Franklin to participate in regional economic development initiative

Published 5:18 pm Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Franklin’s city council voted 6-1 during its meeting on Monday evening to approve the city’s participation in a regional effort intended to accelerate the growth of small and medium-sized businesses in the Tidewater area.
The program, known as the Industry Cluster Scale-Up, would be a project of ReInvent Hampton Roads, a Norfolk-based community leadership and economic development initiative, in partnership with GENEDGE, a Martinsville-based business consulting firm. By committing to participate in the project, the city of Franklin will need to contribute $5,000 by Sept. 30.
Mayor Frank Rabil and other members felt that the amount of money Franklin was being asked to contribute was not equitable given the city’s small population, as compared to the other participating localities, but Rabil ultimately voted to proceed despite the cost.
Councilman Linwood Johnson also expressed concerns that some regional economic development projects intended to improve Hampton Roads have neglected the Western Tidewater area in the past, but he, like Rabil, ultimately voted to move forward.
“If we go with this, we need some guarantee that we will profit from it; if not, we’ll just be wasting money,” he said.
Other business discussed during the meeting included the appropriation of approximately $1.7 million in federal grant funds for capital improvements at the city’s airport, and an update on the status of the Southeastern Public Service Authority.
Specifically, the grant funds will be used to create a partial parallel taxiway at the airport to limit plans from meeting incoming plane traffic while in the taxiway. According to City Manager R. Randy Martin, the city received a federal grant to complete the design for the project but did not expect to receive the construction grant until fiscal year 2018-2019.
Martin added that, because the project bids the city received were significantly higher than what staff had estimated, the city will need to contribute an additional $36,280 to the grant funds, which is approximately 2 percent of the project’s $1.8 million total cost.
Councilman Bobby Cutchins expressed his support for the project, saying that he did not believe there had been any maintenance done on the runway in about four to five years, and that if the city did not pursue this opportunity now, the city would be responsible for paying the entirety of the airport’s current and future maintenance costs.
The council ultimately voted unanimously to accept the grant and to authorize Martin to inform federal and state authorities of the city’s acceptance. Martin said that the council would need to make another motion at a future council meeting formally appropriating the funding once it becomes available.
During the SPSA update, City Attorney H. Taylor Williams IV informed the council that SPSA’s board had terminated its contract with RePower, a company that had to turn SPSA’s trash into energy pellets. The contract was terminated because RePower was unable to find a buyer for the pellets, and as such, was unable to obtain financing to construct its trash conversion facility.
“With the approval of cell seven, SPSA does have the ability to landfill the trash for several decades but that is not the most desired option,” Williams explained. “The most desired option would be to utilize it in some other manner to generate energy or use it for recyclables, but we will have to find a new partner.”
Vice Mayor Barry Cheatham asked if RePower could re-bid for the same contract if the company were to get its act together, to which Williams replied that there was nothing that would likely prevent them from presenting their plan again, so long as they managed to find a buyer for the pellets this time around.
The attorney also announced that it was once again time for city council to draft a list of nominees to send to the governor’s office for consideration as Franklin’s gubernatorial appointee to SPSA’s board. The current representative’s term will expire on Dec. 31.
Rabil and the rest of council agreed to discuss the matter at their next retreat.