At Creative EDC, our strategic plans have no shelf life. They are meant for action, not gathering dust on a shelf. We believe in the value of planning your work and working your plan. The Economic Development Authority of Amherst County, VA is a great example of working a strategic plan. The EDA methodically worked through the 2016 strategic plan making significant advances in marketing, product development, and business support. In 2021, they updated the strategic plan to set a course for the next five years.
Forward Amherst builds upon the vision established in 2016 during the One Amherst strategic planning process. The Amherst County Board of Supervisors invested in that vision by allocating one penny of the tax rate to implement the plan. The significance of this dedicated funding stream cannot be overstated. It is rare for a small, rural EDO (or any EDO for that matter) to have a dedicated tax revenue stream to fund implementation of a strategic plan. The EDA accomplished all the 2016 strategic plan action steps that had a defined completion date and remained relevant. Not many EDOs can claim that level of implementation success. After five years of diligent, focused hard work by the EDA and its partners, significant advancements were made in marketing Amherst County as a business location; developing sites for business expansions; preparing the workforce for local job opportunities; supporting small business; and developing leaders for the future.
The 2016 economic development strategic planning effort was precipitated by the announced closures of the Central Virginia Training Center (CVTC) and Sweet Briar College, although the latter successfully rebounded and abandoned closure plans. Together, these two institutions made up approximately 25% of employment in Amherst County. EDA Executive Director Victoria Hanson said, “The county was at a critical juncture. We had to take action to diversify our economy and attract jobs to replace the hundreds we were going to lose. The strategic planning process brought our whole community together under a common goal.”
When the 2021 update to the strategic plan was launched, Amherst County was in another type of crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic. The EDA led the county’s effort to support small businesses during the pandemic by administering grant programs, totaling almost $1.8 million, and being the go-to source for business information. The Amherst County economy has shown much resiliency over the last five years, enduring significant job losses and impacts to small businesses.
Three of the five focus areas from the 2016 strategic plan were unchanged in the 2021 update. The development of new and expanding business, sites, and workforce are essential to a multi-pronged economic development strategy. The EDA was recently awarded a U.S. EDA grant that will support the development of a multi-tenant building, advancing their product development strategy. An effort to develop regional workforce training programs that stalled during COVID-19 has been reignited. Building upon a branding initiative from 2017, the 2021 strategic plan calls for more focus on internal and external marketing and communications. With a staff of only two, the 2021 strategic plan could seem ambitious. However, their track record says otherwise.
The EDA of Amherst County has proven its ability to make significant gains in economic development, accomplish a program of work, and lead the business community through the pandemic-induced recession. They do not leave plans on the shelf. With continued support from the county and partners, the EDA is poised to continue its track record of success.
To read more about the Amherst County strategic plan, click here.