August 1, 2019

Harvest Foundation adds $5 million incentive pool to fund economic development in Martinsville-Henry County, Virginia

Harvest Foundation adds $5 million incentive pool to fund economic development in Henry County, Martinsville

Martinsville Bulletin

By Paul Collins

Jul 30, 2019

The Harvest Foundation is expanding its economic development efforts with an incentive pool to fund projects in Henry County and the city of Martinsville.

Its initial $5 million in the pool will be used as grants in Henry County and Martinsville on a case-by-case basis for economic development initiatives, such as creation of new industry, job growth and expansion of existing businesses.

“The demand is rising for higher-paying, living-wage careers in Martinsville and Henry County,” Allyson Rothrock, president of The Harvest Foundation, said in a statement. “Our community members are increasingly better-educated, and acquiring additional skill sets that support the growth of advanced manufacturing and highly technical trades.

“We want Martinsville and Henry County to be competitive and continue its upward trajectory. Our community is an ideal location for a variety of business and industry to locate and grow. We want them all to know we’re open and ready for business.”

Said Henry County Administrator Tim Hall in a statement: “Henry County’s relationship with the Harvest Foundation helps us separate ourselves from other localities. … Economic development is a never-ceasing endeavor, and knowing that Harvest is a part of the team allows us to do things we otherwise may not be able to accomplish.”

Hall’s deputy, Dale Wagoner, reinforced that point. “The funding program offered by the Harvest Foundation will allow Henry County to incentivize companies that bring above-average jobs and significant capital investment to our community,” he wrote in an email.

“In addition to the available ready industrial sites for companies, Henry County’s low tax rates, a low cost of doing business, and a quality workforce, Henry County with the help of the Harvest Foundation, will be able to offer financial incentive[s] to companies expanding or locating here. This give[s] us another tool in our economic development toolbox and gives us something to offer to companies that not many other communities [can].”

Similarly, Mark Heath, president and chief executive officer of Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., wrote in an email: “The Harvest pool gives us a third option for our incentives ‘tool box.’ By having a third option we can hopefully separate ourselves from other localities that do not have that third option. We do have projects in mind, but they are not finalized at this point.”

In a Harvest statement, Heath said, “The EDC appreciates the continued, strong support of The Harvest Foundation as we work to expand the tax base and bring higher paying jobs to the community in an ever-increasing competitive market.”

Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki wrote in an email that some grants the city previously was able to obtain through the Tobacco Commission no longer are pure grants but now are revenue-sharing agreements. That means up to 5% of the new tax revenue generated is repaid by the locality to the Tobacco Commission annually, up to a maximum of 105% of the grant.

“So essentially [it is] now a 5% loan amortized over a period of time,” Towarnicki said. “The incentive pool restores a grant capacity, and in some cases, as funding for projects is pieced together, the ability to draw on a grant to possibly fund gaps in financing could mean the difference between successfully landing a project or not.”

Towarnicki said in the Harvest statement that economic development and job creation impact overall tax base, business growth, residential development, tourism and much more.

Martinsville City Council member Danny Turner said of the incentive pool, “Sure it’s going to help. A lot of good business plans start with not enough capital to start out.”

Turner also referred to projections by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service’s Demographics Group at the University of Virginia that populations for Martinsville, Henry County and some other localities in the region are projected to decline significantly in coming years. He said he feels that underscores the need for economic development projects in these communities.

“We need to get busy,” he said.

Martinsville Mayor Kathy Lawson and the other members of city council did not respond to a request for comment. Neither Henry County Board of Supervisors Chair Jim Adams nor any of the other supervisors responded to a request for comment.

The Harvest Foundation is a nonprofit organization established in 2002 by the sale of Memorial Hospital. Its stated goal is to support organizations and projects that build and maintain economic prosperity and states on its website that it has put more than $125 million in grant dollars back into the community.

That includes approximately $26.7 million in grants it has awarded to the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. between 2006 and 2018, including $5 million in 2013 to support development of Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre and $3.5 million over five years awarded in 2006 to support construction costs of a shell building in the Patriot Centre.

“Incentive programs are needed to remain competitive in today’s economic development climate. Nearly every community that is actively recruiting new business and industry has an incentive program available to reduce the costs of opening or expanding business facilities,” Latala Hodges, Harvest’s director of communications, wrote in an email.

“Creating the incentive pool program allows Martinsville-Henry County to stand out from the crowd. Every new industry that locates to our community, and every expansion of existing business, improves the lives of our residents through increased tax base, additional job opportunities and much more.

“There is no one-size-fits-all in economic development. Each project under consideration for funding from the incentive pool program at Harvest will be evaluated on its own merit to determine a timeline for performance criteria. In the event that those criteria are not met, each funding request will have terms and conditions for payback of the grant funds.”

Hodges said she couldn’t provide specific projects that could tap into the incentive pool.

“The incentive pool can go toward any project that will expand the tax base through new business development or existing business expansion,” she said. “If development at Commonwealth Crossing expands the tax base through new business development and existing business operation, it potentially could qualify for the incentive pool funding.

“The decisions to offer incentive pool funding are made by the municipalities and The Harvest Foundation’s board of directors would vote on whether to disburse the funds for that project.”