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McDonald defends work of the Front Royal-Warren County EDA

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To the Editor:

Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress and working together is success.”  It seems that whenever there is progress – there is dissention.

Despite the millions of dollars of net revenue the Town and County have realized from the work of the EDA there still remains that dissention and suspicion. It brings to question why local officials would question the work of the EDA when in fact the work performed by the EDA is at the direction of both the Town Council and Board of Supervisors. They have direct oversight and supervision of the EDA through budgeting, monthly and/or bi-monthly meetings by the Executive Director, EDA annual reports, EDA Strategic Plans, Liaison meetings, attendance at our EDA Board meetings (including closed sessions), and projects they have assigned to us to handle on their behalf.

There are some that believe the EDA is funded 100% through local funds and that is not the case. The County funds 25% of our operating budget (approximately $100,000) and the portion of our debt service that is funded by the locality is only on those projects we have been asked to participate in by the locality. Currently the County contributes $372,681 or 61% of the debt service, Town pays $141,390 or 23%, and EDA funds $100,600 or 16%. Projects include Leach Run Parkway, industrial parks, Ressie Jeffries upgrades, West Main Street extension, among others.

I’d like to remind the Front Royal-Warren County community of where we were 30 years ago.   Our community was reeling from the shutdown of one of its largest employers, Avtex, due to environmental abuses.  The shutdown left the Town of Front Royal with 500 acres of deteriorating manufacturing structures and basins full of chemical waste.  The site was fenced in and padlocked to keep the citizens away from the unidentified and uncatalogued toxins.

Our industrial tax base was at a low of 8.5%, rendering the community unable to effectively maintain its infrastructure (roadways, water systems, sewage systems, police and fire protection, schools, parks, etc.).  There were few commercial centers for shopping, dining or entertainment in the community.

Unemployment was at a staggering 12%, and there were few jobs to be had locally.  Most citizens commuted long distances for work, leaving them away from their families and unable to participate in their community.  Truth be told:  this community was dying.

A group of citizens assembled and determined the need for aggressive economic development to:  recruit businesses and jobs to Warren County; to build the commercial and industrial tax base to a sustainable 20%; to bring our commuting labor force back home to their families and community.

I have been fortunate enough to have been a part of the Economic Development Authority through my last years in college as an intern, and in the intervening years as Property/Project Manager and now Executive Director. Over those years I have witnessed the success that the hard work of those citizens along with the cooperation of the locality has brought to this community.

Since 1999, the EDA has:  taken legal ownership of the 500-acre Avtex site; worked in concert with Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the community and many others to clean and remediate the site for development.  In 2014, 147 acres of the Avtex site was officially released by the EPA for redevelopment, and the remaining acreage is slated for a riverside conservancy park and walking trail.  In 2015, we identified our first business to locate there and ground prep work has been underway since October of 2017.  We are working with the Town to engineer a pump station that will serve the first developable portion of the site as well as a roadway that will connect Kendrick Lane to the downtown commercial district via a Main Street connector road.

Since 1994, EDA and County have recruited:  Family Dollar Services, Ferguson Enterprises, SYSCO Corporation, Interbake, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Toray Plastics, Dominion Virginia Power plant, IT Federal among others.  That has accounted for 2,600 new jobs and a $1.8 billion in investment. Dominion alone generates $4 million in tax revenue to this community.

The taxes from these recruitments has allowed us to build new schools and renovate others for our growing population.   Our school system is now one of the most technologically advanced in the Commonwealth and our national academic standing is on the rise.

Our industrial tax base has grown to 30% — exceeding our 20% goal and supporting a stable local economy and the ability to provide infrastructure and services for its citizens.

This community is now home to a state-of-the-art Public Safety Facility under the direction of the Warren County Sheriff, construction is underway for a state-of-the-art police department headquarters on a portion of the former Avtex property.  We have built new roadways and bridges and improved our gateways into the Town.  We have beautiful soccer fields and a state-of-the-art skateboard park – that people come from all over the nation to experience.

We have two large commercial centers located at the intersection of Interstate 66 and Route 340/522N, providing shopping, dining, banking and entertainment while keeping those sales and meals taxes in our local coffers. Twenty years ago when we crossed the bridges it was not to shop in our community, it was to take us to Winchester where we spent tax revenue dollars to help build their schools and infrastructure.

The boost in our local economy has encouraged private development along our historic Main Street where buildings are being renovated and small businesses are emerging in creation of a vibrant downtown experience for both locals and tourists.

So – although there are those naysayers and certain ones who would denigrate the work of the EDA or the County leadership – there is much good happening in our Town and our County which relates directly to solid and principled economic development and planning practices.  I look forward to the day when we will all appreciate our success.

Jennifer McDonald

Executive Director

FR-WC Economic Development Authority

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