Waynesboro: Fail to plan, you’re planning to fail

waynesboroFour years after agreeing to pay $3.475 million for 177 acres of scrub brush located off Interstate 64, Waynesboro City Council is only now reluctantly applying for money from the state to help pay for an access road to open up the property.

What is wrong with this picture?

I can tell you how this would have gone down had I been elected to City Council in 2008. One, the property is prime commercial and industrial real estate, so I would have been very interested in that location from minute one upon swearing in.

We wouldn’t have paid $3.475 million. The property had been on the market for years. The seller doesn’t name the price in that kind of situation; the buyer does, and if the seller balks, in the case of the city, we’ve got other things we can do, other priorities.

Two, so I’ve got interest in the property, great. But it’s still scrub brush if we can’t open it up for development. The only way that property has any value is if it has an access road. Cities and counties across the country are competing for commercial and industrial suitors, and not a one of them who is serious about landing anything expects a prospective suitor to look at scrub brush and imagine the possibilities.

None of them were able to get their industrial and commercial parks pad-ready on their own. They all had the foresight to engage their state governments and congressman and senators in efforts to land state and federal tax dollars to partner with their local dollars to make things happen.

To get those state and federal tax dollars to flow in, you need to have a business plan. Anybody in business knows that you need to business-plan big projects, and when you’re thinking about committing upwards of $3 million of public money on scrub brush envisioning it as a commercial and industrial park, that meets the definition of big project.

Before I vote to commit the city to purchasing that property, I’ve already got a plan in place, for what kind of commercial and industrial prospects we’re going after, what our chances are of landing somebody in there, what we need to do to attract our best prospects, what we need to do to engage state and federal government electeds and agency contacts to get their help lined up.

Then I work to get at least two other members of City Council to buy into the plan, add to it, et cetera.

Then we buy the property, and hit the ground running.

It’s not four years later, and we’re just now applying for money from VDOT, and reluctantly at that.

It’s unconscionable to me that the current City Council has been sitting on its thumbs on this for four years.

We have a school system with more than 60 percent of our kids on free and reduced lunches, and we’re tightfisting the dollars that we give to public education because we’re supposedly conservative.

The jobs that we’ve created the past seven years are largely in the retail and food sectors. So even if our kids get a good education on the cheap, what do they have to look forward to, other than moving away to be able to make a living?

We need to be doing everything we can to create jobs for today and for tomorrow.

Instead, we’re spending untold millions on scrub brush owned by golfing buddies and pretending like we’re being forward-thinking.

Our City Council styles itself as being conservative. It’s not conservative to blow $3.475 million on prime commercial and industrial land without having a business plan in place for how to turn that initial investment into something that can pay off for us in years to come.

I’m supposed to be an unelectable liberal Democrat telling y’all this, keep in mind.

Maybe a lesson here is labels like conservative and liberal are overblown when it comes to the basics of government administration.

You can cut off your right leg and lose 30 pounds in a few minutes. Just lop it off, there, you’re done. Another approach would be to cut out snacks, limit your calories, get on an exercise plan, maybe start jogging, and while it might take a few months to get there, you’ll lose the weight and be healthier and more productive for it.

We’ve been following the cut your leg off strategy and thinking it conservative for far too long.

It’s time we start doing things the smart way.

– Column by Chris Graham

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