By Taylor Boyd
Sean Adkins is unpacking his concepts and beginning to lay the groundwork for economic development in Patrick County by incorporating various sectors into the equation.
After starting a new stint as the new director of the Patrick County Economic Development Authority (EDA) on Oct. 12, Adkins is still getting up to speed on some issues – for instance, he doesn’t yet feel confident discussing the county’s broadband project.
But, based on what he has learned thus far, “it appears to be going in the right direction in terms of the grant and the public pieces that are being put in place to expand and continue the project.”
His ideal approach is to incorporate multiple facets – infrastructure, broadband and healthcare – into a comprehensive economic development plan to move the county forward.
“I see a whole lot of potentiality,” he said.
Besides recruiting companies and businesses to move to the county, Adkins said one of his primary goals is to gain an understanding about what people want in the county, what is feasible, and what is realistic. From there, Adkins said he will craft a plan that the county can build on to move forward.
Adkins added the planning stage will be approached with a sensitivity to the county’s culture and identity to ensure the community maintains a sense of self through the changes.
“For me, it’s all about trying to get a coherent and general direction that’s kind of a consistency. So, there’s no one dependency in any one area or company,” he said.
Adkins said the families he has talked to so far have indicated a desire for their children to return to the county after college, and “they want to have things here for them. Not just amenities, but good paying jobs and room to grow professionally.”
While he acknowledges that is a long-term goal, Adkins said it’s also is a matter of determining which baby-steps the county wants to take to achieve its goals.
Adkins said he views healthcare as the biggest challenge he will face.
“The hospital’s closed and I would say a realistic issue is trying to figure out how we can boost that area so we can not only provide that for people already living here, but kind of make it a strength for companies that are willing to come here and people looking to relocate,” he said.
Adkins said healthcare, along with infrastructure and broadband, will be particularly important since there is a growing trend of remote work being permanent for some companies.
He also will be working closely with the county’s Tourism Advisory Council (TAC).
“That’s naturally part of economic development, the tourism aspect,” he said. Plus, “it’s a beautiful county, there’s no arguing that. There’s a lot of people that previously had to live in D.C. or New York to work in their jobs. But now, everybody wants to see a mountain out their back window while still being able to work for the same company.”
Adkins, 33, said he first heard about the position as he planned to move onto the next step in his career. “I was looking for a rural community. I just prefer the small communities with room to grow,” he said, adding that he was familiar with the county through his hobby of riding motorcycles and frequent jaunts through the area.
“I got really excited” upon seeing the job listing, he said. “I saw it as an opportunity to plant roots and grow with Patrick County.” As a boon, the job allows him to live in such a beautiful area.
Adkins’ career has consistently been in the public sector. He has worked for political campaigns, written grants and contracts, and pursued higher education.
While working on his PhD at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VT), Adkins said he joined a city manager fellowship program under the Roanoke City Manager and was placed under that city’s economic development department.
After that contract ended, Adkins joined the Total Action for Progress (TAP), where he helped create its landbank program, worked with its community development programs, and ran some of the other programs.
Adkins then moved back to work in Roanoke’s economic development program.
“I was an economic development specialist and coordinator for them for the last three-and-a-half years,” he said.
In his new role, Adkins said he has a positive outlook for Patrick County.
“I think if we get all these different pieces – infrastructure, broadband, healthcare – going, there’s a lot of progress that’ll happen. I think economic development is bound to get unlocked here in the near future,” he said. “It’s exciting for me. It’ll be a fun challenge.”
Adkins received his bachelor’s in organizational studies from the University of Connecticut (UConn) and his Master of Public Administration (MPA) from the University of Miami. He worked on his PhD in public policy at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VT).
In his free time, Adkins enjoys working with his hands, riding his Harley Davidson, and hiking with his two dogs.