2018-02-28 / Observer Business

Why Chesterfield needs the EDA

Guest Column
By Art Heinz

The recent debate over rezoning property in Chesterfield for a large advanced manufacturing site has raised questions about the purpose of our economic development authority. Because the competitive world of economic development requires localities to perform certain essential functions like entering into contracts, acquiring property or issuing bonds and grants to private parties, EDAs were established under state law more than 50 years ago to serve these purposes and generally promote economic development and job creation. Nearly every county and city in Virginia, as well as the commonwealth itself, has its own authority to carry out these essential functions.The Chesterfield EDA's development of Meadowville Technology Park was critical to the county's success landing Amazon, which opened a 1 million-square-foot fulfillment center in 2012. Photo by Page DowdyThe Chesterfield EDA's development of Meadowville Technology Park was critical to the county's success landing Amazon, which opened a 1 million-square-foot fulfillment center in 2012. Photo by Page Dowdy

The Economic Development Authority of Chesterfield County was created in 1968 and is made up of a seven-member board appointed by the Board of Supervisors, with special consideration given to county residents with a range of expertise including real estate, finance and law. The mission of the Chesterfield EDA is to assist in increasing the county’s commercial tax base and job creation by growing small businesses, expanding existing businesses and attracting new businesses to the county.

Chesterfield competes with governments around the country (and sometimes the world) to locate new businesses in the county. In this highly competitive environment, Chesterfield cannot disclose incentive offers or otherwise negotiate in public. We would be competing with one hand, or both hands, tied behind our back.

This is also true of real estate purchases. If the EDA were required to publicly disclose its intent to purchase a piece of property, it could create bidding wars that increase costs or result in lost opportunities. Economic development sites also frequently require multiple parcels to be acquired to create a larger site. If the EDA were required to publicly disclose the intent to option a piece of property, the price of adjoining properties would go up, and the overall plan could fall apart.

Successful economic development strategy requires flexibility and timeliness. Competition for new business investment involves negotiations with private companies. These companies will not allow Chesterfield to disclose their identities or any information about their intentions until negotiations are complete and they are ready to announce. There is simply no way any governmental entity, whether here in Virginia or in any of the other 49 states, could successfully compete for economic development projects if they were required to publicly disclose terms, offers or details during the negotiating process.

The challenge for any county is to create a structure for its EDA that allows for the flexibility to successfully compete for economic development projects while containing important checks and balances. I think the county has struck the right balance. The elected Board of Supervisors has the final approval for key decisions, such as using public funds for incentive packages, the purchase or sale of property, and the construction of buildings. In fact, the EDA cannot spend a single dollar of taxpayer funds without the Board of Supervisors agreeing it can do so.

This structure has served Chesterfield well over the years and we have a strong track record of success. The support provided by the activities of the Chesterfield Economic Development Authority has helped Chesterfield Economic Development facilitate more than $400 million of capital investment and the creation of more than 3,000 jobs over the past 10 years. Specific recent successes include:

• Ownership and development of Meadowville Technology Park, which has brought Amazon, Northrop Grumman, Medline, Niagara and Capital One to the county.

• Acquisition and redevelopment of the former Cloverleaf Mall into the Stonebridge Shopping Center. Virginia Business’ public-private project of the year, housing the largest Kroger Marketplace in the region and a location for over 20 small businesses.

• The development of the Richmond Volleyball facility that will bring thousands of families to the county on an annual basis.

• The Business Expansion Incentive Fund that helps existing small businesses expand.

• The issuance of bonds as a catalyst for projects such as Brandermill Woods and Bon Secours Health System.

The bottom line is that the EDA has the flexibility to allow Chesterfield to successfully bring jobs and economic investment to the county while maintaining controls to ensure there is accountability and necessary oversight. ¦

Art Heinz is chairman of the Economic Development Authority of Chesterfield County.

Return to top