KEARNEYSVILLE – The Jefferson County Development Authority wants to hear from you.
The JCDA wants to know this: What economic development should the county promote? And what types of companies and employers should the authority pursue most?
As a step toward creating an organizational strategic plan, the JCDA’s board of directors has released an online survey for the public to weigh in. “This is really a reboot for the organization,” explained JCDA board Vice President Michelle Sudduth, co-chair for a committee leading the board’s strategic planning effort. “It’s an exciting time to start with a little bit of a blank slate and build it out.”
One pivotal question the citizen survey asks is what types of economic development the authority should pursue. Among 15 possible answers to prioritize (four answers are allowed) are “light manufacturing,” “high-tech services,” “large commercial businesses,” “agri-tourism” and “clean energy and related services.”
The survey is the second step taken in the JCDA’s strategic planning process, Sudduth said. The first step, already taken, involved gathering views from 20 municipal and business leaders.
“We asked them—we’re all in this together, we’re all stakeholders in economic development: How do you see the JCDA adding value?” she said. “And it was great to hear what they thought we should be doing.”
The JCDA’s new executive director, Dennis Jarvis, will lead the authority’s strategic planning effort after he starts in the job on July 6. The authority’s 15-member board will then review the survey responses along with the perspectives of the municipal and business leaders before starting to draft a strategic plan during an upcoming planning retreat, Sudduth said.
“It’s kind of an exciting moment with a new plan, a new vision, a new executive director,” she said.
With Jefferson County Commission approval, the JCDA board hired Jarvis amid a year-long reassessment of the authority and a reorganization of its board. That effort stemmed from the upheaval in 2018 in part over the authority’s role, working with state officials, in recruiting Rockwool to build a 460,000-square-foot insulation factory in Ranson near Kearneysville.
In the aftermath of the Rockwool mineral wool manufacturing facility, none of the public officials or business leaders who talked with the JCDA board so far have suggested that recruiting heavy manufacturing operations should be a goal for the county, Sudduth acknowledged.
“If none of the stakeholders brought that up as an option and something they wanted us to consider, we didn’t put it in the community survey,” she said.
The JCDA’s strategic plan, once developed and written, will guide the limited time and resources of the authority’s three-person staff, Sudduth said. The plan will likely drill down to consider operational issues such as whether the JCDA should adopt and adjust certain policies and procedures, she said. An important component will be how the authority should market the county to encourage companies to establish or move their operations and employees here.
The survey also asks citizens to consider how the JCDA board meetings, activities and decisions can be more accessible to the public. “This is all about our commitment to having greater communication and transparency with the community,” Sudduth said.
But broader, more fundamental questions about the JCDA’s role in economic development will also be addressed, Sudduth said.
For example, the JCDA is charged with fostering and following the broad goals outlined in the county’s comprehensive development plan, the latest version of which was updated in 2015 after a two-year review process with public input. But Sudduth pointed out that municipalities have their own development plans, including Ranson which adopted a plan embracing industrial development.
“There’s a lot of people charged with implementing plans like that, and are we the conduit for that, are we the facilitator?” she asked. “What is our role in economic development? This is what this plan will hopefully help us answer.”