By Jay A. Langston, Ph.D.,
(First published in the Harrisonburg Daily News Record)
Recent national headlines have detailed with great fanfare staggering investments and job creation commitments by large international companies in electric vehicle production, aviation, pharmaceuticals, and other cutting edge technologies in states all around Virginia. Such announcements were not happenstance – they resulted from often decades of planning and funding to support the development of prime industrial sites which could be used for these projects. Unfortunately, Virginia has underinvested in such development, and as a result, we are missing many of these opportunities.
The Virginia Initiative for Growth and Opportunity, known as GO Virginia, has one of its mandates to encourage localities to work together to create a portfolio of potential sites to accommodate future economic development projects, particularly those which lead to new high paying jobs. Given the proximity of the Shenandoah Valley to markets in the Northeast, northern Virginia and the DC metropolitan area, and as a gateway leading to the Ohio Valley, our region is ideally positioned to capture some of this growth. While we have been fortunate to locate new companies and announced expanding business to the tune of $1.7 billion in capital investment and approximately 2,000 jobs in the last several years, we are running out of shovel ready land that is ready for development. Careful planning is also essential when considering where to locate these sites so that we are thoughtful about where development occurs to concentrate it where it aligns with existing infrastructure such as highways and utilities while also preserving land for agriculture and conservation purposes.
GO Virginia and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), have been working together for several years to analyze the best sites that have the most suitable infrastructure for our target industry sectors, that were competitive when benchmarked against our peers, were of the size that provided options for parcel sizes, and were the least costly to make business ready. A follow-on grant provided by GO Virginia is now allowing us to perform the work on more than 1,200 acres to position many of our sites to be showcased to potential business prospects.
One of the overarching benefits to come from the GO Virginia requirements is that regions must collaborate in order to submit a grant application and be awarded funds. The costs of developing sites rages from $50,000 to $100,000 per acre. The simple math indicates that the costs for developing a park of this size is beyond the capability of most Virginia localities and is certainly beyond the capability of any single locality in the Valley. One of the outcomes of this process is a renewed of developing a regional industrial park; a park in which multiple localities will share in the development costs and share in the benefits of jobs, investment and tax revenue generated.
GO Virginia has opened a new avenue for collaboration in Virginia and particularly here in the Shenandoah Valley to address key issues related to our economic competitiveness. By incentivizing discussions about shared challenges, it has stimulated creative problem solving and rewards innovation and sharing of models that benefit other regions and thus all of Virginia. Without the funding of GO Virginia, site development likely would have been a long-delayed effort at best, and or indefinitely postponed at worst. GO Virginia is a pathway to success for Virginia and should be sustained through policy and funding to help each region in Virginia succeed.