How a community in Southern Virginia is helping locals develop digital skills

“Most people don’t think of ‘South Boston, Virginia,’ when it comes to technology, but it’s there,” says Darryl Kent.

Kent is a native of South Boston, Va., population 7,500, in the southern part of the state. It’s just after noon, and he’s on his lunch break, talking on video chat about his responsibilities working for an outdoor furniture company based there. The shelves behind him are lined with PC towers awaiting maintenance; he’ll run diagnostics on them to get them back into service.

Amid the flashing lights, the whir of the machines and the fans cooling them, Kent will open his laptop to check the cameras and the doors of the facility. He’ll then call up a list of new hires and departures and get to work updating their access privileges in the company’s system.

“If it involves technology,” Kent says, “I have my hands on it.”

Manufacturing is a big industry in South Boston, where it’s a 50-mile drive to the nearest big city. But luxury outdoor furniture brands in remote areas need information technology (IT) expertise to function in today’s increasingly digital economy.

Kent says he had known his entire life that he wanted a career in IT. As a kid he threw himself into anything that involved technology, including robotics, audiovisual editing classes and extracurriculars. Later, he moved 160 miles east, across the state, to study computer science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk. Three years into the program, he had to return home to South Boston where he enrolled at the IT Academy at Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC). In early 2021, he got a job as a help desk analyst for his current employer, which has offices around the world. And he continues to draw on his experience from the academy today. “I’ve had many a time where I’ve just been hit with a random problem,” says Kent. “And that hands-on knowledge from the academy is something that I can always look back to and immediately grasp onto.”

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Hitachi ABB becomes Hitachi Energy with plans to hire 100 new employees

Hitachi ABB has transitioned to Hitachi Energy. Hitachi Energy Logo

The South Boston transformer factory currently has 380 employees, and in the next six to eight months, they plan to hire an additional 100 individuals to supplement a range of functions including manufacturing associates, test technicians and welders.

Along with the companies name change is an effort to renew their purpose of “advancing a sustainable energy future for all.”

“This evolution highlights the breadth of opportunities where we can contribute our competence, expertise, and solutions - in areas like sustainable mobility (such as EVs and electric trains), and renewable energy, such as offshore wind power — that need innovative solutions to reduce carbon footprint, increase resilience, safety and security and which support the acceleration towards a sustainable energy future,” said Kurt Steinert, external communications manager for Hitachi Energy.

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The Future is Bright in Downtown South Boston

Blog written by: Zachary Whitlow

Zachary Whitlow - BloggerOur guest blogger, Zachary Whitlow (pictured left), is a Community Revitalization Specialist at the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), working closely with the agency’s Virginia Main Street (VMS) program and Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI). He loves helping communities across Virginia unleash the power of small-scale, grassroots revitalization to build a sense of place and ensure economic vitality!


Recently, I visited Downtown South Boston! Having worked virtually for the better part of 18 months, it was incredibly refreshing to be on the ground, observing firsthand the uniqueness of one of the communities that I represent through DHCD, as well as witness the enthusiasm of community changemakers, like Tamyra Vest, Executive Director of Destination Downtown South Boston (DDSB), who work tirelessly to ensure South Boston’s future is bright!Zachary Whitlow and Tamyra Vest

When I arrived, I was greeted with a friendly hello and wave from a woman, likely a resident, walking past Town Hall, the chief landmark of the commercial district. I was headed there to meet Tamyra (left) and kick off our district tour. Approaching the building, I took notice of the rounded corner entrance framed by engaged Doric columns and surmounted by a full pediment. The imposing “U”-shaped building epitomizes South Boston’s rapid turn-of-the-century development. Once Tamyra and I had gotten our bearings, we began walking the commercial district!

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For broadband, a regional approach

Halifax County Administrator Scott Simpson, President and CEO of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and EMPOWER Broadband John C. Lee Jr., SPCD Executive Director Deborah Gosney and Mecklenburg County Administrator Wayne Carter each signing the VATI application.EMPOWER Broadband and the Southside Planning District Commission (SPDC) have submitted a grant application to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) to provide universal fiber-to-the-home broadband coverage, over a 36-month timeline to remaining unserved and underserved areas in the Counties of Brunswick, Halifax, Mecklenburg and the southern portion of Charlotte. 

The grant application includes a projected cost of $61 million to deploy 810 miles of fiber passing 4,007 locations in Halifax County. The county proposes a match of $2.6 million with EMPOWER and others providing $31 million with a matching request to the VATI program at $27 million.

Halifax County administrator Scott Simpson said, “EMPOWER Broadband has been actively deploying fiber-to-the-premises to our county and across the area with increasing intensity. They are delivering on their grant commitments and more of our citizens are receiving their robust broadband service on a weekly basis. If successful, this grant would be a significant development that would allow EMPOWER to extend its proven service even further into our county and region.”

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Following nationwide search, Halifax County resident tapped as executive director of IDA

Photo of Kristy Johnson new IDA Executive DirectorA familiar face in Halifax County is taking on a new leadership position in economic development

Kristy Johnson has been selected as Halifax County Industrial Development Authority’s new executive director.

The IDA announced Friday morning that they had selected Johnson, who has more than 10 years of experience working for the IDA in various roles, as the organization’s new leader.

Johnson will start her new position on Sept. 15, taking over the reins from the organization’s interim executive director Mike Davidson, a retired Campbell County economic development official who stepped in to lead the IDA in November 2020 after the board’s termination of former executive director Brian Brown.

Johnson will be paid an annual salary of $115,000.

“I look forward to the opportunity to serve Halifax County in this capacity,” Johnson said in an announcement on her hiring distributed by the IDA. “I am excited to continue my work with the IDA in this new role and working together to better our community.”

Following the announcement of her new role, Johnson said she plans to focus on “business retention and expansion and recruitment of new industry” as IDA’s executive director.

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New operations manager for Halifax County IDA introduced

Photo of Blair Jeffress new operations managerA new face has joined the team of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority

Blair Jeffress is the organization’s new operations manager. IDA interim executive director Mike Davidson introduced Jeffress to the board at its Friday morning meeting.

“She’s been a very positive asset to our organization so far and we look forward to that continuing,” Davidson said.

Jeffress began her new role with the Halifax County IDA on July 1. The role of operations manager is a new position for the IDA. While her role is new, the Halifax County landscape is well known to Jeffress, who is a Scottsburg native and resident.

“Our search led us to our own backyard,” Davidson commented in a news release on Jeffress’ hire, adding, “Blair cares deeply for her community and the development of the economy.”

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Halifax IDA taking applications to assist tourism based businesses

In a partnership with the County of Halifax, the Halifax IDA is pleased to announce it is accepting applications for assistance to tourism sector businesses in Halifax County. Tourism based businesses have been some of the hardest impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown measures implemented to combat the virus.

To encourage businesses to continue their operations and help mitigate the negative impacts of the pandemic, the County, through the Halifax IDA, has established a system to award monetary grants to assist tourism-based businesses with costs incurred during the pandemic. These grants are intended to provide immediate financial relief for expenses already incurred by the businesses and are funded through an allocation of the Coronavirus Relief Funds provided through the Federal CARES Act. The Board of Supervisors has allocated $200,000 for the program.

For the purpose of this grant, tourism based businesses are defined as retail, hospitality, entertainment, employment and administrative services, or operating within a travel-related sector.

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‘AN EXCITING DAY’ Governor celebrates large-scale hemp processing facility in South Boston — the first one of its kind in the state — starting operations

gpl1A large-scale hemp processing and cannabinoid (CBD) oil extraction facility, Golden Piedmont Labs, has begun production in Halifax County, playing a key role in Virginia’s No. 1 industry: agriculture. The processing plant is the first of its kind in Virginia.

“This is an exciting day for Halifax County and an exciting day for Virginia,” said Gov. Ralph Northam as he looked out on the crowd of investors, stakeholders, state, county and local leaders gathered at Golden Piedmont Labs’ grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning. The facility is housed in the former Blue Ridge Beverage Company building, at 2525 Houghton Ave. in South Boston.

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