September 6, 2011
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
A new organization, the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance (SVRA), has been created to work with consultants to help bring new economic development projects to the region.
The alliance “will leverage our marketing capability. It expands our reach and gives us the chance to do more. It helps us to deliver our message to consultants in a manner they want to receive it,” said Mark Heath, president/CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.
A majority of consultants “prefer a regional response, one point of contact,” Heath said. That “helps them do their job quicker.” In fact, some consultants now won’t consider localities that do not participate in a regional marketing effort, he said.
Regional marketing “just saves time, and time is money” to a consultant and his or her clients, Heath said. “If we want to stay in business, we need to do it.”
The SVRA “only strengthens the local level. It doesn’t replace anything we’re doing,” Heath said. The alliance is “100 percent marketing. It’s all about getting people here.”
The alliance is a marketing partnership between Henry, Patrick, Pittsylvania and Halifax counties, and the cities of Martinsville and Danville. Leigh Cockram, formerly vice president of the EDC, became the alliance’s first director June 15.
Cockram said once a lead for a new industrial project is generated, her job is to determine which localities in the alliance have a building or site that could fit the prospect’s needs.
For instance, if a consultant needs a 40,000-square-foot building with 30-foot ceilings, Cockram said, she would scan a database to see what is available in the region that would fit the bill.
Before submitting that information to consultants, she will contact localities and local economic developers “to let them know I’m submitting properties, and see if anything else has come on market” that she is not aware of.
Then, Cockram will submit the information, she said.
Specific localities will be identified by the consultant, based on the needs of their clients, she said.
Although the SVRA will act as a conduit for the lead, “it will be up to each locality” and local economic developers “to seal the deal. I’m just here to complement” economic developers in participating localities, Cockram said.
Although the marketing approach is regional, it also is limited in scope, she said.
For instance, Cockram said, she will not work on small business or entrepreneurial endeavors, downtown projects, existing industries or expansions.
Since joining the alliance, most of Cockram’s time has been spent on organizational tasks associated with a new entity.
“We’ve just developed a logo, and literally what I’ve been doing the last couple days is compiling information” to create the alliance’s website, she added.
Cockram also is putting together a regional profile with information about the six localities in the alliance.
The SVRA office is in the Dan River Business Development Center, “but I travel all over,” even working out of her home in Henry County when needed, Cockram said.
She will be on the road by the end of September or the first of October, conducting “face-to-face visits with consultants,” Cockram said. She added she also is working on an event to showcase the region by getting various site selection consultants to visit.
The alliance is being funded over two years with $200,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, $200,000 from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and $200,000 combined from the six communities of the alliance, for a total of $600,000.
The Martinsville-Henry County EDC will use funds from its budget to pay Henry County’s two-year commitment of $47,642 and Martinsville’s share of $12,703 for the two-year period, Cockram said. She added the amount localities pay to participate is based on population.
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