I am almost certain that the shell building, or "big box" model of economic development that has characterized local government efforts all over Virginia for the past 20 years is obsolete. I know we have had success with shell buildings. Pittsylvania County has filled up five or six industrial parks with a 20-year shell-building program. But shell buildings are not the silver bullets, not the cure-alls they are sometimes made out to be.A month or so ago the CEO of The Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC), a "wunderkind" brought in to save the day, suddenly resigned. Some say he did a marvelous job, others say he did a lot of traveling with nothing much of substance to show for it. I don't know which assesment is correct, but I do agree that there is not much of substance to show for Mr. Fore's efforts.
Currently there 348 available empty industrial buildings scattered throughout Virginia--32 of them—almost four million square feet—here in Martinsville and Henry County. In many instances, the shell building model has amounted to little more than a recipe for bidding wars that boil down to one question: “What will you give me if I bring a business to your community?” Communities that try to buy jobs will always be vulnerable to higher bidders, and companies that come for “gimmes” leave for better ones. Who benefits wins in these exchanges?
We now welcome Mark Heath, who began as the organization's president/CEO on Monday. Mr. Heath may be the leader that the EDC needs. Or he may be another Danny Fore, time will tell. But it is clear that the EDC desperately needs some type of leadership. With 4 million square feet available in 32 vacant shell buildings in Henry County (Martinsville included), the EDC board wants to build another.
To Mr. Heath's credit, he did point out that;
First, however, Heath said he needs to do some legwork, both to prepare for the EDC's presentation and to verify that the shell building proposal conforms to the area's needs.Barnie and I typically disagree politically, but, please, Barnie, if you're not doing anything terribly important right now, please get yourself appointed to the Henry County (my home) EDC board of directors. I'm too busy working on Patrick County's (your home) problems right now...
That, he said, means taking an inventory of the area's existing buildings and sites and talking to national real estate brokers and consultants, who can provide information on shell-building specifications currently in demand.
"The biggest mistakes I've seen are people building the wrong type of building in the wrong site," Heath said. "That's where a lot of mistakes are made, not in the decision to build a shell building but on the engineering side of it."