When big fish aren’t biting, go for the small ones

Published 10:24 am Wednesday, March 24, 2010

After reading many comments on The Tidewater News’ Web site of little value, I have seen a few that offer some insight as to what we might consider doing in the area of economic development.

Much of the problem began in the 1970s and 1980s, when filling Pretlow Park with industry was not a high priority with the City Council nor most citizens because it was a given that Union Camp would be here for centuries. Early on, there was an economic developer here who worked diligently to bring small industry to the park — but with little support from city managers and others dealing with those matters.

It was never felt that we should make generous offers or tax breaks for the first few years to help any new industry get a significant boost in the beginning. Also lacking in many instances was a warm, sincere, heartfelt attitude of welcome to the community.

Unfortunately, there have been instances of this happening in the last few years, particularly if the upper brass felt that the business or industry was not sophisticated enough to be appropriate for our community. A typical example of this is Franklin Disposal and Recycling, located at 30493 General Thomas Highway, owned by Chuck Guynn. About two years ago I had him as a guest speaker for the Citizens for Constructive Government group, and he told us the following story, which I shall reduce to a synopsis.

When he was searching for the right location to place his business, he approached officials of both Franklin and Southampton County, including the economic development people of each jurisdiction. He was informed that this type business was not what they were looking for, and they offered virtually no help.

With the assistance of Jim Hart, he found what he considered a very good location (identified above) and, after much hard work and jumping through a maze of governmental hoops, he finally got approval for his project from Southampton County.

In 2005-06, Mr. Guynn made an initial investment in land and building in the amount of $800,000, and in 2008 he added $400,000 to expand his building. With 14 employees, he had a payroll of more than $500,000. This building and plant was built on a landfill once operated by SPSA, but I it was almost completely concealed from the highway and, with his enclosure, it is not detected from the highway. This business has cleaned up the environment in five or more surrounding Virginia and North Carolina counties by removing all types of metals from farms and business areas.

What a bonus this has turned out to be for our entire area. Abandoned cars, trucks and farm equipment are scarce today because of Mr. Guynn’s farsightedness.

Think of the money that this brings to the area, yet nobody will help him get a sign at the junction of Route 58 and General Thomas Boulevard to alert people of his location one mile west on General Thomas Boulevard.

Twenty or 30 comparable small businesses could make a lot of difference in our economic development when we don’t seem to get any larger ones. Sadly, only one official from Franklin or Southampton has ever thanked him for putting his business here, and that was Southampton County Supervisor Walt Brown, who represents the Newsom District. What a sad commentary for all of our officials.

I am well aware of the concerns of many people regarding the results of our economic development processes, but the results speak for themselves. Tons of money have been and are being spent apparently looking for the big deal that will bring large employment to the area, but when practically none has shown up in the past, it seems to me it is reasonable to ask: Why not look for the smaller business and see if they can do better?