Archived Story

A bad reputation

Published 9:35am Saturday, December 10, 2011

All’s well that ends well, they say, and it couldn’t be truer than in the case of the deal brokered Thursday to keep a planned wood-pellet plant on track for construction in Southampton County.

Thank goodness that Enviva, Southampton County officials and Franklin-Southampton Economic Development were able to salvage the deal and its 65 jobs after a firestorm of opposition to the plant’s proposed location on Shady Brook Trail.

Crisis averted in this case, but the people of Franklin and Southampton County still have some soul-searching to do about this community’s economic future and whether we’re serious about building an economy that keeps our citizens — generations present and future — gainfully employed.

Few people have higher expectations of those charged with recruiting and creating those jobs than this columnist. Our newspaper will continue to hold accountable those elected and appointed officials whom we’ve entrusted to create a climate for economic growth and to make that growth happen.

In fairness to Franklin-Southampton Economic Development, however, the job will only get harder unless the community confronts and begins to correct its growing anti-business, anti-change reputation.

This is not to pick on the fine folks of Shady Brook Trail, who were sincere in their concerns about the Enviva pellet plant’s effect on their quality of life.

As were the rural Southampton residents who didn’t want a Navy aviation practice facility anywhere near their homes.

As were the Franklin residents (this columnist included) who didn’t want Navy prop planes using their airport and buzzing their neighborhoods.

As were the Southampton residents who didn’t want military dogs trained close to their homes.

As were the Southampton residents who didn’t want a high-density residential development near Riverdale Elementary School a few years back.

As were the Franklin residents who didn’t want new apartments built on North College Drive.

On and on the list could go, and a good case could be made against each, but the collective result is a message so clear that we might as well erect a billboard on Route 58 bypass: “Franklin-Southampton County: We’re Closed for Business. Next Stop: Suffolk.”

In a slumping global economy where few jobs are being created anywhere, a rural community that lost its anchor employer less than two years ago has staked out a risky isolationist stance on economic development.

It raises an honest question: Where do we think the jobs of tomorrow will come from?

The pellet mill is about as close to a perfect fit economically as this community will find. It utilizes a natural resource — wood — that is plentiful and creates a supply chain that multiplies the economic impact. It is, by almost any measure, an environmentally low-impact operation.

Yet, if Supervisor Ronnie West, a man of integrity, is to be believed, someone in an official capacity spooked Enviva away from its original preferred site (before Shady Brook Trail and the Turner Tract).

Yet, a detached observer at Wednesday night’s community meeting would have sworn by the way some citizens treated Enviva that the devil himself was trying to set up shop in Courtland.

Except for Southampton’s strategic importance geographically in Enviva’s business model, the company probably would have told Southampton County to take a hike Wednesday night. Other companies that have options on where to locate won’t hesitate to do so — if they ever bother calling to start with.

STEVE STEWART is publisher of The Tidewater News. His email address is

  • happy2

    Well said!

    Suggest Removal

  • greyhound

    Excellant Column, I’ve grown to expect them from Steve. Once again, he has hit the nail on the head.

    Suggest Removal

  • happycamper


    Yours was a very thoughtful and honest appraisal of the truth about our area’s business future … and thus it’s total future. As a lifelong resident of the area, I take pride in our history and heritage. However, change is a MUST for Franklin/Southampton if we want to get out of the economic doldrums caused by the closing of an anchor business and the closing of our collective minds. Get over it folks! We cannot continue to be an 18th century agrarian society as we’re now well into the 21st century! Each of us must look deep within ourselves and decide what is best for ALL OF US. I had a nice patch of woods behind my house for eons. Now, I have an apartment building there. I thought it would be the end of the world, but I found that it actually improved my property value and has brought new friends into my life. Change IS going to happen … with or without us. I, for one, hope we can be open to the right kinds of change that will provide prosperity for our area for years to come.

    Suggest Removal

  • employee2

    Going out on a limb here, no pun intended. Maybe the officials didn’t really want Enviva at the industrial park. Maybe they felt that an Enviva type business would push away other business interests. I am sure that the Enviva business will be noisy and dusty. Would a business want to build a warehouse facility next door to the dust and noise? Just a thought into the matter.

    Suggest Removal

  • Curiousreader

    Thank you Steve for a very thoughtful and honest column. I hope it wakes up a few people. Our area cannot survive on dollar stores and fast food, we need some real business.

    Suggest Removal

  • Nemo1

    Thank you for being honest Steve. There was something else in the background that most did not take notice because of the more voiced concerns. For whatever the true reason on why Enviva was pushed or wanted to locate to the location on Shady Brook Trail will never be revealed but all the county residents were also slapped in the face with the investments of our industrial parks which someone would have had to account for if the first big company, Enviva, did not go there. Many unheard county residents wanted to know why destroy a residential area if we, the taxpayers, have dumped millions of dollars in these industrial parks and who did what wrong if a big company was not attracted to them. Which would have opened a huge can of worms that could have uncovered some very ugly truths about some of the dealings of the county if Enviva did not open up shop in one of the industrial parks. Everyone unitedly agrees that we need jobs and who don’t? I think the real situation at hand is that someone needs to look at the guidance of those acquiring new businesses for the county because truthfully it is because of the residents of Shady Brook and New Market standing up and helping the county recover some of the money that has been spent in the Turner Tract which no one has been held accountable for.

    Steve, you also brought up another great point here in your article about the sign with the message of “Franklin-Southampton County: We’re Closed for Business. Next Stop: Suffolk.” I would have to say that we already have that message. Does any of the tourist traveling through Southampton County have a place to stop and eat other than a very easily missed Dairy Queen or a place that outsides can identify with to shop at?

    Hopefully everyone involved learned from this situation. One thing I learned long time ago is that if the GPS unit is broke then its time for a brand new one because a remanufactured unit is guaranteed to do the same thing again. The people that want to take credit for saving this train wreck of a situation should as take credit for possible causing the wreck from the very beginning.

    Suggest Removal

Editor's Picks