As county officials interview for ag development position

A study released late last week shows agriculture in Botetourt County had a direct economic impact of $129.2 million in 2015.

The study was released by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service just as Botetourt officials are going about interviewing prospective candidates to fill the new agriculture development position that will work in the county’s Department of  Economic Development.

The study also looked at the forest industries’ economic impact and in Botetourt, the direct economic impact totaled $74.9 million.

Together, the agriculture and forest industries have a direct economic impact of $204.1 million in the county and a total impact of $237.9 million when the indirect benefits are added in.

Every dollar generated in value-added (indirect benefits) results in another $1.15 value-added in the Virginia economy, according to the study.

The new comprehensive study shows Virginia’s agriculture and forestry industries contributed $91 billion to the Commonwealth’s economy in 2015— a 30 percent increase over results of a 2013 study that found a $70 billion annual economic impact in 2011.

In Botetourt, the growth in the two industries over the four years between studies was a much more modest 3.9 percent. In 2011, the two industries had a $195.5 million direct economic impact on the county.

Agriculture’s economic impact grew 4.1 percent from $124 million in 2011 in Botetourt. The forest industries’ direct economic impact grew 3.3 percent from $72.5 million.

The Botetourt Board of Supervisors would like to see a stronger agricultural community and made it part of its strategic plan four years ago. That included conducting an agriculture study that recommends the county create the agriculture development position within the Department of Economic Development.

The supervisors approved funding for that position in the current FY18 budget.

“We are interviewing for the ag development position currently and the process is continuing,” Economic Development Director Ken McFadyen told The Herald.

“Agriculture is as much a part of economic development as developing our manufacturing base, supporting small businesses and encouraging workforce training,” he continued.
“It is promising that Botetourt recognizes the importance of agriculture and that the supervisors and county administration are dedicating significant resources to work with our farmers to sustain our agricultural economy and to ensure that agriculture maintains a prominent place in our local economy and community identity,” he said.

The position may be unique to Virginia, and filling it has had its challenges.

“We have had the ag development officer position open for some time and have had limited response,” County Administrator Gary Larrowe said. “However, we have had response. We have interviewed a few applicants and are reviewing our options at present while we continue to search.”

Some have been good applicants, Larrowe said, “However, we haven’t made a decision on the candidate that will lead this vitally important effort as of today. We feel as if a proven history of experience, along with educational attainment and a vision of ag development in Botetourt is critical.

“History is normally a good way to point toward the future in many ways,” Larrowe said. “As you know, Botetourt was on the state and national radar in the past in agriculture and we would love to find a series of agriculture opportunities for Botetourt again.

“Also, some of the outcome may not be directly tied to agriculture but supply companies (resources) or educational programs (resources) that bolster our standing in agriculture,” he added.

Larrowe pointed to the success some of Botetourt’s students are having in the agriculture field. “(W)e are very proud to have the State President of FFA from Botetourt, the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and some of the best FFA programs in the state.  Plus, we have an amazing 4-H program that all adds in to the solution of agriculture,” he said.

“We understand that agriculture touches many different facets of life and even if students do not choose a career in agriculture, they are a better employee or business owner for having a history in agriculture.

“We see ag as a huge piece of the economic development past and future in the county and we wish to add value to the excellent work of Virginia Cooperative Extension, the local agriculture programs in K-12 and the community college system,” he added.

The county’s intent is to not focus all economic development in the southern end of the county, which is in line with the supervisors’ strategic plan that calls for the area from Fincastle north to have industry associated with agriculture.

An emphasis on agriculture was also part of Larrowe’s reorganization of county offices earlier this year when he called for an increase in using agriculture as a larger economic driver.

According to the most recent Weldon Cooper study, agriculture accounted directly for 830 jobs and another 169 jobs indirectly in Botetourt in 2015.

While the economic impact for both industries was up in Botetourt since the 2013 study, the number of jobs in the two industries was down.

The number of jobs directly related to agriculture dropped 5 percent from 874 jobs in 2011, and the number of indirect jobs fell 15 percent from 199 jobs.

The number of jobs directly related to the forest industry grew between the two studies by 4.7 percent from 251 jobs to 266 jobs in the most recent study, but the number of jobs indirectly related to the forestry fell 28.6 percent from 183 jobs to 129.

Every job created in agriculture and forestry-related industries results in another 1.7 jobs in the Virginia economy, the study says.

Statewide, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a news release about the study, “I am excited to see the agriculture and forestry industries have significantly increased their economic impact in just four years. As the Commonwealth’s first- and third-largest private industries, agriculture and forestry play a vital role in the new Virginia economy. This is the kind of growth we are looking for in Virginia to keep us as the top state to do business in, a leader in export and trade, and a top destination for visitors who are seeking out our agritourism venues and our state’s natural beauty.”

The industries’ total employment impact statewide increased by about 7 percent, from 414,700 to 442,200 jobs, representing about 9 percent of total employment in the Commonwealth.

According to the study, agriculture accounts for $70 billion in direct and indirect economic impact and forestry contributes $21 billion.

Related activities such as recreational opportunities, wildlife habitat, ecosystems services, agritourism, wine tourism, equestrian events and agricultural festivals were not included in the study but would add significantly to the total economic impact figure, the Weldon Cooper study says.

Findings of a Virginia Tech study released in April found that agritourism alone contributes $2.2 billion annually to the state’s economy, and study findings released in January noted that the wine industry contributes $1.37 billion.

Those studies did not break down the impact by county and city.

The study was led by Dr. Terry Rephann of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. A full copy is available on the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Department of Forestry websites.