By Debbie Hall
The Economic Development Authority (EDA) of Patrick County on Monday announced preliminary efforts to develop a Business Recovery Center in the former True Value Hardware of Stuart on Slusher Street in Stuart.
The authority bought the building and plans to conduct a feasibility study to assess the needs in the county, according to Economic Development Director Bryce Simmons and a release.
Simmons said the EDA secured a $25,000 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission to pay for the study. The results will be used to help determine the final build-out of the facility, according to the release.
The building may include dedicated space for Business Recovery or Disaster Recovery for businesses that need operating space; co-working space for small businesses which need shared workspace and service efficiencies; entrepreneurial business development space and other working or display space as the need may arise.
“The EDA will own and develop this with the intent on leasing space,” Simmons said, adding the agency also is “looking heavily into” the prospect of using the facility as an incubator space for start-up businesses.
“We hope to determine the highest and best use of the facility” based on the needs of the community identified in the study, he said, adding the study is expected to be complete within the next four months.
In the interim, and because it recognized the increased stress current restrictions placed on businesses, families, and individuals due to COVID-19, as well as the greater reliance on broadband, the EDA sought ways to help address the connectivity issues.
The agency “made it a priority to address this need. We have had a fiber optic, Wi-Fi, Hotspot system installed to generally service all the parking areas around the Slusher Street facility,” the release stated.
“The public Wi-Fi Hotspot system is already operational and can achieve blazing speeds of up to 100 Mbs both upload and download. If you are near the building and outside, you should be able to connect to ‘Patrick County Wi-Fi.’”
Currently, this is an open network that anyone can connect to and have instant access, according to the release.
“This Wi-Fi Hotspot is only the first step in providing better service to the businesses and citizens of Patrick County,” it added.
Simmons noted the Wi-Fi project was “something the EDA could accomplish quickly” and make a significant impact.
“While connection to the network is currently limited to the parking lots near the building, it could help businesses, students, and workers who need to upload or download files from their mobile devices in minutes rather than hours,” he added.
The EDA worked on the project with several people and offered gratitude to many, including
Stanley Fain, owner of the property “for his cooperation and patience for over a year to see this project start. Mr. Fain has been highly supportive of the project and extremely accommodating to the EDA. Mr. Fain allowed the EDA to install equipment and systems within the building even” before the purchase was completed.
“Mr. Fain’s dedication to Patrick County is unsurpassed,” Bill Clark, chairman of the EDA, said. Fain’s “willingness to sell the building to the EDA at less than half of the assessed value shows his dedication to the community. We are eternally grateful for his generosity.”
In addition to Fain, the EDA extended its gratitude to the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Corporation “for being responsive in providing fiber optic service to the building.” The EDA also complimented RiverStreet Networks “for their equally responsive work in the installation of the Wi-Fi network and hotspot systems.”
The project is anticipated to have long-term savings to the county through reduced material expenses because the current inventory in the store will be transferred to the Patrick County Maintenance Department.
Additionally, inventory that is not needed by the maintenance department will be sold through various channels. Sales will be announced after a comprehensive inventory and utilization plans are prepared, according to the release.
“This is a great thing for Patrick County and will be a useful facility for local businesses and the community,” said Jane Fulk, chairman of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors.
County Administrator Geri Hazelwood said, “I am grateful to offer a business recovery center to the businesses and citizens and especially the high-speed Wi-Fi service.”
Simmons, who has worked on the project long-term, said “everything seems to be coming all together, and I am excited about it. This is a great project we hope will benefit” local business and the economic development community.