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Business Leaders Offer Input

Congressman Tom Perriello met with area businesspeople Wednesday to hear their concerns on how to improve the economy and business climate in Halifax County and around the region.

Perriello said he is encouraged by what he sees going on around the 5th District and wants to find industries where Southside has a “competitive advantage” over other places, both around the country and internationally.

“Southside is undervalued,” the congressman said.  “If it were a stock, I would buy it.”

During his tour around the district, Perriello said he has visited companies that are working to develop the next big breakthrough in the automotive, alternative energy and battery fields.

Locally, the congressman said he is impressed with the schools in the county and with all the programs the Higher Education Center is offering.
He said he is committed to “making the dream of college affordable.”

On the issue of education, Perriello touted a recent announcement that $21 million of federal funds will be flowing to the region to make sure every school has broadband Internet access by 2011.

Perriello said also he is hearing infrastructure, mainly water and sewer issues, everywhere he goes in the district.

During the discussion, several attendees raised concerns with the congressman.

One of the main concerns was a lack of predictably with all the massive legislation and hyper-partisanship in Washington.

Health care reform, cap-and-trade and card check were all raised as examples of legislation that make businesses nervous.

Perriello agreed the atmosphere in Washington is polarized calling it “a huge disappointment.”

As for the legislation, the congressman said cap-and-trade was originally a Republican idea, and it’s a good idea that allows the profit motive to work at lowering carbon emissions.

On health care reform Perriello said that doing nothing is not an option, specifically for rural hospitals.

“If we don’t do anything, rural hospitals are in real trouble,” the congressman said, noting a high number of rural hospitals’ patients are on Medicare or Medicaid.

Insurance agent Eric Arthur raised a concern that Perriello was demonizing the health insurance industry when he said they were “gouging” people.  Arthur said that makes the whole insurance industry look bad.

Perriello responded there are differences between health insurance and property and casualty insurance, and that he stood by his comments.
Arthur offered a statistic that health insurance industry profits averaged about 3.3 percent.

Another attendee, Lott Rogers, asked the congressman if he thought American manufacturing was competing on a level playing field with other nations.

“No,” Perriello responded, saying he thinks NAFTA was a raw deal for the country. Perriello said he knows that building a trade wall around the country is not realistic, but that trade agreements must be fair, and the playing field must be leveled.

Patty Nelson with the Higher Education Center raised a concern that it’s hard for a non-degree granting institution to receive grant money.  The center partners with degree granting institutions that receive grants, but Nelson said the center also must have the ability to offer industry-specific training as needed by area employers, and right now the center’s “hands are tied” because of funding constraints.