Economic development must be nurtured like a plant

Published 3:53 pm Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to several groups of students at Southampton High School and Riverdale Elementary School in support of National Career and Technical Education week. My task was simple. I was to explain economic development to students and help them understand its importance to our community. Economic development and why it matters is unfortunately not a simple topic to explain and discuss, especially to children in elementary or high school. As I developed my notes in an attempt to simplify the conversation I found two main subjects of focus: growing our economy through new investment and job creation.

As I began to explain why economic development matters the analogy of a plant came to mind. Take the Franklin-Southampton community as an example: Without continued investment in its success by the private sector and residents of the community at large it will stagnate and eventually die, just as a sapling would not survive without water and nutrients that are imperative to its success. New investment from the private sector and jobs that pay a living wage are the only things that ultimately translates into a higher standard of living, lower unemployment, higher educational attainment and higher quality public services including schools and emergency services. If as a community we want a higher level of services provided to us then we must find ways to pay for those services to improve or exist. An increased tax base from new investment is one of the only ways to accomplish this.

In today’s competitive environment, if a community truly desires to remain viable it must:

1. Have sites that are ready for development. To qualify as ready for development, the community must control the site either by publicly owning it, hold an executed option to purchase it, or have a willing private sector partner that is actively marketing the property. The property should have gone through the public hearing process and already be zoned for business or industrial use. Required infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, power, fiber, natural gas, rail, etc.) should either already be available at the site or a plan is in place to extend it within a short time frame. All of the required due diligence (environmental site assessment, wetland delineation, cultural resource survey, traffic impact analysis, geotechnical (subsurface soils) analysis, etc.) should be completed in advance with written reports available. The site should be master-planned to provide a clear understanding of how buildings will fit on the site and where their storm water will discharge.

Failure to demonstrate that your site is ready for development is generally cause for quick elimination. In other words — if your site doesn’t provide a conceptual plan for development, isn’t zoned, and doesn’t have infrastructure extended to it, you have a very small chance of a prospect visit. We list a number of available sites on our website, but the main ones marketed to commercial and industrial prospects are Pretlow Industrial Park (150 acres remaining), the Southampton Commerce and Logistics Center (80 acres remaining) and the Southampton Business Park (27 acres remaining).

2. Demonstrate a skilled work force. Prospective industries want to know what kind of labor pool a community has. Are there enough skilled people within a reasonable commute to meet their needs? What skills and abilities do they have? What resources are locally available to help train them? A community must be able to demonstrate the size and skills of its workforce with labor studies prepared in advance of prospect visits. It must form strong partnerships with local school systems and the community college to ensure that it can meet the needs of existing and new businesses and industries.

Just like the sapling that requires water to succeed and grow, we as a community must do our part to be ready to capture investment that is considering the Hampton Roads region to be successful.

As a young professional I moved back to this community to play a positive role in the future of our community. We all want our children to have an opportunity to live, work and play in our community should they choose and have outstanding public services. To see that become a reality it will take all of our efforts and engagement in our community’s future. My challenge to those students was to find a way to make this community a better place and to be an active and contributing member of our workforce and community now and in the future.

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Amanda Jarratt is the CEO and president of Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc. She can be reached at or 562-1958.