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Regionalism key to economic growth, IDA told

Leigh Cockram, the new director of business development and strategic initiatives at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, brought a message of partnership and regional cooperation to members of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority Friday morning during their meeting at Riverstone.

The former executive director of the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance, Cockram said she would never have taken a job with the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research one year ago because she was so focused on regionalism.

However, with recent changes that have refocused the Institute on its original mission of regional cooperation, Cockram said she feels right at home at her new job.

She assured authority board members the last thing anyone at the Institute wants to do is to compete with the authority’s efforts at Riverstone and Halifax County.

She said regional cooperation will be the key to attracting growth to the area.

“My role is to insure a regional approach to economic development as we continue to impact one another by implementing programs of what our footprint can sustain,” she added.

She said in her new position, she is working with existing industries to help them understand what research capabilities are available within one hour of their businesses including the national coatings center, C-CARE, at Riverstone.

Authority board member W. W. “Ted” Bennett congratulated Cockram on her efforts agreeing Riverstone and the Institute should be complimentary and supplementary and not competing for tobacco commission funding.

“I really like that approach, and together we can present a great, great front,” he added.

Authority Board Chairman John Cannon described Cockram’s regional approach philosophy as “a breath of fresh air for me.”

Once a member of the Institute board, Cannon said he resigned because of “the us versus them thing.

“If we all work to promote the region, it will be great,” he added.

Bennett noted Southside Virginia is known for its regional heritage of industry and manufacturing, with Cockram saying 19 percent of Southside’s workforce is still in manufacturing.

Although she has only been at work at her new job for a month, Cockram said, “It’s really been a wild month.”

Authority Executive Director Matt Leonard referred to Cockram and her professional coworkers at the Institute, Jerry Gwaltney and Steve Bridgers, saying, “We feel we can trust them.”

His staff is working on developing a memorandum of understanding to have in place between the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority and the Institute.

As she continues to promote the regional concept to business and industry across Southside Virginia, Cockram said she will work to overcome challenges and work to get economic growth to the rural footprint.

In other business Friday morning, authority board members took the following actions:

Heard an update from C-CARE Director Dr. Doug Corrigan on the authority’s request for proposals to identify an organization or collective partnership of organizations most suited to operating C-CARE at Riverstone;

At C-CARE, industry can test and prototype new coating technologies, chemistries and processes; develop process engineering and standard operating procedures; receive workforce training on advanced technologies; perform research and development on new products and processes; increase manufacturing efficiency and quality at a lower cost; and support conversion to environmentally sound coating practices.

Since the requests went out on Oct. 28, Corrigan said he has received 20 responses from interested industries and several commitments to visit the facility on Dec. 6 to learn more about the coatings center and the entire community.

 Were updated on prospects, big and small, who have expressed interest in locating in the county;

 Asked Leonard and staff to share with the board an overview of the authority’s PowerPoint marketing presentation so members can get a feel of how the office is marketing the community to prospects; and

 Agreed to change the monthly meeting time from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.