Franklin-Southampton has to be more competitive

Published 9:35 am Saturday, August 3, 2013

by E. Warren Beale Jr.

What does FSEDI mean to you? First, it stands for Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Incorporated, usually spoken as “fuh-seedy,” and if you live in Franklin or Southampton, and especially if you are a property owner, it means a lot.

Most residents of this community expect certain things from local government, particularly good fire and rescue service, crime control, quality education, and, in many areas, infrastructure including sewer and water facilities. These vital services cost money, a lot of money, and we pay for them in taxes, which we hope are fairly billed to all of us.

County and City government struggle to control expenses, yet prices increase. For example, you know how much gasoline for your car or truck has gone up. So, too, it has gone up for fire trucks, school buses, police cars, refuse trucks and ambulances. For local government there are hundreds of other items from pencils to computers that cost more. And the taxes we pay go into the pot to pay our local government’s bills.

Now back to FSEDI.

When a new store or industrial plant opens, it does two things; it provides jobs and pays taxes. When it pays taxes, it compensates in a small or large way for the taxes that must otherwise be paid by community residents. When it employs people, they also pay taxes, and some of these taxes are paid by formerly unemployed people who may have been on the welfare role at taxpayer expense. Instead of being a financial minus, they have become a plus.

So economic development is a very, very desirable thing. That makes the competition between localities for new businesses are fierce. And this intense competition has led economic development organization in the various communities to become much more complex and much more sophisticated and professional.

With FSEDI, we have that sort of organization. With only three employees, FSEDI is challenged by Hampton Roads, Suffolk and many, many other localities, but has brought to our area a substantial list of prospects. The top management of two of the most recent has publicly paid tribute not only to the professionalism of the welcome and assistance they received, but the continued support after they had decided to come. They extended this tribute to involved City and County employees who worked with them. One facility is in the County and the other in the City, but they are mutually beneficial. As Board of Supervisors Chairman Dallas Jones said about the one in Franklin, “Somebody in Southampton County will get a job there.”

Modern businesses looking for a location are not looking for land with problems – drainage, transportation access, no usable water, zoning challenges, and neighbors who don’t want them. It is easier, and quicker, to go somewhere else, where those problems have already been solved for them. They want to proceed with their projects, not wade through zoning and environmental procedures, uncertain real estate prices, neighborhood relations and any unexpected glitches that might pop up. Economic developers solve that by having land secured by local government with all of those details solved. And we, as residents, want to be able to choose where industry will be located — in the most appropriate locations.

So what do Franklin and Southampton offer? The Turner Tract has 80 acres left. The Pretlow Industrial Park in the City has 160 acres (not all developable), and Southampton Business Park has 35 acres. That adds up to 275 acres. Sound like a lot? Next door, Isle of Wight has 1,500 acres, Sussex has 1,000, Greenville has 1,500, and Suffolk has 1,000 acres at Center Point east of Holland alone. So they each have from five to six times what we can offer. If we are going to have the business sites we must have for success, the citizens and local government must provide it.

On a happier and more promising note, we have an active, professional economic development team with demonstrated success and results. But the sites are running out, and when the cupboard is bare we can only watch with envy the successes of our neighbors who are dedicated to economic growth.

The paths are clear. We can run a crippled economic development program with little to offer potential clients, or we can support a vigorous program with a product, good, secure sites that will welcome new taxpayers to help ease the loads on those who bear it now and will increasingly in the future.

We all want a brilliant future for our community, from the Blackwater to the

Meherrin and from the state line to beyond Route 460. We want a community where our children can find employment and make their homes. We want the good schools and roads and security, and we should want some really good businesses to come in and help pay for those things.

And locally we have allies. Financial support for FSEDI is provided by both localities plus the Camp Family Foundations and Franklin Southampton Charities. This means the County Supervisors, the City Council men and women, and the boards of the two private institutions know that we must look ahead to build opportunities for the future. But they need the support and encouragement of all citizens. We cannot build the community we need operating day to day on hope. We must have qualified, ready real estate available or we will fall behind and betray the hopes for our future.

E. Warren Beale Jr. is chairman of the Board of Directors for the FSEDI.