An EDA Conversation with the West Piedmont Planning District Commission

The West Piedmont Planning District Commission serves the counties of Franklin, Henry, Patrick, and Pittsylvania, the cities of Danville, Martinsville, and the town of Rocky Mount. The West Piedmont PDC provides a variety of regional planning, technical assistance, and program services to member local governments, including regional planning/visioning activities; grant application assistance; land use planning; mapping and GIS services; and community development, economic development, and transportation planning.

We spoke with executive director David Hoback and associate director and senior planner Michael Armbrister of West Piedmont PDC to learn more about their work, how their region has been affected by the pandemic and economic crisis, and what their needs are moving forward.

How has the pandemic and associated economic crises affected your community and your work?

Late winter and spring, one of our larger organizations shut down and sent part of their workforce home. At this point, most of those industries are near full capacity. Local governments have done a good job putting their CARES funding to use; for example, restaurants in Martinsville received support through the CARES Act payroll protection.

Through our planning process, we want to gain a better understanding of how small businesses and downtown have been affected by the pandemic.

What are some of the most pressing economic-related challenges you see right now in your community and with the people you serve?

Emphasizing infrastructure and broadband needs are at the top of the list. Also, there is a need for upgrading the skill sets of employees here in the region.

What is your organization or community doing to advance economic recovery in your area?

The Institute in Danville has been working on a manufacturing program that will be able to simulate a workplace to track every step of the manufacturing process, and we assisted with this application. Community colleges also have classes to help with workforce training.

We have partnered with 6 EDA applications so far this year and are also implementing our CARES Act funding through EDA. We will hire a grant coordinator who will work with local governments and regional organizations to identify possible projects, focus on the immediate needs of our community, help with the applications, and implement the economic planning. The grant coordinator will work first on looking at the immediate needs in our community and secondly work on implementing our regional economic recovery plan.

We also purchased a subscription for the JobsEQ platform, a program that allows people to access labor market data, which we shared with community members and individuals in local government. We are excited to have access to this data as it will save time and provide us with important information.

What are you excited about, and where are you finding hope?

Our communities have been proactive in reaching out and seeking grant funding. I don’t sense there is despair in the region; people have a positive attitude and see the light at the end of the tunnel. There are many water, sewer, road, and broadband projects in the planning or implementation stage that are still moving forward.

The RIDE Solutions program within the West Piedmont region is providing telework assistance for small businesses, and connecting businesses with resources in the region.

Virginia Breeze, a public bus route between Danville-D.C. and Martinsville-Richmond, is also advancing.

What resources, information, or assistance are most needed to support your work, or the economic recovery of your community in general?

We are going through a period of transition in leadership. Visioning and strategic planning would be useful as we move into the next year. Because of our internal transition as well as changes in the region, it is a good time to revisit our regional plan and our internal strategic plan and look at how we can build on our PDC’s foundation.

We are also trying to evaluate our approach to community outreach. Finding out best practices and technical software applications to use would be helpful. Outreach practices to receive more feedback from stakeholders and community members would be useful and we are looking for innovative ways to receive community input that go beyond a regular Zoom meeting.

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