EDA in Focus
‘This is BIG’ – EDA Chairman reacts to news feds handling EDA criminal investigations
At 12:03 p.m., Thursday, October 8, Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson forwarded a press release from Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst to the media regarding the status of her office’s investigation of potential criminal charges related to the EDA financial scandal and resultant civil litigation.
As stated in that release posted on the Royal Examiner website earlier this afternoon, Garst and her appointed EDA prosecutor Michael Parker, a specialist in white-collar crime, came to a decision to hand their investigation over to the Western District of Virginia U.S. Attorney’s office in Harrisonburg in late February of this year.
“Our primary goal with the prosecution is to assure a just outcome. Mr. Parker did an excellent job of assessing the case and putting the evidence together. In doing so, it became apparent that federal prosecutors would be able to gain the best outcome,” Garst wrote in her release dated October 7, continuing to note the late February turnover of the case to the federal prosecutor’s office in Harrisonburg.
“It was explained that my office cannot comment on the case further or jeopardize any potential federal prosecution. I want to assure the citizens of Warren County that my office is dedicated to seeing justice done. In light of an ongoing criminal action, I cannot provide any further information,” Garst concluded, referencing further inquiries to Western District U.S. Attorney’s Office Public Affairs Specialist Brian McGinn.
While anticipating a similar reply to Garst’s “no further information” qualifier, Royal Examiner did reach out to the federal prosecutor’s office to see if there were any clues on timelines on decisions that might be made public. And in a very quick reply to our emailed query, McGinn noted as we predicted, “As per DOJ policy, we cannot confirm or deny the existence of an ongoing investigation.”
Garst’s release acknowledging the change in prosecutors from the state to the federal level in the EDA financial scandal criminal investigation over seven months ago comes just nine days after the Front Royal Town Council’s aggressively worded September 28th Resolution “demanding justice” condemning the lack of action on the EDA criminal prosecution front by the Rockingham prosecutor’s office, and Parker in particular.
We contacted the author of that Resolution, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick who coming out of a meeting had not seen the Garst press release. Informed of its content, Tederick said, “Good news – mission accomplished,” in that a response containing some new information on the EDA criminal investigation’s status had been received.
“I’m sure there’s a rationale and a reason,” he added of the previous silence from the state special prosecutor’s office. “But when the public trust has been violated to this degree, the public deserves some assurance that they are still pursuing the case.”
Tederick noted that confidential information was not being sought in the Town resolution approved by a 5-1 vote, Thompson dissenting, on September 28, just that the case had not gone cold and been abandoned.
But as noted in our story “Town targets Special Prosecutor’s Office over EDA prosecution delays” it appears the Town pursued its Resolution initiative without any prior communications with the Rockingham prosecutor’s office.
That apparently was not the case with an inquiry launched by the EDA, according to Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne.
Having received Garst’s press release through the EDA, we contacted Browne about it. Browne indicated an EDA inquiry about the criminal case status through the EDA’s civil litigation attorneys was begun about a week before the Town resolution was publicly approved.
Browne said he believed local attorney and “B.E.E.R. Party” principal David Downes launched a separate inquiry to Garst’s office as well. Downes publicly criticized the Town Resolution’s message and tone in public comments at the September 28 council meeting prior to the vote on its approval.
Contacted about the County’s knowledge of the origins of Garst’s press release, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley said the County had inquired about the status of the Rockingham prosecutor’s EDA investigation through State Senator Mark Obenshain’s office. It was through Obenshain’s office Daley indicated County officials became aware yesterday of Garst’s press release that may have first been circulated locally in the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County area.
Regardless of who, how, or why – the consensus is that the information that the case is active and in federal prosecutors’ hands is welcome.
“This is big – from our standpoint, it is really good news,” EDA Board Chair Browne enthused. “This shows that it is still on prosecutors’ radar. The people of Warren County deserve justice. And we want to see anyone there is evidence of involvement prosecuted for it.”
Of the EDA inquiry, Brown observed that he kept hearing that nothing was going to be done regarding criminal accountability for the at-this-point still alleged criminal misdirection of EDA, County and Town assets – “It made me mad and I wanted to let people know we’re still interested in achieving justice,” Browne said of the impetus for the EDA’s inquiry through its legal counsel to the Rockingham prosecutor’s office.
And while the nature of the inquiries may have been different, Browne said he looked at it as a positive that both involved municipalities and the EDA were on the same page in seeking assurances that criminal accountability was still on the legal table at this point.
“We’re in this together, we should be working together,” he said of the Town, County, and EDA.
Perhaps another small step toward increased cooperation, as opposed to increased hostility and litigation, as this community moves forward toward an outcome, if slowly in a complex legal setting.
Front Royal-Warren County EDA gears up for its Open-Door Business Session: An opportunity to shape Warren County’s future
In an effort to foster regional economic growth, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) has announced its next Open-Door Business Session. The event is scheduled for Thursday, June 1, from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm at the Warren County Community Center, located at 538 Villa Ave, Front Royal, VA 22630. This event is a part of the EDA’s continuous initiative to strengthen Warren County’s workforce development and enhance the economic prosperity of the region.
The two-hour session will be packed with presentations, open discussions, and plenty of networking opportunities. The main focus of the event will be the exploration of Warren County’s workforce development prospects, overcoming related challenges, and celebrating its successes in economic development. Participants will have a chance to engage in meaningful discussions and network with key players influencing Warren County’s economic landscape.
While pre-registration for the session is not compulsory, the organizers have encouraged interested parties to RSVP by Tuesday, May 30, ensuring they don’t miss out on this influential meeting. Those interested can register via the provided link.
The Front Royal-Warren County EDA is known for its commitment to fostering an environment conducive to economic growth. Hosting these Open-Door Business Sessions, they provide a platform where individuals, businesses, and community members can discuss and strategize on various economic development issues, paving the way for a more prosperous Warren County.
Don’t miss this opportunity to engage with the local community, network with important stakeholders, and directly contribute to the future of Warren County’s economy.
For more information on the event and registration details, visit the REGISTRATION LINK.
EDA in Focus
Front Royal-Warren County EDA holds productive monthly meeting with updates on financial statements and new business
The Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority held its monthly meeting on Friday, April 28, 2023, and all seven board members, legal counsel, and the County Director of Economic Development were present. Board Member Bruce Townshend participated remotely. The meeting started with committee reports, and Board Chair Scott Jenkins provided updates on recent meetings and the Avtex Conservancy Property progress.
The Treasurer, Jim Wolfe, and the Director of Economic Development, Joe Petty, gave an update on the EDA financial statements, and Mr. Wolfe provided a review of the recent kick-off meeting for the Small Business Loan Committee and proposed next steps for the committee. The next Open-Door Business Session, which is rescheduled to June 1, will focus on the workforce, with more details to come.
Under new business, Mr. Petty provided an update on the draft EDA & County MOU, which updates the existing fiscal agent agreement to include current and future operational support between the two organizations. The board then held a closed session to discuss the potential disposition of real property to business prospects and legal consultation on active litigation.
Following the closed session, the board approved two motions. The first granted permission for Laurel Ridge Community College to temporarily utilize the parking lot on Kendrick Lane for their CDL class from May 15 to June 30. The second motion asked the County to perform appraisals on EDA-owned properties at 1321 Happy Creek Road and Stephens Industrial Park.
The next regular monthly board meeting will be held on Friday, May 19, 2023, at 8:30 am, at the Warren County Government Center. The meeting was a productive one with important updates on committee reports, financial statements, and new business. The board’s approval of motions to grant permission for Laurel Ridge Community College and perform appraisals on EDA-owned properties demonstrate the board’s commitment to improving economic development in the area. The upcoming Open-Door Business Session in June will also provide opportunities for members of the community to learn about the board’s efforts to improve workforce development.
EDA in Focus
Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority launches USDA Rural Development Loan Program to boost small business growth
On Tuesday, April 25, 2023, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s Small Business Loan Committee held an informational work session at the Warren County Government Center Caucus Room. The meeting aimed to introduce committee members to each other and to provide an overview of the USDA Rural Development Loan Programs. These programs offer low-interest (1 percent) loans to local lenders who then re-lend to businesses in rural communities in order to improve economic conditions and create jobs. The Loan Committee discussed the next steps during the meeting, including applications, outreach, and review processes.
To qualify for the program, intermediary lenders can be nonprofit corporations, public agencies, cooperatives, and federally-recognized tribes, while individuals, public or private organizations, or other legal entities can apply for intermediary loans as “ultimate recipients” provided they meet certain criteria, such as being U.S. citizens or permanent residents, not owing a delinquent debt to the U.S. Government, and not being able to obtain affordable commercial financing elsewhere. The project must also be located in an eligible rural area, and the applicant must have no influence, legal or financial interest in the work of the intermediary lender.
The Front Royal-Warren County EDA will administer a Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) to provide financial incentives for the expansion of existing local industries or commercial business ventures and for the attraction of new industries or commercial business ventures to Warren County. The RLF will be utilized to ensure that a maximum number of jobs will be created and retained, the local and regional industrial base is broadened, and the Warren County property tax base is broadened. In reviewing the employment impact of the proposed loan, priority will be given to those projects which create (and in some cases retain) jobs that pay a minimum of 1.5 times the federal minimum wage.
Eligible activities include site purchases of industrial land, relocation costs incurred in construction and occupancy of the facility, new construction or rehabilitation of existing buildings, machinery and equipment acquisitions, start-up operating costs, and working capital (capped at 25 percent of total project cost). Eligible applicants are industrial or manufacturing firms where goods are assembled, re-assembled, modified, manufactured, or produced at the job site, wholesale and distribution enterprises, and commercial enterprises that establish new businesses, expand existing businesses, create new jobs or save existing jobs.
Local businesses can benefit from this program as it offers low-interest loans to intermediary lenders who then re-lend to businesses in rural communities. This can help to improve economic conditions and create jobs, while the RLF provides financial incentives for the expansion of existing local industries or commercial business ventures and for the attraction of new industries or commercial business ventures to Warren County.
Watch the meeting on the exclusive Royal Examiner video.
EDA in Focus
Newly aligned County EDA Asset Committee views a path forward at Avtex site among other business recruitment options
The newly aligned County-overseen Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Asset Committee sat down to establish an overview of the work ahead at a committee meeting officially convened at 3:10 p.m. Thursday afternoon, April 20. Present were the full committee lineup of Jori Martin and new board and committee members Hayden Ashworth and Rob McDougall, along with Warren County Director of Economic Development Joe Petty. Martin chaired the meeting.
Following a 20-minute open meeting during which jump-starting the long-dormant development of the 148-acre Avtex/Royal Phoenix business park site, along with development of the larger Conservancy Park area between the business park and Shenandoah River, was a primary topic of conversation, the board adjourned to Closed/Executive Session. The motion into closed session indicated behind-closed-door: “Discussion of disposition of publicly held real property … at Stephens Industrial Park, 1321 Happy Creek Rd., and 400 Kendrick Lane … and legal advice related thereto …”
As it was a committee meeting without the full board, no action or announcements out of closed session were anticipated. However, with concerns expressed by former EDA board Chairman Jeff Browne and former Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold concerning possible pressure from the board of supervisors in an election year to unload EDA properties to what might not be the best long-term prospects in order to show some immediate EDA revenue recovery, it will be interesting to see how this topic proceeds toward full EDA board consideration and potential action. Browne and Harold’s terms, which expired February 28, were not renewed by the supervisors despite both applying for reappointment.
Did not seeing eye to eye with supervisors on property sales priorities lead to replacement of two longest-tenured EDA board members?
Dynamics of the two-pronged Avtex properties redevelopment included the possible transfer of ownership of the Conservancy Park property inside the town limits to the County to enable Parks & Recreation Department maintenance and oversight. Having the Town on board with plans for the Conservancy Park area which will connect various in-town locations to foot and non-motorized transportation trails was cited. Also how that transfer of ownership would impact the County financially, and its Parks & Rec Department work and personnel-wise, was broached.
Martin also pointed out to her new colleagues that for the most part, related infrastructure at the Avtex site to support development was in place. “So, it would be being able to support these trade sectors that are listed, which is kind of right following the goals that we were looking at as we review the RFI (Request For Information),” Martin said regarding EDA marketing strategies moving forward. “I would suggest that we make it an agenda item for the main (EDA board) meeting, that we put it as a formal item on the agenda and focus on what’s been sent as the draft RFI. It has been reviewed by our attorney. And it has been reviewed by the prior EDA board. And what I’d look for from our next committee meeting that we could come out of that meeting and get a full board vote on support to move this RFI forward.
“And the process of that before it went out would be to get on the agenda for the Town and the County as well, so that they would review the RFI — they would have input into it as well. And then at that point, once all parties weigh in, we would at that point hopefully by June or July, send that RFI out to prospective companies that may want to get a vision plan and development plan for the Avtex site. That’s kind of what I’ve been working on before, the committee had been working on before you came on the board. And that’s where we are,” Martin said in bringing her new colleagues up to date on development prospects, particularly at the long-floundering former federal Superfund and Avtex property redevelopment site.
In addition to the “Avtex Redevelopment Site Review”, topics broached in open Asset Committee meeting prior to the closed session included “GO Virginia Grant Opportunities” and a “FR-WC EDA Property Overview”. Martin cited the EDA’s eligibility for grant opportunities due to meeting certain criteria, calling it a “wonderful opportunity” for redevelopment funding assistance at the former Avtex property site, and the recruitment of new business to the community there or elsewhere.
The now fully-manned, seven-member EDA Board of Directors will have its regular monthly meeting this coming Friday morning, April 28, at 8 a.m. at the Warren County Government Center.
EDA in Focus
Warren County Economic Development Authority’s regular meeting agenda revealed for April 28, 2023
The Warren County Government Center’s Caucus Room will be hosting a regular meeting of the Warren County Economic Development Authority on April 28, 2023, at 8:00 am. The meeting is set to commence with a call to order, followed by the adoption of the agenda and approval of the minutes from the previous meeting held on March 25, 2023.
The meeting will then proceed with reports from various committees, including the Executive Committee, Asset Committee, Finance Committee/Budget Update, Board Members Updates, and Warren County Director of Economic Development Update.
The meeting will also feature new business items that include an open-door business session for June, a County Payment Memo, and an EDA & County MOU. The closed session that will follow at 9:00 am will focus on four matters and two matters, where discussions will involve the disposition of publicly held real property and consultation with legal counsel pertaining to actual or probable litigation.
Any additional new business will be discussed before the meeting concludes with an adjournment at 10:00 am. Stay tuned for updates on the outcomes of the Warren County Economic Development Authority’s meeting.
EDA in Focus
FR-WC Economic Development Authority Small Business Loan Committee to hold first meeting: Learn about USDA Rural Development Loan Programs
The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (FR-WC EDA) has announced that its Small Business Loan Committee will be holding its first meeting on Tuesday, April 25th, at 2:00 pm in the Warren County Government Center’s Caucus Room. The meeting will provide an opportunity for the committee to get acquainted with each other and learn about the USDA Rural Development Loan Programs. The agenda for the meeting and reference materials from previous years are available for those interested in attending online, and a Teams link will be provided for this purpose.
Some of the FR-WC EDA Board of Directors will also be present at the meeting, and they will be available for discussion and to answer any questions that attendees may have. This meeting is an excellent opportunity for small business owners in the Front Royal-Warren County area to learn about the available loan programs and how they can benefit from them.
The agenda for the meeting includes a call to order at 2:00 pm, followed by welcome and introductions. The committee will receive an overview of the existing loan program and hear from the USDA Rural Development at 2:30 pm. The meeting will then move on to discuss the next steps, including applications, outreach, and the review process. The meeting will conclude at 4:00 pm with a discussion of upcoming meetings.
Small businesses in the Front Royal-Warren County area are encouraged to attend the meeting, as it presents a unique opportunity to learn about the loan programs available to them. The FR-WC EDA is committed to promoting economic development in the area, and this meeting is just one way they are fulfilling that commitment.
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