Public Views of Economic Development and Growth in the New Century Region

Public Views of Economic Development and Growth in the New Century Region
Prepared for The Center for Innovative Leadership
by The Center for Community Research, Roanoke College
October, 2000

Introduction
This survey is part of The G.O.A.L.S. Project (Generating Opportunities Around Leadership Synergies) of The Center for Innovative Leadership. There has been much discussion throughout the New Century Region (Counties of Alleghany, Bland, Botetourt, Craig, Floyd, Franklin, Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski, Roanoke, Smyth, Wythe and the Cities of Clifton Forge, Covington, Radford, Roanoke, and Salem) over the past decade, or longer, regarding economic development, economic growth and population growth in Southwest Virginia.

Much has been said regarding the opinion of the region's citizens and leaders and the possible tension between growth and preserving the regions quality of life. Anecdotes abound regarding attitudes toward development and growth, which are often believed to be pejorative terms. Conventional wisdom is that many of the region’s residents don’t want “growth” because they fear it will jeopardize their “quality of life.” The purpose of this study is to begin to ascertain and document the opinion of both citizens and leaders regarding the status quo and the future; that is, where the region is and where it wants to and/or should go.

This report summarizes the results from the survey of officials from the 17 counties and cities. Please see the Methodology section for a discussion of how we defined leader and other details of this survey. The text of the report is followed by the questionnaire and tabulated frequencies for each of the questions.

Future Directions for the Region
The summary question of the survey is truly that. It clearly shows that, according to the responses, governmental leaders in the region are strongly in favor of economic development. Respondents clearly chose attract new businesses and residents even if it means that the region might become more congested and might lose some natural areas (88%) over try to keep things the way they are even if it means that some young people might have to move away to find jobs and the region might fall behind the rest of the state economically (10%).

Preferred Scenario for Future of the New Century Region

Percent

Number

Attract New Businesses

88%

51

Maintain Status Quo

10%

6

Unsure

2%

1


"Regional" Thinking
When asked to determine which counties and cities are included in the Aregion in which they live, the responses were truly mixed. Only Montgomery County (51%) was included by more than half of the officials, followed by Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Salem, and Pulaski County (44%), and Alleghany County (41%). The lowest was Smyth County, which was included by 18%. The average number of jurisdictions included was just under six, compared to the just over seven average in the citizen survey. There was, however, more balance among the leaders, but this may be reflective of the more “equal” representation of each jurisdiction in this population.

The officials who responded also expressed strong support for cooperation with other jurisdictions in trying to attract new businesses to the region. More than 90% supported both the idea of working with others and sharing funds in economic development endeavors.

Support for Regional Cooperation in Economic Development

Percent

Number

Favor Cooperation w/ Others

90%

56

Oppose Cooperation

7%

4

Favor Sharing Funds

93%

57

Oppose Sharing Funds

3%

2


Overall Views of Population and Economic Growth
Like the citizens they represent, the region=s governmental leaders expressed strong support for economic growth while maintaining some skepticism regarding population growth.

A large majority (84%) said that economic growth is necessary for the health and prosperity of the region. And a majority of the leaders (70%) thought that economic growth in their local community had been too slow in the past decade, while a plurality (48%) said the same with regard to regional growth. Again, there are similarities to the responses of citizens, except that the officials were more likely to view local growth as too slow.

Views of Economic Growth

Percent

Number

Prosperity Requires Growth

84%

41

Regional Growth Too Slow

48%

30

Local Growth Too Slow

70%

44

A large majority (84%) also felt that there are not enough jobs in the region for young people who wish to remain in the area. Nearly as many (78%) said that providing those jobs was important. Less than one-third (8% very likely, 22% somewhat likely) felt that new businesses in the region might grow too rapidly and threaten the quality of life.

As stated above, the officials also expressed mixed feelings with regard to population growth. A majority (72%) said that it is necessary for the health and prosperity of the region, and they were more likely to state that population growth in both the region (30%-11%) and their local area (40%-11%) was too slow rather than too fast in the past decade. Again, a majority (56%) said that regional growth had been about right, while a plurality (48%) said the same about their local community. Still, a majority (51%) said it was at least somewhat likely that population growth might threaten the region=s quality of life, but an overwhelming majority (95%) also said it was at least somewhat important to attract new residents to live and work in the region.

Views of Population Growth

Percent

Number

Prosperity Requires Growth

72%

41

Regional Growth Too Slow

30%

19

Local Growth Too Slow

40%

25

Important to Attract New Residents

95%

60

Types of Businesses/Jobs Viewed as Needed
Simply put, officials want more jobs! When asked a general question, nearly all the respondents said their local area needed high tech jobs (97%), while smaller majorities stated a need for service (79%), health care (70%), and light manufacturing (65%) jobs. Only 24% of the respondents said the region needs more heavy manufacturing jobs.

When asked to select the one type of business most needed in their jurisdiction, the officials overwhelmingly mentioned high tech (77%) over health care jobs (14%), light manufacturing (7%), and services (2%).

Type of Job Most Needed in County/City

Percent

Number

High Tech

77%

33

Health Care

14%

6

Light Manufacturing

7%

3

Services

2%

1

Improving Infrastructure
Infrastructure projects were perceived as very important in attracting new businesses to the region. An overwhelming majority of respondents (92%) said that expanding both passenger and shipping rail service, widening I-81 and creating new links with Virginia Tech (89% each) were important. Fewer, but still a strong majority (79%) said that expanding service at the Roanoke Regional Airport was important. A smaller majority (60%) felt that construction of the controversial I-73 was important.

Infrastructure Improvements Important to Economic Development

Percent

Number

Expand Rail Service

92%

57

Widening I-81

89%

56

Create Links w/ VA Tech

89%

55

Expanding Airport Service

79%

49

Construct I-73

60%

38

Governmental Incentives to Attract New Businesses
Respondents were asked if they support a variety of possible governmental incentives to attract new businesses. Helping businesses to locate and purchase property (64%) was the most popular idea, followed by helping with land improvement costs (59%), and offering grants or loans for new construction costs (52%). Less than half supported funding and constructing shell buildings (46%) or offering reduced taxes (38%). Each of these alternatives, except shell buildings, received more support among the citizens in the region. Also, 95% of the officials favored governmental incentives for small business creation.

Controlling Growth
Regional leaders expressed greater levels of support for some and less support for other suggestions for controlling growth. They were most supportive of restricting the type of growth permitted in certain areas (97%), preparation of long-term land use plans (95%), and requiring local governments to designate certain areas that will not be developed (84%). Fewer supported paying landowners not to develop their property (52%), local governments purchasing property to keep it from being developed (51%), and 49% thought that withholding state and local funding for infrastructure items in designated areas was a good idea.

Regions Strengths and Weaknesses
Respondents were asked if they felt several characteristics of the region were strengths or weaknesses. A majority felt that each was a strength, but there were some differences. Not surprisingly the largest number of respondents (98%) thought that the region=s natural beauty was a strength, and the work ethic (87%) was also highly regarded by most. Two-thirds (66%) said that the education and training of the workforce was a regional strength, and nearly as many (59%) thought that the region=s location within Virginia was a strength, but many fewer (43%), mentioned transportation as a strength. Transportation was cited as a weakness by 53% of the respondents.

Analysis
Overall, the leaders who responded to our survey clearly see a strong need for economic development in the region, and they were quite supportive of regional approaches to economic development. A large majority felt that economic growth is necessary for the region, and they were more likely than citizens in the region to view economic growth in the past decade as too slow. They preferred attracting new businesses over trying to maintain the status quo by almost a 9-1 margin.

Like those they represent, the leaders believed that the region most needs to attract high tech jobs, and that infrastructure improvement will help the region in terms of economic development.

They, again like the citizens, expressed mixed feelings with regard to population growth. They were nearly unanimous in saying that it is important for the region to attract new residents, and nearly three-fourths thought that population growth was necessary for the region to prosper. However, less than half described the population growth of the past decade as too slow, and a slim majority felt it was at least somewhat likely that population growth might threaten the region’s quality of life.

They were somewhat less supportive of governmental incentives to attract new businesses, and somewhat more supportive of governmental initiatives to control growth when compared to the region’s residents.

Methodology
A mail survey was administered by The Center for Community Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. Questionnaires were mailed early in August, and all recipients received a follow-up postcard in early September. The sample consisted of 130 leaders in the New Century Region in Southwest Virginia. Included in the sample were elected officials (city council members and county commissioners) and appointed leaders (county administrators, city managers and economic development officers as identified by the jurisdictions).

Responses were received from 63 or 48% of those who were mailed a questionnaire.

A copy of the questionnaire and raw data are available upon request.

Questions were written by Dr. Harry Wilson and are similar to (and in many cases, identical to) the questions contained in the citizen survey.