2017-11-29 / Observer Business

Chamber president pushes government involvement


Danielle Fitz-Hugh 
ASH DANIEL Danielle Fitz-Hugh ASH DANIEL Two months into her new job as president of the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce, Danielle Fitz-Hugh is launching her first round of legislative and outreach initiatives in an effort to boost the business community’s voice in local government policy.

They include having county businesses participate more directly in planning for the 1,700-acre “Matoaca Megasite” near state Route 10 and Interstate 95 intended to draw in a host of large and small industries.

She also wants to help streamline procedures for obtaining business licenses and hold a special exhibition of county businesses in late March.

The Chesterfield County Economic Development Authority wants to pay $15.5 million for the 1,700 acres and add millions more for infrastructure to prepare the so-called “megasite” to accommodate large new businesses and make the county more competitive in attracting new industries.

Authority officials say the megasite could create 5,000 well-paying jobs. But the proposal has drawn criticism from nearby residents and others who see the economic development ploy as heavy-handedness on the part of local government. A key complaint is the county’s plan to construct a 2.5-mile feeder road that would connect the site to Interstate 95. The road, which would be the first segment of the long-planned East-West Freeway, would require the use of eminent domain to acquire private property, and the demolition of a county school.

“We want to be helpful and working with potential businesses that may be coming to that area,” Fitz-Hugh said of the megasite project. “We want to make sure that the highway expansion project really has the best advantage and to let the community know what’s going on along that corridor and make sure we’re getting as much up-to-date information [as possible].”

The chamber also wants to be involved in planning for the East-West Freeway, which has been part of the county’s Thoroughfare Plan since the 1980s. If it comes to fruition, the East-West Freeway would extend from I-95 to U.S. Route 360 and connect with an extension to Powhite Parkway, creating a 30-mile commercial corridor. Ultimately, the road would open up broad swaths of southern Chesterfield to development. “The county has been planning this for years and now they want to move on with the project,” said Fitz-Hugh, adding that the chamber wants to be involved with the process.

Other ideas are to streamline how businesses obtain licenses. “The best way is through great automation,” said Fitz-Hugh. She said the chamber will be exchanging ideas about the matter with new Commissioner of the Revenue Jenefer Hughes.

Another plan is to highlight Chesterfield based businesses at a special exhibition that would be held in late March. Chamber officials, meanwhile, have been meeting with current and new legislators prior to the 2018 General Assembly session, which convenes in January.

Fitz-Hugh took over the chamber in October, replacing Danna Markland, who resigned earlier this year to become chief executive of the Home Building Association of Richmond. Fitz-Hugh was president of the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce for six years and before that was vice president of the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce. ¦

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