With the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority working on its strategic planning initiative, they received an update on the county’s strategic plan from Dr. Betty Adams, executive director of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, and Mitzi McCormick, president and CEO of the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce when they met Friday morning.
Adams and McCormick provided information on the 11 key initiatives that were decided upon within the county’s strategic plan and efforts made so far to achieve those goals.
The core goal of the county’s strategic plan is to “raise levels of prosperity, increase economic opportunity and improve quality of life for all residents in Halifax County.”
Adams, one of the three co-chairs of the county’s steering committee and chair of the implementation committee, called the strategic plan a “road map for our community to move forward.”
Work on the county’s strategic plan began in 2018 and was launched in 2019.
The 11 key initiatives that were formed are centered around three focus areas, workforce, economy and community.
The first key initiative is to modernize Halifax County High School.
So far, the county has launched and successfully ran a campaign for a 1% sales tax for school construction; built community consensus around a plan for a modernized high school; and encouraged elected officials to move forward in the process of building a new high school.
“We continue to encourage our leaders to move forward,” said Adams.
The next key initiative is to establish the college and career readiness initiative.
Adams said they have worked to find out why individuals are not seeking post-secondary education and have taken inventory of all the college and career readiness programs.
“We all didn’t know what was out there and we weren’t working together,” Adams admitted.
She noted that the SVHEC has the Career Tech Academy, which provides workforce training to 11th and 12th grade students from Halifax, Mecklenburg and Charlotte counties.
The CTA offers automation robotics, energy systems technology, welding, information technology and work-based learning. Next year, an HVAC program will be offered, as well.
The SVHEC executive director said 60% of those enrolled in the CTA go on to earn post-secondary education while 40% of individuals go straight to work upon high school graduation.
She also spoke of GO TEC, the Great Opportunities in Technology and Engineering Careers, which provides a pipeline of skilled workers beginning at the middle school level.
The SVHEC also has received a GEAR UP grant, which will provide a college and career night. The May 3 event, which targets a cohort of 336 Halifax County seventh graders, will serve as a grant kickoff. The GEAR UP grant will track the cohort’s college and career journeys through high school graduation, providing vital real-time college and career readiness data.
In collaboration with IALR, the SVHEC is hosting AspHIRE Mock Interview Days on April 27 and 28.
Other key initiatives in the county’s plan include attracting outside jobs and investment to Halifax County as well as retaining and supporting existing jobs.
The IDA has completed their site-ready shell building on Highway 58, strengthened their relationship with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, and hired Kristy Johnson as the new IDA director.
In helping existing businesses, regular ongoing meetings of the chamber’s human resource roundtable are held, and the chamber has worked with the IDA to develop the Bridge to Recovery Program.
Also, approximately 7,900 county residents are traveling outside of the community to work. Therefore, the chamber and IDA have formed a survey to gather data on commuters’ job positions, skill levels and driving force.
They also are working on the “Live Here, Work Here Campaign,” and revamping the SoVA Calling marketing materials.
Another county key initiative is to grow small businesses and startups, and as a part of that the town of South Boston served as the fiscal agent of Halifax County Recovery Assistance Program.
A total of $785,000 was given to small businesses.
Other key initiatives are advancing the motorsports industry; establishing the county as an industrial hemp center; and pursue the Henrietta Lacks Life Science Center.
According to Adams, the Henrietta Lacks Commission is awaiting action from the Virginia Department of Health.
The VDH office, which serves as the administrative support of the commission, has experienced staff changeovers and continues to be in transition resulting in extended inactivity for the commission since December of 2019.
Another key initiative is implementing broadband internet access county-wide, and McCormick said, “it’s been really impressive how quickly this has moved.”
EMPOWER Broadband is finalizing phases and implementation of countywide broadband.
The last two county initiatives in its strategic plan are optimizing the climate for investment in downtowns and promotes resident-driven improvements.
As part of optimizing the climate for investment in downtowns, the SVHEC has received funding for and is organizing a ChangeX Better Block Parklet project in the public parking lot on Seymour Drive between Factory Street Brewery and the SVHEC.
ProductWorks@SVHEC is securing and machining parklet materials and Career Tech Academy students are scheduled to install the parklet May 18-20 as a community service project.
Adams explained it will provide seating and built-in benches with tables for chess and checker boards.
Following Adams and McCormick’s presentation, IDA member Rick Harrell said, “continue to do a lot of work, and congrats on all involved with the high school project.”
He called the two “most successful efforts” in the county the SVHEC and now the high school project.
Harrell continued saying, “We need to make long-term strategic plans and go along with those processes.”
He also said the main problem facing most businesses today is finding qualified people.
McCormick then commended Johnson for staying in front of employees. She also said they would continue to gather information on those traveling outside of the county to work and work on figuring out how to get those individuals to work in the county.
She also said they would continue their relationship with the school system and growing their own talent.
“It does work if we grow our own,” Harrell added.