Mayor John Gilstrap and City Manager Ken Larking told area business leaders Tuesday that they are optimistic for the region’s future in part because of the strong working relationship between Danville and Pittsylvania County.
The mayor and city manager joined County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bob Warren and County Administrator David Smitherman in a panel discussion of the “State of the Region” hosted by the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.
“Together as a region, we’re a lot stronger than we are separately,” Larking said.
Economic development continues to be a key area of regional cooperation between the city and county. In early March, local leaders from Danville, Pittsylvania County and Eden, N.C., gathered in a groundbreaking ceremony for the phase one development at Berry Hill Industrial Park.
The 3,500-acre park is located along Berry Hill Road in Pittsylvania County, a few miles west of the Danville city limits, and it is owned jointly by the City of Danville and Pittsylvania County through the Danville-Pittsylvania Regional Industrial Facility Authority (RIFA). The phase one development involves grading a 133-acre site at the park. The graded site will have four pads, the largest of which is 109 acres.
Also this year, Danville and Pittsylvania County joined two other municipalities and a development company in signing a letter of intent to form a regional authority that will develop a multimodal industrial park in Hurt.
A third regional success came 10 months ago when it was announced that Kyocera SGS Tech Hub would invest $9.5 million and bring 35 new jobs paying an average annual salary of $65,000 to the Cyber Park, which is a RIFA-owned industrial park located in Danville. In May, Kyocera began construction of its facility, where it will research, develop and manufacture solid carbide rotary cutting tools.
Danville and Pittsylvania County jointly recruited this company and attribute much of their success to the investments that have been made in creating an extraordinary workforce solution centered on precision machining.
The county has a precision machining program in place at the Pittsylvania County Career and Technical Center that is producing top quality students and gaining national and international recognition. City Council has provided Danville Public Schools with funds to start a precision machining program at George Washington High School. Both programs feed into Danville Community College’s precision machining program.
Warren told business leaders on Tuesday that the city and county must develop additional workforce development programs.
“We can’t grow fat and sit on our laurels,” he said.
He said the next program that both Danville and Pittsylvania school superintendents have identified to work on is information technology and cyber security.
In addition to regional successes, the panelists talked about local successes. Mayor Gilstrap talked about the city’s River District Development Project.
“We are in our seventh year of implementing a redevelopment plan for the River District,” Gilstrap said. “We continue to see a three-fold return on investment, with $33.3 million in public seeding and investment and $127 million in private investment.”
In the past 12 months, the city has completed a third streetscape project. A fourth streetscape phase is underway and will be completed by the end of the year.
“We have welcomed Ballad Brewing as the River District’s first brewpub, and most recently, Rick Barker Properties has announced the first tenants for the buildings he is renovating in the 500 block of Craghead Street,” Gilstrap said. “Those tenants will be a taco tequila bar restaurant, a specialty grocery store, and a second brewpub. Rick also will be completing construction of several one- and two-bedroom apartments.”
Repurposing of buildings in the River District continues for residential units and for locating, starting or growing businesses, including retail shops and restaurants. Currently, there are 43 active projects in the River District.
Larking also mentioned the booming development near the Danville Mall and the continuation of blight eradication efforts in the city.
In the county, Warren and Smitherman talked about the revitalization of downtown Chatham and the impending availability of broadband to those within line of sight to White Oak Mountain.
The panelists also addressed the challenges both communities face, including violent crime in the city and budget issues in the county.
The panel discussion was preceded by remarks from Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Todd Haymore, who came to honor Laurie Moran, the chamber’s president who died in June. When Moran passed, Haymore and Delegate Danny Marshall arranged a flag to be flown over the Virginia State Capitol and Congressman Tom Garrett had a flag flown over the nation’s capitol.
Both flags were folded and given to Moran’s family with certificates of honor and recognition.