Agriculture, tourism drive Shenandoah County economy

WOODSTOCK – Agriculture and tourism keep driving Shenandoah County’s economy, according to recent reports.

Director of Community Development Brandon Davis updated the Board of Supervisors Tuesday on the county’s economic growth. Highlights of the past year included the announcement of the largest manufacturing investment in the county’s history – Bowman Andros Products in Mount Jackson – Davis said. Bowman Andros agreed last year to invest $73 million in its plant over three years.

Tourism Director Jenna French told the board earlier that the county realized approximately $200 million through tourism in 2014. The county had 1,694 tourism-related jobs in 2014 and the county collected $5.65 million in local tax receipts. Visitors spent $547,466 per day that year, French said.

“If that’s not economic development, then we’re looking at it all wrong,” Davis said.

Economic development traditionally involves recruitment, retention and expansion of manufacturing firms, Davis noted. This side of economic development represents only a small portion of such initiatives in Shenandoah County, he said.

Davis used his report to look ahead and cited the vacant buildings and land available for economic development. The county needs pad-ready sites to compete for businesses and industries, Davis said.

“If you want to focus on traditional economic development in this county, we are going to need to invest in our properties to improve the quality and the readiness of our product,” Davis said. “Not only that, we need to improve our Web presence from a technical aspect, not necessarily from an advertising perspective but from a technical perspective.”

The county needs data about available sites on its website that companies can use to determine if they want to locate here, Davis said. The director uses the $17,000 allocated in his budget for professional development to help gather information when site selectors inquire about the county. For example, Davis said a site selector asked about locating in the county and he discovered that such an effort would require combining two lots owned by the Industrial Development Authority. Davis had to hire a firm to quickly produce a design that showed this combination.

The director suggested that, if he hasn’t spent the money by the end of the fiscal year, the board consider hiring a firm to perform an inventory of sites, both in the county and the towns that could attract development.

But the county budgets no money for marketing related to traditional economic development. Instead, the county budgets money for membership with the Shenandoah Valley Partnership, most of which goes to marketing, Davis said. Customers, however, demand regional approaches to economic development and marketing given the amount of effort it would take to deal with individual localities, Davis added.

Also in his report, the county faces the challenge of providing a qualified work force to attract potential businesses and industry, Davis said. The school division is working with the business community to determine how to help create the necessary work force and keep them in the county, Davis added.

District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz asked Davis if he was aware of a 224-acre property off Mount Olive Road in the Toms Brook area up for sale. Davis said he’s been in contact with the real estate agent handling the property.

“I’m glad that he has it and he’s looking to market it,” Davis said.

A portion of the property is zoned for commercial use. Most of the land is zoned for limited industrial development, Davis said. Some proffers, or voluntary conditions, attached to the land in the 1980s, limit development of the property, Davis added. The site is listed on the Shenandoah Valley Partnership’s website as well by the state economic development agency for potential developers.

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

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