Danielle Stewart for Mayor of Beckley

Position Paper #5: Economic Development

 

“Some people dream of success, while other people get up every morning and make it happen”

-Wayne Huizenga

 

I have a vision for Beckley.

 

I envision a Beckley where small, innovate businesses drive the economic growth of the city. A Beckley where our young adults find financially sustaining and meaningful jobs and are mentored and supported as they develop into the next generation of entrepreneurs. A Beckley where our elderly and disabled residents live in a healthy and safe community with infrastructure, activities, and services designed to support them in dignity and respect. A Beckley that invests in our youth with city supported activities to further their education and development. I envision a Beckley that leads the state in support for our educational institutions, our students, and our educators. A Beckley that is the center of history and the arts in southern West Virginia. And a Beckley socially connected through entertaining events, heathy activities, and a spiritual community that makes every resident feel respected and important.

 

This is what a City of Champions looks like.

 

Beckley was a one-horse town. Once railroads were in place and coal could be easily extracted, Beckley focused on coal mining, supporting the coal mining industry, and businesses selling to the coal miners. As our population grew, opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs grew with it and Beckley became the gateway to the southern coal fields. Beckley became the City of Champions.

 

Our city has declined in correspondence to the decline in the coal industry and Beckley no longer feels like the City of Champions. We feel old, trying to hold on to past glories. It doesn’t have to be this way and I have a plan to once again make Beckley the City of Champions – in sports, in business, and in quality of life.

 

The first issue we must address is our loss of population. We cannot afford to keep losing people to North Carolina and other states. We can and will work on improving our economy but until our economy improves, we must work to improve our overall quality of life. We will create a Beckley where people want to live, raise families, and invest. That means educational opportunities, safe neighborhoods, nice housing, and healthy leisure activities (See Position Paper #3 for Healthy Activities. Each of these topics will have their own position paper in the future where I will define how I will address each one. We will work together to continuously improve the quality of life for all our residents.

 

I will work to bring new residents to Beckley. I will explore working with our local banks on guaranteed home loans for individuals investing in dilapidated houses and then living in that housing. I will explore providing matching funds to help with moving costs as well as other economic incentives to lower the cost for people living in and moving to Beckley. Most of all, I will be an advocate for our city. I will not shy away from going to neighboring areas and states to bring people, and businesses, to our city. I will ruthlessly champion Beckley.

 

Our economic recovery starts with supporting our existing small businesses and helping with the creation of new small businesses. The keys to supporting small businesses are lowering startup and operational costs as well as helping manage risks. To help lower costs, I will create a community investment fund to invest in our small businesses. I will use $250,000 of city contingency funds to match $250,000 of private investment funds. We will use the combined $500,000 to offer loans to help start new businesses or help existing businesses grow. There are a lot of legal hurdles in this type of effort but in the long-term this will be a great way for our city to develop our economy.

 

Click HERE for information on general community investment funds

 

Click HERE for an example of how a community is using their community investment fund.

 

To help lower costs and manage risks, I will explore ways to help businesses gain efficiencies through shared resources like multi-use buildings and technology sharing. I will work with local media outlets to create a pooled marketing program to highlight small businesses in the community. I will support the continued operation of our business incubator, the WV Hive, and work with them on supporting our business community.

 

A special, long-term project I want to develop are Economic Opportunity Zones. What economic development we have is centered on the north side (Walmart area) and west side (Harper Road) of Beckley as well as areas that are adjacent, but not in Beckley city limits. We currently have two state-level Economic Opportunity Zones (along South Fayette Street in Ward 5 and Johnstown Road in Ward 4) that are eligible for national level support but currently there are no investment groups helping any of the 55 Economic Opportunity Zones in WV. That means we must act ourselves.

 

I will designate four city Economic Opportunity Zones in Beckley – South Fayette Street from 5-corners to U.S. 19, the City Avenue/Central Avenue area, South Kanawha Street from G Street to U.S. 19, and an expanded downtown area. I will initially focus city infrastructure improvements in those areas to set the conditions for further development. In addition to the small business incentives I already listed, businesses that locate in one of the zones will receive relief from all or part of their B&O tax responsibilities for 5 years. Building owners that improve their buildings in those zones will be eligible for financial incentives. Businesses that directly compete with national chains may also receive relief from the additional 1% city sales tax. We must level the playing field for our businesses to compete.

 

While I am primarily focused on small businesses, that doesn’t mean that I won’t continue the efforts to lure larger corporations into Beckley. That said, if Beckley is going to offer economic incentives for any business, it will be our local businesses first.

 

Economic development is a complex endeavor and we must bring in an expert to help us manage our efforts. One year ago, an outside expert completed the Beckley Downtown Assessment Report. One of the key recommendations was the city should hire a city planner/economic development specialist. The city advertised for the position last summer but to date nobody has been hired. I will follow through on hiring a city planner that will help us maximize our economic development.

 

Projected Annual Cost: $100,000 per year

City Planner/Economic Development Specialist: $65,000/year.

Small Business Efficiency and Marketing Support: $35,000/year

 

I plan to pay for these costs by reallocating personnel funds within the city as well as using general unallocated funds.

 

Projected One-time Costs: $350,000

Community Investment Fund: $250,000

Organizational establishment and legal work: $100,000

 

Unknown Costs

Infrastructure improvements. These are already in the annual city budget. We will reallocate and focus our resources on the Economic Opportunity Zones. We will also apply for grants that target these underdeveloped areas.

 

Economic Opportunity Zones, B&O and Sales Tax Relief. We will pay for these by restructuring the B&O tax table to reduce rates for small businesses and increase rates for large businesses as well as apply for state and federal grants. The current B&O rates are HERE.

 

Beckley needs a leader with a plan and motivation to improve our economy. Beckley needs a leader willing to think “outside the box” for creative solutions to our problems. Beckley needs a leader that puts our small business entrepreneurs first. Beckley needs a leader willing to manage risk and admit we need help. I am that leader.

 

The important thing is not being afraid to take a chance. Remember, the greatest failure is to not try. Once you find something you love to do, be the best at doing it. – Debbie Fields