2022 Market Report
Despite the many challenges, setbacks and overall exhaustion the past two years have caused, economic development teams across the region show no signs of slowing down. They are always looking ahead to the next big project, while strategizing new ways to overcome barriers to success.
In our Market Report 2022, hear what’s on the horizon in the City of Lynchburg and Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford and Campbell counties in the coming year.
The City of Lynchburg
Three years after the Office of Economic Development & Tourism (OEDT) launched the Blueprint for Opportunity—a five-year strategic action plan built upon five key priorities: growing local businesses, engaging anchor institutions, filling workforce pipelines, enhancing quality of place, and communicating Lynchburg’s story to the world—the team was forced to reevaluate its goals and strategies in a post-pandemic environment.
In January 2021, OEDT published Reset for Resilience after more than 75 business and city leaders stepped up to help revamp the economic development strategy for the City of Lynchburg. The Reset includes three new goals: support and grow Lynchburg businesses and destination assets, drive long-term economic growth and resilience, and position Lynchburg as the best “small town” city in America.
With these strategies in mind, officials walked us through some of the top priorities for the City in 2022.
Retain and grow existing businesses and destination assets
According to Anna Bentson, assistant director of the OEDT, an estimated 70 percent of all jobs are created through the expansion of local companies. With that statistic in mind, the retention and expansion of existing businesses is the number one priority in Lynchburg.
These companies and organizations are already invested in the City of Lynchburg and are essential players in building long-term inclusive prosperity that ensures Lynchburg recovers from the economic and community impacts of the pandemic.
Bentson said this includes continuing to deliver the support that small businesses need to recover from the pandemic and working with anchor institutions such as Centra Health, University of Lynchburg and Liberty University to achieve shared economic development and tourism goals.
Support airline services to drive visitation and growth
Recovery in airline service levels following the pandemic continued in early 2021. By March, American Airlines was scheduling the return of seven daily departures—four days a week—but with total seat capacity still 22.8% lower than March 2020, Airport Director Andrew LaGala said.
Unfortunately, as air travel demand increased significantly by summer of 2021, the airline industry was not prepared due to pandemic-related labor shortages. In turn, that triggered gradual reductions in regional airline service levels at LYH that continue to this day. But LaGala says there is good news ahead.
“Our winter airline schedule is expected to offer an additional departure, including the return of some dual-class, 65-seat regional jet service,” he said.
Continue strong partnership with EWI
In 2021, OEDT began a partnership with EWI, a nonprofit advanced engineering service provider with applied research and development capabilities, which Benston said is the only one of its kind.
“The unique partnership between the City of Lynchburg, Campbell County and EWI is generating great energy and excitement in companies seeking continuous improvement, the application of new technologies and streamlined operations,” said Marjette Upshur, director of OEDT. “We are deepening the bench for our manufacturers to innovate.”
By providing access to EWI’s vast array of data, industry experts and unique white papers and research not found elsewhere, this partnership is providing the business community with the ability to “test drive” innovative new practices.
Tell Lynchburg’s story
In the fall of 2021, OEDT released a new brand development and campaign launch entitled “LYH Loves You,” which connects to content on the city’s tourism site and economic development site, integrating the two under one brand, look and feel.
Opportunity Lynchburg and LYH Tourism now are united under the brand campaign “LYH Loves You,” which leverages the state’s iconic messaging “Virginia Is For Lovers” and works to instill pride in a city leaning into the future, Bentson said.
• CARES Business Recovery Program – The OEDT distributed $3.6 million in grants to small businesses in the city to assist in recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and related closures
• LYH Jobs Portal—The OEDT launched this streamlined website to connect job seekers with local employers.
The portal can also direct job seekers to further resources
and community partners.
• Vaccination Efforts—The city’s regional COVID-19 Vaccination Center was the first and only one in the area and led the way for vaccination efforts across the state. By the end, 34,000 shots had been administered, Bentson said.
Continue to support existing businesses and have business-ready sites
Recently, the Economic Development Authority (EDA) held a strategic planning session to clarify the areas they need to focus on in the coming years. During that discussion, they decided that business retention and expansion should be the core focus in growing the economy of Bedford County.
“Up to 80% of new job growth and corporate capital comes from existing businesses, so this is where we need to spend the bulk of our time,” said Pam Bailey, director of economic development, adding that they need to have sites and buildings available for prospective businesses.
“When the regional and state economic developers have a prospect, we need to be ready.”
Create a Tourism Zone
Recognizing the fiscal impact that tourism has on the economy, Bedford County is looking to create a Tourism Zone in the Smith Mountain Lake area to incentivize businesses to locate or expand there. Records show that July 2020 through July 2021 was the strongest year on record in terms of transient occupancy tax revenue.
“The marketing campaign is working, and we know that Bedford has also been an attractive destination during the pandemic due to the many outdoor assets and amenities that are available,” said Nicole Johnson, director of tourism. “We were thrilled last year (2021) when readers of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine voted Bedford a ‘Top Small Adventure Town’!”
Continue supporting the build out of broadband internet
Universal broadband is the number one priority for the Board of Supervisors and is now considered a core essential service for telehealth, virtual work, and virtual education. The county has applied for three Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) grants with Zitel, Riverstreet, and Shentel as part of the American Rescue Plan Funds, which will be announced at the end of 2021 (after this magazine goes to press). If funded, these grants will provide $61.5 million worth of broadband infrastructure and service 20,000 addresses.
“The goal with these grants is to bring high-speed, reliable internet to all people in the county,” said Robert Hiss, county administrator. “We must bring broadband to the rural underserved and unserved areas.”
Bedford County will closely monitor future 2022 VATI grant opportunities for additional broadband funding.
• Shell building complete—The final build-out on the 40,000-square-foot shell building in the New London Business & Technology Center park was completed in September and Belvac is now leasing the space.
• WexcoUSA opens—The plant on Moneta Road manufactures bimetallic cylinders that are used in numerous industries.
• Measurable growth—In FY21, the county saw a 27% increase in residential building permits and 6% in commercial permits compared to FY20, and sales tax revenues increased 19.10%.
Plan and develop industrial park properties
After receiving a 2020 GO Virginia grant dedicated to characterizing Central Virginia industrial properties, Campbell County Economic Development used that as a springboard to review, plan, and further develop county-owned property.
In the coming year, the department plans to look at projects such as completing water and sewer in Seneca Commerce Park, said Nina Rezai, economic development manager. Campbell County has also applied for grant funding to add another building to Seneca Commerce Park (featured in photo at top of page).
Also in the coming year, staff will begin the preliminary work to list the Airport Industrial Park in the Virginia Business Ready Sites Program in order to make the land accessible to future prospects.
Tackle the workforce shortage
The term “workforce shortage” has become the phrase of the year, much like “unprecedented times” was during 2020, Rezai said.
“With something like a workforce shortage causing as much of an impact as the entire country is seeing, it is the role of economic development to unify all of the key players to see what sort of solutions can be identified that will make the greatest difference,” she said.
A lack of trade students entering the workforce and complaints about applicants’ soft skills are common concerns brought up by employers. In 2022, Campbell County Economic Development will prioritize the engagement of career trade educators, higher education institutions, and major employers to determine where there is room for improvement.
“These conversations will be targeted at alleviating the obstacles that businesses are experiencing today, and to create a stronger system to prevent challenges into the future,” she said.
Prioritize small businesses
In 2021, Campbell County started “Start Small Campbell Grant Program.” Each quarter, they award a one-time $5,000 grant to a startup businesses or small businesses establishing their first location in Campbell County.
In 2022, it will launch “Campbell Connects,” which will hold meetings for small businesses to learn about what policies, programs and resources are available to the community and how to access them.
“As a local economic development office, we try to meet business owners from companies large and small,” Rezai said. “This can be challenging, especially for small business owners with hectic schedules. Engaging with the small business community is paramount to maintaining a positive business climate.”
• New industrial park tenant—At the beginning of 2021, Campbell County welcomed Pinnacle Trailers as the newest tenant of Seneca Commerce Park. They will occupy about 16 acres of the park and offer trailer sales and service to heavy-haul trailer users in the region.
• Amended incentives—In April of 2021, the Campbell County Board of Supervisors amended the incentive policy to include several additional programs: Tax Stabilization, Commercial/Industrial Tax Rehabilitation, and Restaurants that Rent.
• Increased business engagement—Campbell County Economic Development proudly collaborated with Virginia Career Works to host two in-person job fairs in 2021, in the Brookneal and Timberlake areas.
Design, engineer, and put out a bid for construction of multi-tenant building
The Amherst Economic Development Authority (EDA) was awarded a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration to construct a 45,000-square-foot multi-tenant building in the Amelon Commerce Center in Madison Heights.
According to EDA Executive Director Victoria Hanson, the grant will be matched with $1.6 million in EDA funds and is expected to create 45 jobs, retain 24 jobs, and generate $3.25 million in private investment.
The building will have various sizes of industrial spaces with high ceilings, roll-up doors, and loading docks and could also include professional office space. Expanding businesses report there are few, if any, industrial buildings in Amherst County and the region.
Focus on largest lot of Amelon Commerce Center
The grading of the largest lot in the Amelon Commerce Center, Lot 4, should be completed in 2022.
Then, the EDA will market the site to new and existing industrial companies who are expanding. The pad-ready buildable site will be able to accommodate the construction of a building up to 225,000 square feet and attract new investment and jobs to Amherst County.
Seek developers for the Central Virginia Training Center (CVTC) property
With the CVTC redevelopment plan wrapping up in early 2022, the next steps are to have the Amherst County Board of Supervisors approve the plan and implement the suggested zoning for the property, Hanson said. CVTC was a state-operated institution for people with disabilities until it closed in 2020.
“This is an important step to ensure the property use is in concurrence with the redevelopment plan recommendations,” she said. “The zoning ensures the new property owners understand what uses are allowed on the property, such as business, housing, light industrial, etc., and what uses are not allowable.”
Additionally, the redevelopment plan can be used to market the property to quality developers who have the right experience and funding to properly redevelop the site. The Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance will continue to work with Amherst County, the region, legislators, and state agencies to mitigate the existing issues at CVTC, including the 98 existing buildings in various states of disrepair and the remaining $22 million in bonds.
• Federal EDA grant—The $3 million grant led to the construction of a large multi-tenant building in the Amelon Commerce Center.
• Two redevelopment projects completed—The former Madison Heights school on Phelps Road was redeveloped into 42 market-rate, pet-friendly apartments known as The Westie. The 100-year-old historic Amherst Mill was redeveloped into Camp Trapezium, a brewery that specializes in mixed fermentation beers and brick fired pizzas.
• Supporting small businesses—Through the administration of the $500,000 Back in Business grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development, officials were able to give many small businesses a boost they needed
Continue to support, enhance local tourism efforts
Johnnie Roark, director of community development for Appomattox County, said the department continues to work with Experience Appomattox, a group that has stepped up to work on marketing the community.
“We partner with them and will continue those efforts to market our tourism efforts both locally and regionally,” he said.
Implement planned infrastructure improvements at the Appomattox Center for Business and Commerce
Roark said significant engineering work has been completed this year, which should provide the Appomattox Economic Development Authority with the ability to start planned projects.
“We’re working on providing water, sewer and extending some roads in the Appomattox Center for Business and Commerce,” he said. “We hope to continue to move forward with those projects that we’ve been planning and working towards for a number of years and we just kind of make incremental advances each year. Hopefully we’ll get to a point this year where we can actually start putting projects on the ground.”
Capitalize on opportunities to enhance the Richmond Highway Commercial Corridor
The Richmond Highway Commercial Corridor is the main corridor through the central part of Appomattox County. The town is fixed on that route, Roark said, and a lot of businesses are located close to the corridor.
“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth along that corridor in the western part of the county up around Concord,” he said. “We’ve seen that growth actually extending west towards Campbell County and the Route 24 intersection and we’re starting to see that growth continued back towards the east a little bit along that corridor. So we would like to encourage more opportunities out there as things progress.”
• Retail rebound—Local retailers and businesses weathered the pandemic, in part, through the success of the county’s Shop Local Gift Card Program.
• Broadband expansion—The county continued to see the expansion of broadband throughout the county by Firefly and B2X Online. These two companies have provided citizens with the opportunity to engage in the new, post-pandemic economy by making high-speed internet available to homes in most of the county.
• Experience Appomattox thrives—The partnership with Experience Appomattox pays dividends each and every
week through solid visitation to parks, museums,
and cultural amenities.