By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL -- Front Royal needs to hone its identity to boost its economy, a panel of business leaders told Town Council this week.
The Economic Development Committee presented its recommendations to council at a work session Monday following months of work with staff on ways the town can attract businesses. But two of the three recommended steps are controversial, especially since they may require town funding. Council asked the panel to bring back more information and make another presentation.
The panel suggested that council create a non-taxing authority, financially support the Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center and hire its own building inspector. Warren County currently handles building inspection for the town.
Mayor Tim Darr said Wednesday that council appeared in favor of moving forward with at least the recommendation that Front Royal team up with the small business group but want more information about the other two recommendations. The presentation left some members confused about the steps in the process and the responsibilities of the town, the center and an authority.
"See, the problem with economic development is there's so many parts of it," Darr said, adding that these include tourism and attracting new, and retaining existing businesses.
To work with the business development center, the town would need to spend $20,000 for its share of the federally funded program. As Darr explained Monday, the center provides counseling for individual businesses.
"To be honest with you all, for the money that the town would invest in this, it would be money well spent," Darr said at the meeting.
Should council decide to hire a person to oversee economic development, the center would help the town in that search. The town has been setting aside $50,000 a year for economic development efforts.
Panel member Cory Michael told council the group kept its recommendations a bit vague.
"The major goal for us is we feel the town needs to be able to stand on its own two feet and not rely on the county and other entities," Michael said. "So we recommend ... advancing the economic development of the town, help control its own identity."
Committee member Mike McCool explained that the center helps a municipality to retain its businesses and to educate proprietors who may want to locate in town. The education services run continually. Should council decide to create a development authority, the business center would act as that agency's director for a limited time after start-up.
Panel member George McIntyre said the group realized it was not getting anywhere.. The center came in to help the committee focus and to give direction.
"Their track record is really impressive," George McIntyre said.
The committee met often since forming late last year and had other people involved in economic development talk about the town's options.
Along with Michael and McCool, the panel includes former Councilman Tom Conkey, Rick Novak, Steve Jerome, Jean Plauger.
The panel didn't necessarily cover all new ground. Council has talked about hiring either a person or entity to oversee community development in the past and had advertised the position. Council recently chose to limit the town's connection or at least its financial contribution to the Warren County Economic Development Authority even though the agency still works to promote business growth in both jurisdictions.
The panel agreed the town could incorporate its search for a community development person or firm with the creation of an authority.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org