Isle of Wight looks to improve its business image

Published 1:10 am Wednesday, December 19, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice wants to hire an image consultant to combat the perception that Isle of Wight County is unfriendly to business. 

If hired, the consultant would scour the county’s policies and procedures to detect problems and come up with solutions to fix them, said Grice. 

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“Whether it’s fact or fiction, we have the perception of being business unfriendly,” said Grice.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″”}

It’s not a new complaint. The perception has been ongoing for years among business owners, developers, contractors, financiers and others. 

The issue was discussed at Thursday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting. 

Newport District Supervisor William McCarty said he was stopped on the street in Smithfield recently by a company representative from another state and asked about Isle of Wight’s reputation of being unfriendly to business. 

At the same time, the county has had its issues with individuals who don’t follow the rules and regulations, said Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors Chairman Rudolph Jefferson. 

Grice agreed that in some cases the fault lies with the contractor or builder, but for some reason the perception has developed that the county is the problem. 

Jefferson suggested the county do a self-assessment, but Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree thought that would be too biased. 

The county will make the assessment show what it wants, while a set of outside eyes would provide a more unbiased assessment, said Acree.

Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton said he would welcome an assessment and compared it to the annual financial audit. 

Keaton also pointed out that county staff follows the ordinances passed by the Board of Supervisors, as well as building codes set by the state. 

However, when those need to be enforced, the county gets labeled as the bad guy, he said. 

Keaton said perceptions build up over time and it take an equally long time to unravel — but he was willing to participate in an assessment.

“We want to make sure we’re at the top of our game,” he said.

In a phone interview Friday, Grice said the recent circumstance around the rebuilding of the Isle of Wight County Hunt Club was a factor prompting him to ask for an image consultant. 

The former clubhouse, built decades ago, was destroyed by fire earlier this year. A dispute with the county over the reconstruction is now headed to the Board of Appeals.

Grice said county staff has also started date stamping permits and other requests due to misinformation being relayed between customers and contractors. 

Now the county can track when requests and permits are filed, he said. 

The perception that Isle of Wight County is unfriendly to business dates back at least a decade. 

Ten years ago the county organized a small business committee in response to complaints by business owners about Isle of Wight’s ordinances and attitudes that made it difficult to do business. 

At the time, many of the complaints centered on the county’s ordinances concerning landscaping and façade improvements, to the point where business owners were coming to county officials in tears, according to a former economic development director. 

Former Isle of Wight County Administrator Anne Seward attempted to combat that perception a few years ago by consolidating the permitting process into one office — relieving the need to run all over the Isle of Wight County government complex seeking permits and making payments. 

Recently, Isle of Wight County staff produced a video for residents, now on the county’s website, outlining how the permitting process works. 

Isle of Wight County staff has also updated many ordinances — and which have been approved by the Board of Supervisors — in an attempt to make it easier for individuals to do business, specifically when it comes to landscaping, bike and pedestrian paths and signs. 

Last year, the Board of Supervisors changed the county’s slogan to “A community of choice that cares,” in an added attempt to soften the county’s image.  {/mprestriction}