IW supervisor: County is ‘business unfriendly’

Published 10:35 pm Friday, December 21, 2018

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On Dec. 13 during a meeting of the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors, Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice claimed that the county had acquired a reputation for being “business unfriendly,” and suggested that an outside consultant be hired to identify ways the county could remedy that perception.

“Whether it’s fact or fiction, if we are perceived as business unfriendly, the perception carries the day,” Grice said.

Responding to his comment and suggestion, Board Chairman Rudolph Jefferson said he agreed that “sometimes we are perceived as doing wrong to contractors or citizens that fail to adhere to the requirements of the county” but said that he felt the problem was that “people are not following the rules and regulations” rather than a problem with the county’s staff or the regulations themselves.

However, Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree said he felt hiring a consultant to obtain an independent opinion on how Isle of Wight compares with other Hampton Roads communities in terms of being business friendly would be a good idea.

County Administrator Randy Keaton compared the suggestion to an audit of the county’s policies, but cautioned that, “Perception is built up over a long period of time, and it takes a long time to reverse that course.”

Speaking to The Tidewater News on Tuesday, Grice — when asked why he felt Isle of Wight was not business friendly — explained that when he had started his window-covering franchise, Budget Blinds over 15 years ago, he chose to set up in Chesapeake rather than Isle of Wight, saying that he found it “more conducive” at the time to work with Chesapeake’s staff than Isle of Wight’s. He has since sold the business.

He said that Chesapeake’s economic development department welcomed him “with open arms.”

“I never heard a word from economic development people here,” he added.

But, in defense of the county’s more recent track record, Grice added that, “Ms. [Amy] Ring has stepped in and took over the Planning and Zoning Department, and has made great inroads. We have changed numerous policies and procedures, but we’re not where we need to be.

“We’ve taken it as far as we can internally; we need another set of eyes, an outside agency.”

Ultimately, the board took no action on the matter, tabling the discussion for its January work session.