Virginia Secretary Of Commerce Talks Rural Economic Development With Highland County EDA
Monterey, VA – Mary Rae Carter, Virginia’s first Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Trade for Rural Economic Development, was the guest speaker at the August meeting of the Highland Economic Development Authority. She was appointed by Governor Bob McDonnell as part of his effort to spur economic development in Virginia’s rural areas. Originally from Henry County, Deputy Secretary Carter has been involved in economic development in rural Virginia for many years. She starts by talking about how rural areas can boost economic development.
“Every rural community has its own little uniqueness,” says Carter, “but in seeing these slides, you really do have a uniqueness that you really do need to capitalize on. You need to get the word out about your graduation rate, that is fantastic. One of the things that I see you doing that I think is so good, that is not only working with Bath County, but seeing your neighbors in your neighboring state that also have commonalities with you and working with them.”
She is referring, in part, to the Alleghany Highlands Agricultural Center project that was made possible by investors from Highland and Bath Counties in Virginia and Pocahontas and Pendleton Counties in West Virginia. She goes on to discuss steps Governor McDonnell has taken to help rural Virginia.
“A lot of our economic development organizations have been cut back over the last 10 years, small business being one of them,” she says. “He along with the General Assembly was able to refurbish some of those funds. Now we’re still not where we’d like to be, but we have certainly made a huge adjustment. So I’m able to be the eyes and the ears or rural Virginia for this administration and that’s what Governor McDonnell wanted me to be.”
The Governor started an incentive program for rural communities to provide some funds to promote economic development. These funds should increase in future years. Deputy Secretary Carter emphasized the types of initiatives that she has seen succeed in rural areas.
“The successful rural communities in Virginia that I have seen be successful, they have looked at their assets, they’ve actually had consultants come in and do a study on what is it that you have that’s going to create jobs in your community,” she says. “So it’s really important that if indeed you want to start creating jobs, you want to bring some businesses in. It’s always good to look at your assets, have somebody else come in and look at your assets, and give you a report of what type of businesses are going to match what you have.”
Highland County resident Dave Smith suggested that industries using timber products should be a priority for Highland County. Deputy Secretary Carter had just visited the MeadWestVaco Biomass Power Plant facility in Covington earlier in the day. That is a 260 million dollar project that will use waste wood to generate electricity.
He made the point that Highland County needs some investors to develop a chipping facility that could supply the Covington operation. That could lead to jobs for county residents. Hightown resident Clay Hamilton made the point that state government divisions like the Office of Vital Statistics operates almost entirely electronically and that those kinds of jobs could be done anywhere in the state, not just in Richmond. Highland Board of Supervisors Chairman Robin Sullenberger reported that the Council for Rural Virginia is holding a meeting on rural economic development in September that could produce ideas for programs beneficial to rural communities.
Chamber of Commerce Director Carolyn Pohowsky suggested that tourism will be an important component of future economic development in the Allegheny Highlands. The EDA’s Tourism Committee will have a tourism plan ready soon that should help the county planners grow tourism related businesses.
The next meeting of the Highland County Economic Development Authority is Tuesday, September 13 at 7 PM in the Highland Center in Monterey.