County, State Candidates Talk Business, Education

County, State Candidates Talk Business, Education

RANDY TROUT

County, State Candidates Talk Business, Education

MACK SMITH

County, State Candidates Talk Business, Education

JONATHAN TARRIS

County, State Candidates Talk Business, Education

CHARLES KOSTELNI

County, State Candidates Talk Business, Education

ELI FISHPAW

County, State Candidates Talk Business, Education

LESLIE AYERS

County, State Candidates Talk Business, Education
County, State Candidates Talk Business, Education
County, State Candidates Talk Business, Education

DAVID McDANIEL CATHLEEN ARCHER RONNIE CAMPBELL

Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors, state Senate and House of Delegates candidates talked workforce and economic development last Wednesday, discussing topics ranging from education and infrastructure to environmental concerns and health care, at the Lexington-Rockbridge Chamber of Commerce’s first of two candidate forums last week.

County and state candidates gathered in the Hampton Inn Col Alto to answer previously announced questions as well as additional audience questions.

Board of Supervisors Buffalo District candidates Leslie

Ayers, Charles Kostelni, Mack Smith, Jonathan Tarris and Randy Trout, as well as Natural Bridge District candidate David McDaniel and South River District candidate Cathleen Archer were asked their opinion of incentives for small business creation as it relates to economic development in the county. (Supervisor candidates Bob Day from South River and Andrew Ryan from Natural Bridge were not in attendance.)

“I support the use of these incentives, as long as they make good financial sense for all parties, fit well within our comprehensive plan and are tied to performance review,” Ayers said.

“I am also a huge fan of community launch grants,” Ayers added, mentioning the use of local programs and partnerships to jumpstart businesses. Ayers also said the investment in services and schools is a driver of businesses.

Kostelni, speaking from his career in business, said learning of large-sum start-up incentives always rubbed him the wrong way.

“We need to take care of what we have here first,” Kostelni said. “Create an environment where businesses can thrive and succeed. That’s your biggest source of economic development.” The most important element for a business to succeed, Kostelni said, is a job-ready labor pool, turning also to youth career preparedness.

“We have to have land to attract businesses,” Smith said of his experience with county economic development. “Incentives that we have to have to get businesses here is to have land zoned and ready to go.”

“We also have to have the educational side of it, too,” Smith added, expressing concern over the level of area career and technical education.

Tarris expressed his firm opposition to business incentives, calling the use of taxpayers’ money for reward the “definition of crony capitalism.” As an alternative to incentives, Tarris suggested expanding the successful LexLaunch program to the county on an annual basis.

“We need to make entrepreneurship less scary,” Tarris added, suggesting relaxing zoning laws, particularly home occupation regulations.

“I’ve been on the front end of site improvement projects for businesses in our area,” Trout said as he spoke in favor of incentives based on his experience as a land surveyor. “The start-up cost for a business can be staggering. In some instances it’s cost prohibitive to move forward with a project based on physical requirements.”

“One area we can focus on is to continue expanding our infrastructure into our growth corridors,” Trout added.

McDaniel said he believes incentives must be tied to what the return on the investment is, as well as job creation and production of revenue.

“I’m open to the idea of looking at current qualifications to see if they need to be tweaked for smaller businesses,” Mc-Daniel said of the existing incentives policy framework. “I’m not in favor of waiving costs, more of a deferral for businesses to get started and stabilize.”

“We really need to take a hard look at what we are doing for our existing businesses,” McDaniel added.

“We need to work harder at being proactive about attracting businesses to our area,” McDaniel said, referencing the three local universities and other attractions being used to draw interest. Complementing other candidates, McDaniel said the Board needs to work with the school system to improve career and technical education, so as to reward trained students seeking to create their own businesses with incentives.

Archer proposed structuring “tiered levels” of incentive offerings, which she described as possibly matching state economic development programs, grants, loans and subsidized leases.

“On a much smaller scale, a few suggested incentives could be offering an incentive equal to the amount of one to five years of a current business application,” Archer added. “We could look at a storefront initiative, which could be a grant opportunity to help small businesses lease local spaces by offsetting the cost of county permits and fees.”

Sharing Resources

When asked of the ways to promote better government cooperation between Rock-bridge County, Buena Vista and Lexington to share resources and avoid duplicate efforts, Ayers said, in addition to sharing resources for emergency management and workforce development, there is “no better opportunity to work together” than the preservation of clean water in the Maury River. “We all stand to gain from its protection.”

“A lot of problems we face are not government answers,” Kostelni said of the challenge of getting the jurisdictions in the community to work together. “That takes trust and that’s the biggest ingredient that is lacked throughout my lifetime here and prevented a lot of working together.” Establishing trust, Kostelni explained, is the key to creating synergies for greater outcomes.

Smith reiterated Kostelni’s thoughts on reluctance between jurisdictions, sharing he has experience “butting heads” with Buena Vista in his previous service with the county. “I have a vision that maybe what will entice us to come together would be if we do decide to build a new Vo-Tech center,” Smith said, suggesting development at the U.S. 60 and I-81 interchange.

“Expanding sewer and water is a high priority and I would encourage that negotiation to continue,” Tarris said, also suggesting the expansion of trash pickup to areas of the county.

“I would also like to cut down on some of the costs of new toys we provide to our teachers and police,” Tarris continued. “New stuff is nice, but I bet the teachers and deputies would rather have a pay increase. This would allow us to attract and keep good talent and get the job done right.”

“An obvious opportunity we can all find common ground on is the improvement of our shared infrastructure,” Trout said, turning to the U.S, 60 East corridor as a main priority with benefits for all three governments, should they work in a coordinated effort.

“Anytime there is overlap in work between localities it creates a burden on the taxpayer,” McDaniel said. “We should work together as much as possible.”

“However, if elected, I want to be clear that I am representing county constituents,” he added. “In order to enter into any future agreements, it would have to be a win for the county.”

“As a county citizen, I’ve had limited involvement with [some of these] committees, boards and authorities,” Archer said. “At this juncture, I don’t have adequate knowledge to comfortably make recommendations beyond what is already outlined in the comprehensive plan.”

“If elected, my involvement will change and I will not hesitate to draw attention to areas of opportunity.”

At The State Level

Delegate candidates Ronnie Campbell, Eli Fishpaw, and Christian Worth addressed what they would do at the state level to support the workforce development needs of the region if elected to represent the 24th District.

“We have to take care of our local businesses,” Del. Campbell said, describing the truck permit load problems local businesses have alerted him to in recent months. Campbell said businesses have been unable to get their permit loads under the overpass in Buena Vista.

“I have been working to get Factory Street upgraded so these loads can cross the railroad crossing and be able to get out of Buena Vista.”

“I will support a market economy with accountability for impacts,” said Fishpaw, offering his support of public funding for education and career training. Turning to environmental accountability, Fishpaw continued, “The foundation of a healthy future requires an enlightened climate policy built from a common recognition we must lower CO2 emissions to below the amount that can be sequestered. This pays our debt.”

“The most important way that we can support workforce development needs in our region at a state level means supporting programs that are responsive to the needs of our local employers,” Worth said. “For our region, this is about education and training.”

Worth then offered her support of an upcoming program that would allow free community college tuition to Virginia residents.

On the subject of enhancing regional competitiveness against Northern Virginia or Tidewater, Campbell turned to his continued efforts to repair and improve Interstate 81.

“This will make businesses more comfortable with locating along the valley, along Interstate 81, because they know their transportation needs will be taken care of.”

“If we want to keep existing businesses from relocating or bring new businesses here that will enhance our way of life and put down roots for longterm success, we have to show them that they and their employees will thrive,” Worth said of boosting regional attractiveness, turning to the improvement of education and clean energy and accessibility of health care in the area.

“I take issue with the premise that our interest is against the economic interest of Northern Virginia and Tidewater,” Fish-paw said. “We share a need to evolve into a net sequestration economy where all carbon emissions are lower than what can be sequestered. We have one atmosphere and this will challenge all regions in the world.”

State Senate candidates Creigh Deeds and Elliott Harding were asked to discuss their view of Virginia’s right-to-work policy.

“It does give us a competitive advantage,” Sen. Deeds said in favor of the existing policy, which he described as never really coming up for debate until this past session when a bill was introduced to repeal the right to work.

“It’s part of the established, settled law of Virginia,” he continued. “Before that bill is reintroduced, you’ve got to prove Virginia is not going to lose its status as the best state in the country for business.”

Harding also noted the right to work policy as being threatened by the governor’s opposition.

“I believe in supporting our workforce,” Harding said. “If you see it go away, it will turn the AFL-CIO into a lobbying division versus a large chamber force. It’s going to be the government pitched against the people. I don’t believe in that. I think we should have free market for corporate competition and labor competition.”

“A healthy workforce is a productive workforce,” Deeds said of measures he favors to promote the health of the Virginia workforce. In addition to Medicaid expansion, Deeds offered mental health care and substance abuse treatments as a benefit to employers.

“We’ve got to make sure we’ve got a healthy supply of workers available to do their jobs,” Deeds added, promoting investment into community colleges.

“I think skills need to be mandatory in schools,” Harding said of developing a healthy workforce with Project Based Learning and technical education in K-12. “If we make it mandatory, it will eliminate the misguided and antiquated stigma of vocational tech. We will raise the floor of the commonwealth and provide the workforce needs of the private sector that are so desperately wanted.”

From The Audience

During the part of the forum allowed for questions from the audience, Worth was asked to address her stance on minimum wage being raised to $15.

“While I believe it should be increased, I think it would probably be more prudent to not be an immediate doubling,” Worth said, mentioning employee health care benefits and housing as more immediate solutions to a wage increase.

Worth was also asked to address her stance on the Green New Deal.

“I’ve been disappointed that the Virginia Green New Deal has not enlisted more local partners and I’m eager to hear updates about that,” Worth said. “I am focused on what is going to benefit us at a state level. There are things about the Green New Deal I really, really like, but we need to see how those translate into specific policy proposals.”

Tarris was asked to defend his stance on maximizing savings for joint projects between the county and the city if the project ultimately costs the county more if it offered joint savings. The audience question posed, “Why should someone vote for you if you favor the city over the county?”

“I have a hard time supporting [it] if it’s going to cost the county more,” Tarris said.

Campbell was asked to explain why he did not receive a Farm Bureau endorsement alongside 75 other delegates, despite claiming agriculture as one of his core values.

“You have local farmers serving on this board and I probably have made one or two of them mad with something else that I did,” Campbell said, turning to an instance in which local farmers were mistakenly upset with the House for the rising cost of diesel fuel. “It was just one of those things that happen and next year I will try again.”

When asked about their thoughts on the proposed constitutional amendment that would create a bi-partisan commission to draw legislative and congressional maps, all the state office candidates expressed their support of moving forward with redistricting reform.

“We all have the same interest in making sure the lines produce senators and delegates that are responsive to the people they represent. That requires some form of non-partisan redistricting,” Deeds said.

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