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Power Play

Chesterfield County reconsiders its support for the Greater Richmond Partnership.


But Ed Barber, chairman of Chesterfield's Board of Supervisors, is upset that the county's not seeing enough results — and is unnerved that neighboring Henrico is. He says it's time to reevaluate the county's $390,000 investment in the partnership's efforts — and whether it's getting enough bang for the buck.

"The question is: If we spent it locally, could we get more bang?" he says.

If the answer is yes, and Chesterfield pulls out, it would be devastating for the partnership, which receives its funding in equal installments from its four regional members. The partnership's bylaws stipulate that in order to receive matching funds from the private sector, the localities must first appropriate public money.

In other words, losing Chesterfield's $390,000 would leave a $780,000 hole in the partnership's $3.12 million budget for 2005, Wingfield says. He says he isn't sure what would happen then. "We've never had that issue staring us in the face," he says.

Beyond the budget implications, Chesterfield's reassessment of the partnership appears to undercut recent strides in regional cooperation.

Barber says the county simply wants to spend its money wisely. In the past couple of years, he says, Henrico has received the lion's share of new business investment and new jobs. From 2003 to 2004, for example, the partnership assisted 22 companies in locating to the region, bringing a total of $69 million in new investment and 1,907 jobs. Only three of those companies located in Chesterfield, bringing an investment of $2.7 million and 30 jobs to the county. Over the last 10 years, in fact, Henrico has received some 66 percent of the capital investment coming into the region, according to investment figures provided by the partnership. Chesterfield has received 13 percent.

"I don't think we are getting what you would consider an equal share," Barber says. "Someone could argue that this a good regional effort. But the question is: Could we do it better? I know I am not completely satisfied with what we are getting now."

During a budget workshop meeting last week, Barber said the board informally decided to put its $390,000 distribution into an escrow account until further review. The board agreed that a thorough study of the partnership's impact on the county should be completed before making a final decision.

"I don't want us to be irresponsible," says Chesterfield Supervisor Kelly Miller. "We have needs in Chesterfield."

County Administrator Lane Ramsey said last week he plans to have that review completed within the next couple of weeks.

Wingfield says no one from Chesterfield's administration has contacted him about the concerns. This is the first time any of the jurisdictions have seriously questioned whether the partnership is a worth the investment, he says.

But he says Chesterfield is reaping rewards from the partnership, which has brought 71 companies to Chesterfield's doorstep in the last 10 years for a total investment of $651.17 million and 6,778 jobs.

"That is a very good return on investment if you look at what they are putting in," says Wingfield, referring to the $3.5 million the county invested in the partnership during that same 10-year period. "For every $1 that our public and private partners have put in, they are getting back $185."

Barber questions how much the partnership had to do with the business. "If I say to Greg Wingfield 'Show me what the partnership has done for Chesterfield,' what we get is every bit of investment" that has occurred in the county, Barber says. "The line is very blurry, and that's laid on top of the fact that so much in the region is going to Henrico."

Wingfield says his $651 million figure includes only those investments in which the partnership generated the lead, or played a significant role.

As for more business going to Henrico, Wingfield says the partnership represents each locality fairly and equitably. When businesses consider the Richmond area, he says, his office presents a variety of location options. The localities take it from there.

"What we can control is how we market the area and give everybody a fair chance," Wingfield says. "But we are not the deal closers."

Barber says the problem is one of representation. Hence, the name-tag fiasco. It all started during a recent recruiting jaunt, during which the partnership sponsored a get-together with a major company recruit. (All local and state officials have agreed to a strict confidentiality agreement not to disclose the name of the business.)

Barber says the partnership supplied a list of table assignments for a luncheon with the prospect. Mayor L. Douglas Wilder and city officials were to be seated with the president of the company. Henrico officials had the chief executive at their table. Chesterfield, he says, was assigned the company's director of human resources.

The message, Barber says, seemed to be this: "We're going to impress them with Wilder, locate them in Henrico and educate them in Chesterfield. … It may not be intentional, but it screamed to us: Here is the pecking order."

The county, struggling to manage its exploding residential growth, can't afford to continue serving as the region's bedroom community, Barber says.

The luncheon ended up being a reception, Barber says, but even there the partnership seemed to be sending Chesterfield a message. Barber's name tag read: Ed Barber, Henrico County. "There have been some issues that have been irritating," he says. (Wingfield says the partnership employee in charge of nametags was a new hire, and "she personally apologized. It's human error.")

If Chesterfield pulls out of the partnership, other dominoes would fall.

For starters, Chesterfield Supervisor Art Warren was recently named chairman of the partnership. He says he learned of his fellow board members' decision to hold the funds in escrow March 23 after their afternoon meeting. He firmly denounces withdrawal from the regional group. "We would lose our ability to attract businesses that are brought to the commonwealth," he says.

Generally, Warren says, new business prospects approach the state's economic-development arm, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, which forwards leads to the Greater Richmond Partnership and, in turn, to the localities. Chesterfield would be foolish to take itself out of the loop, Warren says.

Warren, however, says the notion of pulling out of the partnership is emblematic of a bigger problem with some political leaders in the county. "There is a movement by some in the Chesterfield County to pull in and become more single-minded and less regional in perspective," he says.

Henrico Supervisor David A. Kaechele says he understands why the board is reconsidering its partnership affiliation, but holds out hope that cooler heads will prevail. "The partnership, both nationally and internationally, has a great reputation," he says.

Ditto for Richmond Vice Mayor G. Manoli Loupassi. "I trust they'll make the right call," Loupassi says. "They've got to do what is in the best interest of the county. … Them taking a look at it is reasonable."

After all, Mayor Wilder is said to be questioning the partnership funds as well. But he didn't respond to Style's requests for comment.

William Harrell, the city's newly anointed chief administrative officer, says no specific decisions have been made regarding Richmond's $390,000 share. "The mayor is having us look at everything," he says. S

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