Hanover, Ashland take different approaches to attract business
When Scott Staylor, owner of Sonic Tools, an Ashland-based drillbit manufacturer, started searching for office locations, he said there were a few options, including Richmond and Henrico. Staylor wanted a spot in between Fredericksburg and Hampton Roads to act as a meeting point for he and his partner.
Scott Staylor, owner of Ashland-based Sonic Tools, settled in Hanover because of its central location and low machinery and tools tax.
But after looking at each location’s pros and cons, Staylor chose Hanover County because of its central location and proximity to I-95. Also, the county’s tools and machinery tax was lower than neighboring areas.
The company is responsible for paying taxes to both the county and the town because it’s located within town limits. But Staylor said the taxes owed to Ashland are not significant.
“It’s a tiny bit extra but it’s worth it to work with such good people,” Staylor said.
Sonic Tools also has a partnership with Ashland’s outgoing economic development director, Alexis Thompson, who has helped them since the beginning. Staylor said she’s been extremely helpful and supportive of their business.
Though Sonic Tools encountered some obstacles in the beginning, Staylor said they’ve been successful and are happy to be in Ashland.
‘We’re proud of where we are’
In the Town of Ashland, approaching new businesses goes a little differently.
There are incentives, loans and grants and some businesses in the arts and culture district or technology zone may qualify for “tax relief.”
Developers can also apply for loans to cover infrastructure-related costs or demolition. Both loans can be “forgiven,” if the site meets the town’s intended objectives.
Another option is a revitalization grant, which helps builders reclaim vacant or old buildings that might need a makeover. Exterior grants are offered to businesses in the arts and culture district that might need small facelifts such as a new door or sign.
The seven-square mile town’s strategy has done pretty well so far.
“We’re very proud of where we are,” said Thompson.
Contrary to Ashland’s approach to enticing businesses, Hanover County does not supply new developers with any sort of money incentive.
“We’re definitely not throwing wads of cash at anybody,” said Edwin Gaskin, director of economic development.
Though Thompson said Ashland is at a good place in terms of commercial growth, there is always room to improve.
Although Ashland welcomes new commercial development, the town will not jump the gun.
“We want to proceed with caution and want to respect what citizens expect for living in a town,” Thompson said.
In five to 10 years, Thompson said the Interstate 95 interchange in Ashland will be revitalized and there will be a large community of independent businesses.
As a small town, Ashland does encounter some challenges. Thompson said often people believe the town is farther away from Richmond than it really is. Another challenge Thompson foresees in the future is WiFi accessibility.
“Between infrastructure and technology, I think they will be driving factors to developing this area,” Thompson said.
Strategies for future economic growth
The market has changed a lot over the years because of a new developing and growing factor, the Internet. Shopping online is becoming more common and it’s forcing businesses to come up with new strategies of attracting customers.
“You can’t do everything online,” Gaskin said.
Places like outlet malls feature products that consumers can’t find online. Looking ahead, Gaskin said there will be more specialized retail stores.
Office Parks are also changing. They are becoming a rarity, as more people work at home, as a cost-cutting measure for businesses.
The county hopes to recruit businesses that will bring in higher wage jobs for people to advance in careers. Gaskin said there will be more of a push for professional and technical fields such as healthcare and advanced manufacturing.
“Lower wage jobs isn’t something we seek,” Gaskin said.
The county works with the Greater Richmond Partnership to market Hanover to companies across the pond and bring them into the county. One recent success is the company, Integrated Technologies Limited, which has set up in the Dominion Resources Innovation Center.
Gaskin emphasized the importance of Hanover stepping up and being a part of the competition.
“If we want a seat at the table, we have to show up,” Gaskin said.
As for potential entrepreneurs, the Economic Development Department has a number of resources, such as business counseling, to encourage people and help them follow through with their dreams.
Hanover’s role in the process is getting the conversation started with new businesses and companies.
But as far as sharing Hanover’s qualities, Gaskin said Hanover’s residents take care of that and should continue to share why they like their county with anyone they encounter.
“It’s a powerful army,” Gaskin said.