When Mark Warner was elected governor of Virginia back in 2001, Danville and Southside Virginia were in the grip of some vicious global economic trends.
The recession caused by the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000; the hit the economy took took from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; the final collapse of the textile industry that had begun in the 1980s; the end of the warehouse/auction tobacco economy: It was a quadruple blow that resulted in thousands of jobs lost across Southside. Martinsville, for a time, had the highest unemployment rate in the state with Danville and Pittsylvania County not far behind.
The Warner administration focused all its resources on this part of the state, along with Southwest Virginia, just trying to keep the region’s head above water.
Fast-forward to 2019, and you’ll see the Southside now-U.S. Sen. Warner visited last month is an entirely different place, thanks to hard work by local residents and local civic, business and political leaders and also state and federal officials.
That’s not to say there aren’t challenges to be faced; there are. Jobless numbers are still too high; the number of good-paying jobs that a family can be raised on are still too few; and population trends still aren’t in our favor.
But, signs of a regional renaissance are everywhere, if one chooses to see them.
And that’s just what Sen. Warner saw on his visit.
Of special interest to the senator was the vitality in the city’s River District, which has been designated an Opportunity Zone, a federal qualification that encourages private investment and economic development through the use of targeted tax credits and other incentives, part of the tax reform package Congress passed in 2017.
From the Durham Hosiery building that’s now being converted into apartments and commercial space to restaurants and micro-brewers such as Mucho Taqueria and Tequileria and Ballad Brewing, what the senator saw gave him encouragement about the future of a region he worried about so much as governor.
“It’s remarkable what’s happening in the River District,” he said. “We’ve seen a real renaissance in this city. It truly is one of the great success stories.”
And in his opinion, a big part of that success is the level of cooperation between Danville and Pittsylvania County when it comes to economic development.
In the past year, there have been almost monthly announcements either of new companies coming to Danville and Pittsylvania or existing companies expanding their operations in the area. And many of these companies are in the high-tech sector that local leaders have been nurturing for the last decade. Investments in precision machining classes at Danville Community College, the efforts of the Institute of Advanced Learning and Research to build on the region’s special strengths in textiles that can translate to the 21st century economy and Danville’s three-pronged approach to grow the city, improve public schools and cut crime are only just beginning to pay dividends.
We have long argued the future of this region is bright but that we just have to be patient. We’re glad Sen. Warner sees that potential, too.