Chris Graham: A blueprint for Waynesboro’s economic future

A road to somewhere, a “funky” downtown, a primary industry. Good advice from John Rhodes, a consultant hired by the city to assist in developing a new economic-development strategy.

The good news is that we’ve already got a helluva base on which to build. The Waynesboro economy has nearly doubled in size in the past nine years, from $220 million in taxable sales in 2002 to $401 million in taxable sales in 2009 (the last full calendar year for which data are available from the Virginia Department of Taxation).

You could say that Waynesboro has been doing well transitioning into its post-industry era, but we’re still having our share of growing pains. Wages have stagnated with the replacement of manufacturing jobs with jobs in retail, which has fueled the boom in economic activity in the city, and unemployment is still about a third higher than the state jobless rate.

Which brings us to Rhodes, in town this week for a whirlwind of meetings with local government and business leaders.

Part of what Rhodes is here for is to give us a road map that we can choose to follow (or not) to build upon our base. The Rhodes Map, we can call it, begins with getting local goverment involved in the development process, which will help in getting us to take action on a key weakness that Rhodes identified – the lack of pad-ready industrial sites.

You could call it a frustrating lack of pad-ready industrial sites considering that the city in the 1990s made the wise move to invest in land for an industrial park that has since become home to offices for nTelos and a campus for PGI that is in its own growth phase with a multimillion-dollar investment announced last year. Undeveloped acreage remains in the park, but politics in a heated election in 2002, in which a candidate for City Council decried future investment in roads that would open up more of the park for development with a dismissive allusion to the idea being that the city would be building a “road to nowhere,” put a standing kibosh on anything else of substance being done in that arena.

More from the Rhodes Map: focus on techology-based industry, the downtown district, the Delphine-Interstate 64 area as a prime location for an industrial hub.

All of which sounds eerily familiar to those of us who remember a guy that ran for City Council three years ago on a platform stressing this very blueprint for Waynesboro’s economic future.

(Kinda tall fellow. With a weird 1930s-era haircut.)

Column by Chris Graham. More columns by Chris at TheWorldAccordingToChrisGraham.com.


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