The whys and hows of the Market Street economic assessment

October 16, 2003


The economic development analysis being done locally is expected to serve as a "road map" for developers to pull the city and county out of their economic funk, according to those involved in the effort.

The assessment, which is being performed by Market Street Services of Atlanta, is the brainchild of the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce. It was funded through a $250,000 grant from The Harvest Foundation that was requested by the Chamber's Partner for Economic Growth (C-PEG), according to Kim Adkins, chamber president.

"We thought the time was right to look for a broader approach to economic development," one which would explore all options for the area, she said.

The community has changed since the last economic study was done in 1997 and resources such as The Harvest Foundation, which was formed to invest the proceeds of the sale of Memorial Health Systems, need to be taken into account, Adkins said.

Market Street was chosen for the project in early fall, and on Tuesday it presented an economic and demographic profile of the area to an advisory committee formed by the chamber. The committee is made up of representatives of the Martinsville City Council, the Henry County Board of Supervisors, economic development offices and others in the area, according to J. Mac Holladay, chief executive officer of Market Street Services.

The profile examines demographics of the area, job losses, wages, education levels and other subjects.

It showed the community "is in very tough shape," Holladay said. "It is very important that people understand how serious this is. If you continue down the path that you have been on for some 20 years, the outlook is not good."

The problems, he said, include the declining manufacturing base and low wages paid for traditional jobs here. In addition, there are a rising number of people who have dropped out of the labor force because they cannot find suitable work, and others are leaving the area for work.

Many of the advisory committee members who received the report Tuesday said they knew much of the information, Holladay and Adkins agreed.

Adkins said the only surprise she found in the profile was that the area had been declining since 1960.

"This didn't happen overnight and we're not going to get out of it overnight. The community can expect to lose another 3,000 jobs in the next three to five years and the community needs to prepare for that," she said.

They may have known the information, but the committee members said "they never had seen it put together like this and they said ?we have to do better,'" Holladay added. "The importance is not in the raw numbers but the analysis of it."

Next, Market Street will do interviews and meet with focus groups to get input on where people think the community needs to go, as well as perspective on its assets and other areas, Holladay said.

Then a "competitive assessment" will measure Henry County and Martinsville in four areas: infrastructure, such as telecommunications, technology and access to air travel; work force quality, including capacity and education levels; business costs compared to other areas; and quality of life.

That information will be compared to places of similar size, history and location, Holladay said.

Target business analysis will come next, including what kinds of companies, entrepreneurs, tourism industries and other development possibilities make sense for the area, he said.

"Those go together to begin creation of a community economic development strategy. That is concluded by an implementation plan" that may include one-year and five-year plans with specific benchmarks and measures, he said.

That is expected to be ready in March.

Holladay said his group essentially begins with a clean piece of paper. "Nothing is precluded. We don't know where it will lead. Hopefully, the process will bring people together with a singular vision," he said.

Market Street has done similar assessments - Holladay said they are not studies - in towns, cities and states as diverse as Greensboro, N.C.; Carrollton and Rome, Ga.; Austin, Texas; the state of West Virginia and western Australia.

When the process is done, there never has been a case where people did not agree with the outcome, he said.

"There may not be unanimity but there will be a consensus. The community is who has to implement this - it has to be theirs," he said.

Adkins said she hopes the community and various organizations will "take ownership" of the analysis and it will create a role for the chamber of commerce, funding opportunities for The Harvest Foundation and other avenues of participation.

She added that already she was impressed that the profile noted areas such as transportation, federal and state government, and distribution as areas that the county and city could build on to attract higher-paying jobs.


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