Amherst County introduced to first ever economic development plan

By Rob Manch - Reporter

AMHERST COUNTY (WSLS 10) - After 5 months of work, Amherst County is announcing a new plan for economic development.

This comes after two major employers announced they might be closing last year, jeopardizing 25 percent of the county's workforce.

Amherst County was rocked in 2015 by the news that its two largest employers, the Central Virginia Training Center and Sweet Briar College would both be closing.

Sweet Briar stayed open, but the Training Center has already laid off more than 400 jobs, and plans to close by 2020.

Wednesday night, for the first time, the Economic Development Authority announced its plan to help the county overcome that economic hit.

For Economic Development Authority Director Victoria Hanson, 2015 was a nightmare.

"It produced an earthquake essentially in the economy of Amherst County. Twelve hundred jobs are at the CVTC and about 350 at Sweetbriar College, and in our community, that was about 25 percent of all jobs," said Hanson.

Hanson says she knew the county needed a comprehensive economic development plan, but that required money, and fast.

"We were able to very quickly reach out to funders and they were very generous, and we got 122 thousand dollars in grant funds to have the first truly comprehensive look at the Amherst County economy," said Hanson.

Those funds meant the county could hire consultant Crystal Morphis.

Wednesday night, she laid out her 5 year plan for jump-starting the Amherst economy.

"In the first year, some of that funding will go to branding and marketing the community. It will be spent on increasing, or enhancing the due diligence of the business parks and industrial sites in the community," said Morphis.

The plan was developed after speaking with more than 600 people in the county.

Administrator Dean Rodgers says for the first time in the past year, he's feeling some hope.

"It gives us a sense of direction, and that's what made it all so frightening. You know, what do you do? Well now we have a plan, this is what you do. This is to do something. Whether it works or not is another matter," said Rodgers.

The steps will be funded initially by a one cent county tax increase.

Rodgers says he hopes it's effective.

"Business revenue is declining. Tourism revenue is declining, and we've got to reverse that, we've got to stop that, because they can't keep raising taxes," said Rodgers.

Hanson says she knows the stakes, and will work hard to make the county's economy improve.

"We really want to make these things happen in our community so that folks can find great jobs and a wonderful place to live," said Hanson.

The Economic Development Authority will be hosting another meeting on Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Monelison Middle School.

Then, they'll be meeting with businesses to discuss the plan on Friday morning.

Then, supervisors will put it to a vote at their next meeting on July 19.

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