EDC: College should be top effort

November 10, 2004

     Obtaining a new college or university should be the top priority in efforts to lure new business and industry to Henry County and Martinsville, according to the community's new economic development director.

     But local leaders can expect a battle of wits on the issue with officials across the state, Danny Fore, the new chief executive officer of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC), told the Martinsville City Council on Tuesday.

     "I don't think we should fool ourselves," he said.  Getting a college started locally is "going to be a political process" and local officials must make sure they are actively involved in that process, he added.

     Officials have said that a new college or university would spur economic development not only through new jobs it would create, but also by helping attract busineeses that cater to college students, such as stores and restaurants.

     Fore, who started on the job Nov. 1, had his first official meeting with city officials during Tuesday's council work session.  He previously headed a Cincinnati-area organization similar to the EDC.

     The EDC soon will be the major business and industry recruitment entity for both localities.  Organizational issues currently are being worked out.

     "Right now, I'm the only employee," Fore said, joking that "I took out the trash this morning."

     Details of negotiations with individual companies often are kept confidential at the firms' request.  Fore pledged to keep officials and the public up-to-date on economic development efforts by sharing "as much (information) as is practical."

     "We're all on the same team," he said.

     The EDC will encourage local businesses to stay put and help them expand, he said, noting that statistics show that existing firms create 60-80 percent of a community's new jobs.

     However, any community can expect to lose 6-8 percent of its jobs a year as products no longer are needed or firms begin using automated equipment, resulting in the need for fewer workers, Fore said.

     For that reason, "you've got to be aggressive and constantly bringing in new blood to the community," he told council members.

     Fore also said the EDC will develop a marketing plan for Henry County and Martinsville, indicating it will be sophisticated enough to make the area stand out, even among larger communities.

     Over the coming months, the EDC will develop a strategic plan addressing all of those issues more in-depth, he added.  Annual reports also will be prepared.

     Officials informally decided that Fore will update the city council about the EDC's progress at least every three months.


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