In a joint decision last Tuesday, town and county officials voted to pursue a program that could bolster economic development in Essex County.
On May 21, the Essex and Tappahannock planning commissions heard strategies for the county’s pending entry into the Virginia Enterprise Zone (VEZ) grant program.
According to Clara Meier, regional projects planner for the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission (MPPDC), the VEZ is a partnership between state and local government in which both parties seek to improve economic conditions within designated localities.
Since the VEZ program was established in 1982, numerous planning zones have been implemented throughout the Northern Neck prior to the consideration of the MPPDC.
But with four zones in the state either up for renewal or failing to meet approval criteria, Essex County has become eligible for the program.
Meier noted that Essex County is posing to designate select areas within and surrounding Tappahannock as an enterprise zone.
The proposed sections include Tappahannock’s old airport area located west of Rte. 17, the historic downtown area, the current Tappahannock-Essex Airport and the town’s commercial and retail strip, which also features Riverside Tappahannock Hospital (RTH) and Lagrange Industrial Park.
“The more you can make your commercial areas attractive places to shop that draw people in here and get more stores and service businesses…the better off you’re going to be.” said County Administrator Reese Peck.
Meier said that businesses within the proposed sections would be given state and local incentives through the VEZ to create new jobs and expand their operations.
Peck said the successful allocation of a VEZ to the county depended on a series of distress factors such as income, the locality’s design of the enterprise zone and the strength and promotional efforts of its strategy for implementing the VEZ.
According to Meier, the county’s intended strategy would focus on Essex and Tappahannock as a regional trade hub.
“You have people from surrounding counties who come here for retail and commercial,” Meier said, adding that the county would also stress its resource-based economy and Tappahannock’s Main Street and riverfront areas.
To assist with local officials’ efforts to create an enterprise zone in the county, the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) has offered to set aside a fund of approximately $200,000 to help with the expansion of businesses in the proposed zone.
“This is first time we’ve had an opportunity to actually be forthright and do something progressive,” said Bill Croxton, Chairman of IDA. “This is a show of good faith that we’ve put this [$200,000] up as a proposal, so it [shows], when we apply for this grant, that we have done something on our own.”
Peck also noted the ongoing efforts of Tappahannock’s Main Street Program to revitalize the town’s historic downtown.
“I think we can show that these aren’t just hypothetical strategies, but that we have active groups in the community working in each one of those [selected] areas,” said Peck.
Meier confirmed that a marketing strategy for educating businesses to opportunities as provided by the VEZ was part of the application process.
Jeff Hodges, building and zoning administrator for Essex County, said he had contacted FDP Virginia Inc., O’malley Timber Products LLC and Bareford Buick to inform them of the program.
“We can all get the word out better,” Hodges said. “It’s new to them and they’re not familiar with it. There’re a handful of businesses that are upgrading right now…this could greatly benefit them.”
Greater Tappahannock Dist. Supervisor and Chairman Stanley Langford, who is also on the Tappahannock Planning Commission, said local residents were consistently questioning local officials’ efforts to bring jobs to the community.
“There are not a lot of [positions here] other than technical skill, agricultural farming, forestry or retail like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s. We don’t have a lot of things,” said Langford, adding that the enterprise zone was “something that we really think will work.”