Halifax County High School’s Robotics Team, the Cometbots, has been invited to compete in the World Championships in Detroit, Michigan, this month, but they need help getting there.

On Friday morning, members of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority offered $2,500 in much-needed financial aid during their regular monthly meeting held at the Southern Virginia Technology Park in South Boston.

In order to pay for SUV rentals, gas, hotel rooms, event registration, meals and the safe transport of the Cometbots’ robot, the Cometbots started a GoFundMe page in an effort to raise $5,000 of their estimated $15,199 budget.

IDA member Nancy Pool offered the motion that the IDA contribute a $2,500 grant to the HCHS Robotics Team for their trip to the World Championships in Detroit.

“We’re very proud of our students and the school system for the robotics program,” Pool said as her motion was unanimously approved.

IDA member Joni Henderson was absent from Friday’s meeting.

IDA member Jeremy Satterfield described the high school robotics program saying, “It is a wonderful program, and we are lucky to have it here.”

IDA Executive Director Matt Leonard said the IDA was responsible for helping start the robotics program at the high school.

“We were kind of there at the beginning of this program, and now we can be there to help,” he added.

In other action during Friday morning’s meeting, IDA members agreed to change the frequency of their meetings by holding board meetings on the third Friday mornings every other month with committees meeting during the in-between months.

Chairman Chad Francis also introduced the new committee structure with the chairman, Vice Chairman Jeremy Satterfield and Secretary/Treasurer Mattie Cowan serving on the executive committee, Satterfield, Robert Bates and Henderson serving on the policy and personnel committee and Cowan, Pool and Brandon Scearce serving on the finance committee.

Also as part of IDA business Friday morning, the executive director reviewed current projects the IDA is participating in with support of its partners including the interactive municipal infrastructure map.

The IDA was awarded a $100,000 Technical Assistance Grant by the United States Community Advancement and Improvement Program to develop an interactive municipal infrastructure map.

The industrial development authority worked with the Halifax County Service Authority to apply for the grant and has worked closely with them on the interactive municipal infrastructure map.

“The IMIM will be a great help to our mission,” said Leonard. “It will allow us to provide up-to-date information to our prospects and current clients regarding water and sewer system characteristics and capacities.”

The interactive municipal infrastructure map includes “point-and-click” capabilities making it fast and easy to use.

The IMIM will help the HCSA better maintain system health, evaluate operational improvements and plan for strategic infrastructure expansions.

The IMIM will be used in two ways, providing real-time information to prospects when they request water and sewer capacities, and then the data can be included into the properties optimization initiative the IDA has to improve its product portfolio.

The $100,000 grant was matched by $25,000 from IDA and $25,000 from HCSA.

Leonard said a demonstration of the IMIM system is planned in the future for the full board.

Other current projects the IDA is working on or recently completed include participating in the countywide strategic plan update and participating in a presentation to the Virginia Economic Developer’s Association’s (VEDA’s) on April 12 in Richmond at its spring conference entitled The IDA/EDA as an Effective Economic Development Tool.

Leonard was joined on the presentation panel by four others from Halifax, representing various county IDA stakeholder groups and partners. These included Mattie Cowan, current IDA board secretary/treasurer and Southern Virginia Higher Education Center board chair; Doug Bowman, former Halifax County Board of Supervisor member and chair, with a long history of community engagement in governance and economic development across the commonwealth; Mark Swain, TMI AutoTech owner/president and Halifax IDA client; and Kristy Johnson, mayor of the town of Halifax, a Halifax young professional and Halifax IDA deputy director.

The one-and-half-hour session included a presentation by the panel, followed by a question and answer period from the audience. The Halifax panel presented a PowerPoint about its reworked organizational structure and operations, board and staff, vision, mission, strategic goals, financials, successes and challenges and opportunities going forward.

The audience included approximately 120 economic development professionals, state and local government officials and private consultants from across the commonwealth.

Leonard also told IDA members he made presentations to the county board of supervisors and South Boston and Halifax town councils Monday night on the authority’s efforts to boost economic development in the county by establishing a foreign trade zone in the county and the progress being made in the EPA Brownfield Program.

Applying to become part of a foreign trade zone is the county IDA’s latest effort to boost economic development in the county by adding another incentive for current businesses and industries as well as for potential prospects eyeing the county.

In a meeting with the IDA last year, Renee Boyette, administration and member services director of the Research Triangle Area Foreign Trade Zone, had explained that a foreign trade zone is a secured site authorized by the federal government, considered to be outside the customs territory of the United States, for duty purposes, although they are still under U. S. Customs supervision and control.

One benefit of becoming a foreign trade zone member is so the customs duty on imported products or components will be determined when the material leaves the zone.

By using a foreign trade zone, a company can gain a competitive edge over foreign-based competitors through the reduction of certain operational costs incurred when conducting international business.

The IDA has paid the $1,000 application fee required for the county to become part of the Research Triangle Area Foreign Trade Zone that is comprised of Chatham, Durham, Johnston, Lee, Moore, Orange, Wake, Franklin, Granville, Harnett, Person, Sampson, Vance, Warren and Wilson counties in North Carolina.

Leonard said the county has to officially say “yes” by writing a letter of support to be part of the application the IDA wants to submit in May.

Foreign trade zones help U. S. businesses compete in the global economy by leveling the global playing field with duty exemptions, duty deferrals, inverted tariffs and logistical or other benefits such as defraying taxes and tariffs.

On the subject of brownfield site revitalization in the county, Leonard reminded IDA members the IDA was awarded $590,000 by the EPA last June for brownfield site revitalization, one of 172 communities across the country to receive funding.

The grant funding earmarks $354,000 for hazardous substances mitigation and $236,000 for mitigation of petroleum impacts, and the program expires in September 2020.

That funding can be used for site prioritization, community outreach, remediation planning and redevelopment planning, but the EPA expects most of the funds earmarked for environment site assessments, Leonard explained.

A brownfield is described as real property with possibilities for expansion, redevelopment or reuse with a perceived presence of hazardous substances, pollutants, contaminants or petroleum products.

The first phase of a brownfield project involves inspection of a property and surrounding areas, interviews with property owners, operators and occupants, and the second phase involves further assessments including soil and groundwater sampling and analysis, geophysical surveys and an inspection and documentation of the site.

Phase one evaluations already are underway at the former Burlington Mills site in Halifax, former Halifax Elementary School ball fields in Halifax, the former JPS Mill site in South Boston and sites of former auto repair and service stations owned by the town of South Boston in Riverdale.

Additional sites under consideration include the former Puckett Auto dealer site in South Boston, the former roller mill in Halifax and the former Crowell Motor Company site in South Boston.

The IDA plans to reapply for additional grant funds in 2019 through help of their consultant Draper Aden.

In other action Friday morning, Leonard outlined current projects linked to the IDA’s business’ priority list including the following:

  • Facilitating and coordinating the development of a community messaging/skilled worker recruitment website and video;
  • Participated as a member and facilitated business input as part of a regional public transportation development program;
  • Engaged public leaders and a designer to explore the development of a public recreation complex;
  • Created a project aimed at enhancing public health through the development of Life Science Research and Cancer Treatment Center;
  • Supported the development and promoting the use of new market-rate downtown loft apartments in Halifax and South Boston;
  • Facilitating and coordinating a visit by business and industry leaders into Halifax County High School to review and advise on their career and technical training programs; and
  • Leadership Development. Collaborating closely with Halifax County Public Schools to develop a bona fide high school level leadership development program by the next school year.

from The Gazette-Virginian