Powhatan's Economic Development efforts garner award.

Powhatan's Economic Development efforts garner award.

May 6, 2019

Powhatan's Economic Development efforts garner award.

The Virginia Economic Developers Association (VEDA) has presented Powhatan County with a 2019 Community Economic Development Award.

Powhatan County earned its award for redefining their community vision to create a strong, diverse economy, according to VEDA. The community set out on a year-long vision that resulted in a playbook – an implementation plan – that began in 2018 to build a high-functioning economic development program.

“We commend them for involving experts and assistance to focus on business retention, recruitment, tourism and workforce in a 14-month transformational program,” said Traci Blido, chair of VEDA’s awards committee.
Awards were also given to the Town of Pulaski, James City County, and the Northern Virginia communities of Arlington and Alexandria.

The awards were presented on Friday, March 29 during the organization’s spring conference in Harrisonburg. Bret Schardein, assistant county administrator, Roxanne Salerno, economic development program manager, and Dan Jones, a member of the Powhatan Economic Development Authority, accepted the award on Powhatan’s behalf.
VEDA is a nonprofit, non-partisan membership association for individuals with a professional interest in economic development across the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 2019, it offered five economic development awards to communities in Virginia.

Powhatan’s economic development story is one of a locality that had had “previously de-invested in economic development” but “was able to relaunch a comprehensive, sustainable, community supported and successful economic development program,” according to its nomination description.

The program, which is run by the county’s economic development office, is focused primarily on business retention and expansion but also includes efforts toward recruitment, tourism and workforce, Schardein said.
Some of the achievements that were highlighted in the award included staff being in discussions with 25 existing businesses about expansions, working with 43 active leads on new projects and seeing 41 commercial projects receive approval or break ground in 2018. This included bringing Classic Granite and Marble’s expansion project, a 25-acre high-end light industrial/office/retail development anchored by the manufacturer, with a projected $10 million investment and 100 new jobs.

Other efforts included creating an economic development website and increasing the number of properties in the VA Scan inventory. The county’s application also highlighted tourism efforts, such as landing the 2019 US Disabled Golf Association’s US Open, 2020 US Mid-Amateur (jointly with Goochland County), Patriot League Golf Tournament and the Mid-Atlantic Tourism Public Relations Alliance’s conference.

County staff was thrilled with the award because it was a validation of all they had been working to do, Schardein said.

“I already believed in our program but it s nice to have it acknowledged externally,” he said.

Schardein traced the journey Powhatan took to get to this point back to 2014, when the board of supervisors defined its 2030 Vision for the Community, which included the development of a "strong, robust and diverse economy." Later that year, to implement their broad vision, the supervisors adopted a more focused Strategic Action Plan, identifying their No. 1 goal as economic development.

But while the next step many localities might have taken was to hire an economic development director and set him or her to work, Powhatan took a more methodical approach, Schardein said.

In 2015, the county commissioned Bowman Consulting and Spectrum Growth Solutions to assist in the development of that plan. In 2016, the Economic Development Strategic Plan was adopted.

But while the plan was solid and comprehensive in nature, it was “not intended to be a roadmap for a fiscally-constrained program that could be implemented within a reasonable timeline,” according to the nomination.

Instead, the economic development authority (EDA) was tasked with implementing a plan. Starting in 2017 with assistance from the RiverLink Group, the EDA set out on a year-long, 500-plus man-hour journey of learning and development. This included monthly public workshops, each focused on a different facet of economic development with experts brought in to speak on topics such as fundamentals, workforce, ag-business, real estate, best practices, and the statewide approach to economic development.

“There are a number of renowned professionals who came out each month to share their perspectives. Without that it is easy to just do anything, but that might not be the biggest bang for the buck or return on investment for Powhatan,” Schardein said.

This work culminated with an implementation plan in 2018 that served as a playbook of how to staff and operate a highly functional program within the county’s anticipated resources, said Salerno, who is the only one who works full-time on economic development, aided by Schardein as part of his duties. With a narrowed, personalized approach, they were able to hit the ground running on programs they knew would work for Powhatan instead of having a stop-and-start method that might slow down the momentum.

“Riverlink gave us how to make it workable for Powhatan, with only two people and the available but limited resources,” Salerno said.

Schardein said they submitted an application to VEDA last year but didn’t win. At the time, this history and the plans that came out of it really hadn’t fully developed yet. A year later and with much of the program implemented and showing results, it was deemed award-worthy.

“What was commended was the county not just hiring someone to come in and do it but looking holistically at all of the different parts of economic development and putting together a comprehensive program custom tailored for Powhatan County and its available resources,” he said.

Article Credit: Laura McFarland, Editor of Powhatan Today Newspaper