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IDA head: Prospects pay visits to Halifax County

Prospects are interested in the new pad ready sites recently graded and prepared at Riverstone Centre, according to Halifax County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) Executive Director Mike Sexton.

“We’re getting prospect visits on a regular basis now, and the sites that we have developed out here are paying off,” he said, adding, one particular international prospect visit may pay off in the future.

“Because our sites are pad ready, we can put up a building for them in a short enough period that we’re still in that competition. Whether we win that competition is out there, but they really loved Riverstone and Halifax. Since we didn’t have a building, we didn’t have much to go on, but they are coming back for another visit,” Sexton said.

The IDA director said he is “very excited” to have pad ready sites now to offer prospects.

By preparing the pad ready sites, Sexton said he has gotten quotes from construction companies that indicate about two to three months has been shaved off the build-out time for potential prospects.

“That’ll get us in more competition,” he said, adding, “Our goal is to put a shell building in the front of Riverstone, and we’re going to try to find funds from somewhere to do that. We don’t have it yet, but we’re going to keep looking.”

And the tobacco commission will be the first place the IDA looks, according to the director.

The IDA has a “long list of asks” for the tobacco commission, which Sexton proudly said “hasn’t turned us down yet.”

He pointed to the recent tobacco commission grant received to help purchase property to locate a Visitors’ Center at the intersection of Highways 58 and 360 in South Boston.

Sexton said that award was the first tourism grant ever given in Virginia, and he credits cooperation between the Town of South Boston and the county working with their respective IDAs to purchase the property.

The town council and the board of supervisors were willing to increase the operating expenses for the tourism department to the level where they could pay back the money.

“They only did that because they know a Visitors’ Center will create more revenue coming in that goes in the coffers to pay other taxes,” Sexton said.

He predicts during the first year of operation, the Visitors’ Center will be “revenue neutral.”

“Even if we do the minimum amount that’s projected, it will be revenue neutral the first year and will go up from there,” he continued. “It’s a really good investment.”

Volunteer job awaits retired Annin chief

When Annin Plant Manager Bill Kelehar retires from Annin in January, the county IDA director says he has just the job for him.

Sexton announced last week that Kelehar has volunteered to work with the Executive Pulse Program gathering information from existing businesses and industries to develop a profile of issues to share with the board of supervisors, town councils and all the way up to the governor’s office.

According to Sexton, the IDA has purchased an Executive Pulse software program to develop this package of information and has been in search of “the right person” to help gather the key information.

“It’s hard without a specific kind of person who knows how to ask questions. Bill is top-level manager of an industry here, Annin.

He’ll be able to do this,” Sexton said, adding, Kelehar has been involved with the executive roundtable with the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce.

“He’s going to actively go out and gather key information from these people, and we’re going to have a really nice finger on the pulse of our local industry, and we should be getting a lot more information than we are getting right now,” Sexton said.

Kelehar has volunteered for this duty, the executive director said, noting the IDA will cover all his expenses.

Sexton said he hopes Kelehar will make at least three to eight calls per week on local industry.

“It takes more time than you think to do all the work with calling people, setting up appointments, doing the interviews and coming back putting the information in the reports,” he added.

The IDA director views this kind of information as “really important” for a community to have in its economic development arsenal.

“We have gotten involved with so many things, and we’ve gotten so slow about making the calls. So when he said he would volunteer to do this, it is a huge gift to Halifax County to have Bill Kelehar out there meeting and talking with existing businesses and industry. I don’t know of too many people who have this. Usually they put it on the economic developer who has 60 to 70 other things to do, and it gets shortchanged,” he added.

Local industry represents new leads on jobs in county

Local industries are expanding, according to the IDA director.

“People don’t see this in the news, but usually the industry comes to us first and talks to us about their projected potential expansion,” he said.

When one looks at the leads the IDA is getting, Sexton credits a large number from the locality that makes a statement that existing businesses are growing.

“That should be good news to folks who live here because 80 percent of your growth is always going to come from existing business,” he said.

He described Presto and Dollar General as “strong businesses” who are doing very well.

“They have been strong through this whole recession,” Sexton said.

ABB also has “pulled out of their trough,” according to the IDA director who credited new management with putting that company “in the positive column.”

Joining the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance (SVRA)

In preparation for Halifax County to compete for the attention of consultants who bring mega projects to a region, Sexton is suggesting the county IDA join the SVRA which is being pushed by Virginia’s job czar Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.

The lieutenant governor indicated for Halifax County to be effective in getting suppliers for such mega projects as those eyeing the Berry Hill mega site in Danville, the county must join in a regional alliance.

“There is no better demographic for a mega site than between Martinsville and Danville. You’re looking at cost-effective good labor force pools between Martinsville and Danville, so putting a mega site there makes all the sense in the world,” Sexton said. “Halifax is positioned to compete for the suppliers to that mega project.”

In addition to Halifax County, those “invited to the table” to join the regional group include Patrick, Henry and Pittsylvania counties and the cities of Danville and Martinsville.

“The object is to win a big project, and Virginia hasn’t been successful in landing the major projects except for Volvo in Prince George,” he said.

“There’s no reversing that park,” he said of the Berry Hill mega project in Danville.

“We will land a project there, and we need to put all the assets together in Halifax that match up to that mega project. So we’re going to be asking that we get some assistance in master planning development to get ready,” Sexton added.

The IDA director said he realizes “we’re not going to attract Rockwell International to land in Halifax, but we can attract the suppliers.”

Halifax County may not get the big project, but Sexton said he expects to get suppliers for the main business here in the county.

“I’m happy to compete for suppliers because they will come and stay here,” he added.