Business group cites Board of Supervisors as growth obstacle

Local politics, specifically the Board of Supervisors, is the area’s biggest barrier to a healthier economy in the opinion of members of the newly formed Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Council.

The council was officially launched at a Chamber breakfast event in September, and attending members were asked to identify the greatest obstacle facing businesses in Shenandoah County. First Bank President and CEO Dennis Dysart said a consensus was reached that determined while infrastructure and workforce development issues do warrant concern, the primary obstacle is the area’s politics. Dysart chairs the Economic Development Council.

“The top reason that the survey produced was that we may have a political climate in Shenandoah County that is not supporting economic development and expansion, that is not focused enough on pro-business initiatives, and that maybe there’s a lack of understanding of the value of a corporate tax base,” Dysart said.

Based on conversations with other chamber members, Dysart stated that the group consensus places the blame for the business-unfriendly climate with the Board of Supervisors, and not with politics at town levels.

“I think it’s important that people consider the impact of business, and employment and tax base when they do cast their votes this year, because I do think it matters,” Dysart said.

The EDC is made of business members.  Whereas the chamber has focused on tourism, education, training and hosting events with local communities, the EDC will focus on the infrastructure necessary to foster a business-friendly atmosphere.

“Do we have water, sewer, technology, fiber that we need to support businesses?” Dysart asked. “Do we have tax-free incentive zones or reduced taxes where we can recruit new businesses? Are we developing our workforce that can ultimately be employable in new businesses and existing businesses?”

The ultimate goal of the EDC is to create opportunities for employment and to expand the corporate tax base in the area, ideally alleviating taxes on individuals.

Dysart envisions the EDC as offering Shenandoah County the “third leg of a stool” in a polarized struggle. Rather than waging the increase taxes-versus-cut spending debate, Dysart believes an augmented corporate tax base is the solution.

“There’s another alternative to this polarization. Discussion doesn’t always have to be: We’re going to increase taxes on agricultural land or on homes or on cars, or we’re going to cut spending,” Dysart said. “This polarization is not healthy. It’s not healthy in Washington, D.C., it’s not healthy in Shenandoah County.”

Dysart doesn’t see the EDC’s solution as a political issue. “It just feels like a different model, a different approach,” Dysart said.

Other members of the council are Aaron Bushong of Bushong Contracting, Christopher French of Shenandoah Telecommunications, Bill Holtzman of Holtzman Oil Corp., Keith Stephens of Gateway Hospitality, and Mike Thome of Bowman Andros.  Dysart said the council is open to new applicants while keeping the group at a “certain functional size.”

The idea for the EDC was first discussed at a Chamber of Commerce strategic planning session in January. Moving forward, the council will meet quarterly.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for the chamber and our members, which are the business leaders of our community, to be actively engaged in pushing economic development forward,” said Sharon Baroncelli, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.