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New law will expand business development sites

By DeForrest Ballou, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The commonwealth, and especially its rural areas, may get an economic boost under legislationsigned into law this week by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

At a ceremony with the legislation’s sponsors and the state’s secretary of commerce, McAuliffe signed two bills reducing the size of industrial sites that qualify for assistance from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.

Currently, such plots of land must be at least 250 acres, which can be a challenge to find particularly in Virginia’s rural areas and the Appalachian region. The size requirement will drop to 100 acres under Senate Bill 976 and House Bill 1591, which McAuliffe signed Thursday at the state Capitol.

“Our goal is that every part of Virginia experiences Virginia’s job renaissance,” McAuliffe said.

Under the new law, which will take effect July 1, the number of sites that the VEDP can develop will increase from about 80 to more than 250.

“This opens up all the communities. The more sites we have ready, the more businesses we can bring in,” McAuliffe said.

The bills are part of the New Virginia Economy Initiative that McAuliffe introduced in 2014. At Thursday’s ceremony, Virginia Secretary of Commerce Todd Haymore boasted of the program’s successes.

So far, the initiative has brought in almost $16 billion in capital investment and almost 190,000 jobs to Virginia, Haymore said. Moreover, the state’s unemployment rate stands at 3.8 percent. That is the lowest since 1973, Haymore said. The national unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in April.

The governor’s goal is for capital investment to reach $20 billion before his term ends in January. The resulting economic development projects will benefit the state for years to come, McAuliffe said.

The bills had bipartisan support: HB 1591was sponsored by Democratic Del. Matthew James of Portsmouth, and SB 976was carried by Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger of Augusta County. Both measures won unanimous approval from the General Assembly during its 2017 session.

“This bill is what we should have been doing a long time ago, and it really puts us in a proactive stance,” James said, adding, “We’re not done yet.”

While the legislation may spur economic development in rural areas, that is not its sole purpose. McAuliffe said he hopes the state’s incentives will draw companies like Nestlé, which will be moving operations to Rosslyn, in Northern Virginia, and bringing 750 jobs.

The bills changed just one number and one word in existing law, including fixing a typo (turning “esource” into “resource”).

“It was a very short piece of legislation, so I’ll make short remarks,” Hanger said. “Sometimes the short pieces of legislation that senators and delegates read are the hardest to get through, because they know what they’re voting for.”

He hopes the new law will promote the growth of small businesses in Virginia.

“When we look at economic development in the commonwealth, we see that year in and year out, and where we really put our bread and butter, is small development – not the bigger sites, but those small entrepreneurs,” Hanger said.

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