As published in the Danville Register & Bee, July 17, 2022
The Dan River Region is no stranger to change. We are all too familiar with the decline of textiles and the loss of jobs and population that hit our region like a thunderclap in the 1990s. Change is coming again but this time, the outlook is sunny.
- From 2018-21, more than $1.1 billion in economic development projects promising more than 4,000 jobs have been announced.
- Caesars Virginia casino and resort (pictured) is now expected to cost at least $500 million and create 900 construction jobs and 1,300 permanent jobs.
- Tyson Foods, Inc. will invest $300 million and create 376 jobs in Cane Creek Centre Industrial Park in Ringgold.
- The Alexander Company and the Danville Industrial Development Authority will invest $62.5 million in a mixed-use redevelopment of the former Dan River Inc. White Mill building.
- Walraven, a global installation company, is bringing 46 jobs and $7.15 million in investment to the Dan River Region.
- Kegerreis Digital Marketing, an integrated marketing and analytics company, will invest $1.7 million and bring 62 jobs to the River District in Danville.
- AeroFarms’ committed $42 million to create a next-generation Model 5 farm will be the world’s largest and most technologically advanced aeroponic indoor vertical farm.
The CEO of one of these new companies said that he brought his company here because this area is becoming a magnet for talented young people who want to be a part of the energy and growth in this region.
What’s more, the Southern Virginia Megasite at Berry Hill is rising up on the short list for multiple significant projects. When a major project lands at Berry Hill in the next two to five years, it will most likely double the new jobs created over the last several years.
From tireless work and adequate funding over the past 20 years, comes a future that looks brighter and bigger every day. The future is a funny thing. If someone even thinks about it, they most likely imagine one not all that much different than the past. But think back to 1992 and you’ll recognize the Dan River Region is much different in 2022. Imagine what it will look like in 2042?
Those who make a living forecasting the future are open to new ideas. They focus on concrete steps to make the human condition better. And they learn things that help prepare for the future and increase the chances that when change comes, most of us will be ok with it, and even embrace it.
Can we do that in the Dan River Region?
Is our region prepared for the future?
Up until now, our strategy has been relatively narrow, strongly tactical, and focused on recovery from the devastating economic impacts of industrial transformation. The outcomes have been in jobs, a slowdown in population loss, a vibrant downtown, and more students enrolled in schools. The results are great and the challenges of progress have been manageable because they have been incremental.
Recent success is gaining momentum and likely to dramatically accelerate, which will have impacts good and bad. The future will not look like the past and if unprepared, the community will be unable to maximize the positives and alleviate any negatives that come from growth. Our vision of the future as a community must be adjusted and expanded to guide decisions that help dramatic growth work for the benefit of all.
If we ride the current wave of momentum and let current challenges go unchecked or future opportunities unfulfilled, eventually others might ask, “I thought Danville was on the upswing; what happened?” Racial equity gaps will widen. Housing choices will continue to be inadequate. Educational attainment will lag. If we lack vision, will large investments stop and divisions among our governments, neighborhoods, and leadership deepen? Now is the time to figure out what kind of place we want for our children. And what our children want our region to become. It is time to create a vision across ages, races, economics, and neighborhood perspectives. This is a worthy and necessary venture; a goal worth pursuing. The future belongs to all of us.