said.

District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey questioned spending money on membership.

"What have we got out of it since we've been in this partnership, because a lot businesses are building over in Warren County even though may be coming here first?" Bailey asked. "I mean, what's it going to take to bring new business here?"

The membership fees over several years could go toward developing pad-ready sites for prospective industries, Bailey said.

The discussion at one point put Davis in a position to defend his role in economic development and other supervisors spoke up in support. District 1 Supervisor John R. "Dick" Neese commented that the state economic development agency refers businesses to regional organizations such as the partnership rather than to individual jurisdictions.

Davis told Bailey he could provide the board with a detailed report on what his department has done in that arena.

Davis pointed out the tours of employers with schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley in an effort to connect industries with the system and develop a program through which the businesses can hire local people.

The regional airport attracts corporate representatives or scouts looking for prospective sites for new businesses. The small business agency recently helped an existing company out of a financially bad situation, Davis said.

Virginia Economic Development Partnership staff members, in conjunction with the Shenandoah Valley Partnership, plan to take a tour of industrial areas in the county later this month, Davis said.

"The only way we can stay in front of these people is to go to the events that they're at," he said.

Davis noted the combined budgets for economic development and planning and zoning show a slight decrease in spending. Davis requested $364,687 for planning and zoning -- 0.8 percent less than in the current budget. In 2008, Davis' department had a total budget of $412,000 and a staff of 17 people. Currently, the department has 12 people and the agency has since taken on the added responsibilities of handling conservation easements.

Several board members commended Davis for running a department with a smaller staff.

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

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