September 1, 2004
Establishing a four-year institution of higher education in Henry
County or Martinsville should help reduce unemployment locally,
according to a Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) official.
It would help shift the local economy from being manufacturing-based
to service-oriented, said Bill Mezger, chief economist for the VEC?s
Economic Information Services Division.
Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine has submitted a legislative proposal to establish
a four-year university in Southside. The Harvest Foundation has
committed a $50 million challenge grant, and local real estate
developers Bill Adkins and Earl Greene have offered to donate about 100
acres near Patrick Henry Farms subdivision east of Martinsville to
locate the university, in addition to offers from several other area
Along with new jobs that a university itself would bring, more jobs
would be created by new businesses that likely would locate nearby to
support the university, officials have reasoned. Other businesses, such
as stores and restaurants, would come to serve students and visiting
parents, they have said, and Mezger agreed.
Service-oriented jobs bring "usually steady employment," Mezger
said. The more steady the jobs, the more steady the overall employment
situation, he indicated.
He pointed to Lynchburg and Charlottesville as examples of
communities with service-based economies built around schools. The
Lynchburg area has Liberty University, Randolph-Macon College and
Lynchburg College, while Charlottesville is home to the University of
Lynchburg shifted from a manufacturing-based to a service-based
economy after businesses serving its colleges and their students
gradually sprouted up, Mezger said.
Also, "Charlottesville traditionally has had one of the lowest
unemployment rates in the country," he said.
"Communities that have done that (changed to service-oriented
economies) generally are faring better now than they used to," Mezger
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