Region needs to compete

Published 9:46 am Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Western Tidewater, along with the rest of Southeastern Virginia, is standing on the precipice of historic economic growth.

The expansion of port activity along with the development of a new Route 460 and the increased traffic that is sure to be seen on Route 58 will bring opportunities for economic development the likes of which most of us have not seen here.

The question that begs to be asked is whether the city of Franklin and Southampton County are prepared to take advantage of it?

It is a well-documented fact that competition in the economic development arena is fierce, even among neighboring communities that claim to strive for regionalism and cooperation.

A talented and capable economic development team is a must, and despite some criticism over the years, our community has such an asset. Our neighbors with whom we compete can also say the same.

But no matter how many companies we recruit to look at Franklin or Southampton, if there’s no place for them to set up shop, the deal will be lost before it has a chance to materialize. And that is where we have fallen behind in competition with other localities.

Isle of Wight County has 1,500 acres of publicly owned land that is zoned for industrial development in the Shirley T. Holland Industrial Park in Windsor. The City of Suffolk’s Centerpoint Intermodal Center east of Franklin and only one of many locations the city has zoned for industrial development has over 900 acres available.

To the west, Greensville County controls 1,545 acres in a mega site under development. And Sussex County recently purchased 610 acres for the development of a mega site, and is looking to acquire more land.

By comparison, Franklin’s Pretlow Industrial Park has only 165 acres available and in need of upgrades to its available utilities. Southampton County, after the sale of 139 acres to Enviva, has 85 acres remaining at the Turner Tract industrial site and 35 acres in Southampton Business Park. That’s all.

No matter how talented or hard working our economic development team may be, or how much we talk as a community about luring new industry and jobs to Western Tidewater, we have to have the tools and resources to compete.

We are perfectly positioned, with Route 460 running through the northern portion of Southampton County and Route 58 dissecting Franklin and Southampton, to capitalize on the explosive growth the rest of our region has already begun to capitalize on.

Yet with the scarcity of developable land in both localities, we are in danger of falling even further behind. Difficult financial decisions lie ahead, but the survival of our local economy hinges on whether or not we dedicate the resources with which to compete.