Gray Blanton was unanimously selected to chair the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors at a special meeting Friday morning, September 7.
Acting Chairman and board Vice-Chairman Bruce Drummond convened the 8 a.m. meeting, calling for nominations. Recently resigned chairman Greg Drescher placed Gray Blanton’s name in nomination, William “Billy” Biggs seconded Blanton’s nomination. With no other nominations forthcoming, Blanton took the chairman’s seat from Drummond after his unanimous approval.
Blanton’s call for other business led to Ron Llewellyn’s motion to go into closed session, which was accomplished at 8:02 a.m. The lone topic of the closed session was discussion of debt service payments with legal counsel.
Over the last month to six weeks, both the Front Royal Town Council and Warren County Board of Supervisors have also adjourned into sometimes lengthy closed session discussions which included “past and present” debt service payments as one of their topics.
The closed session ended an hour later at 9:02 a.m., after which Blanton addressed his new role as board chairman. He noted that in semi-retirement he had the time to tackle the job, time being a major issue Drescher cited in his decision to step down last month. Drescher is superintendent of Warren County Public School, definitely NOT a semi-retirement role or part-time job.
“I’m willing to take my turn at the helm – I’ve been in business in Front Royal since 1978 and my father before me also was in business in Front Royal, so we know a little bit about what’s going on in the business world, and that’s what we deal with here – new business and helping existing businesses,” Blanton observed.
Blanton, a pharmacist who has served time on both the Front Royal Town Council (1990-94) and Warren County Board of Supervisors (in 2007 as an appointed replacement), came on the EDA board in September 2017, giving him a year in the saddle before taking the chairman’s role on. He noted that he had volunteered to take over after Drescher’s departure. As noted by EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald last month, Vice-Chair Drummond had indicated no desire to stay on in the chairman’s role on a permanent basis.
Blanton said he hoped to continue EDA efforts to expand the community’s job base.
“We need to keep our focus on bringing in new businesses with good-paying jobs. I mean we’ve got 50% that commute out of the county, and that’s a lot. If we can bring jobs you can support a family with – buy a house and a car, send the kids to school, things like that – we don’t have enough of that,” the new EDA board chair said.
Blanton observed one complication in EDA business recruitment work, the secrecy demanded by many businesses seeking to relocate or establish new bases of operations.
“Unfortunately, business wants it all to be kept silent. They do not want their competition knowing about their prospects, what they’re thinking – you have to keep it all under wraps. That’s why we have to go into these sessions,” he said of the just adjourned closed meeting, adding, “But that’s the way they want to do it and if you don’t do it their way, ‘Bye, bye’ – they’re gone.”
Of information he has received since joining the EDA board, Blanton said he had been told of one past prospect’s interest in this community that had been “leaked” leading to just such a sudden “Bye, bye” and exit elsewhere.
“We’re never going to let that happen again,” the new board chair stated unequivocally of a discipline in confidentiality he hopes to accentuate in his role as chairman.
No announcement came after Friday’s closed meeting, and to our knowledge, no leaks either – way to start, Gray!
Of Blanton’s appointment, Executive Director McDonald later said, “I think Gray was a great addition to our board and I think he will make a great chairman. He understands business and asks the right questions.”