By Hendley Badcock
Candidates for the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors met Tuesday evening to debate expanding the area’s economy.
The five candidates—Chris Green, Russell “Rusty” Ford, and Ben Swisher of Kerrs Creek and Albert “Buster” Lewis and Richard Kopp of Walkers Creek—stressed the importance of bringing in more business and using resources more wisely.
“Any time something new comes up, people say ‘What if?’ and then throw out some specter of doom and gloom,” Green said.
In a forum hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, the candidates acknowledged Rockbridge County’s tendency to turn down development proposals for the sake of retaining its rural community atmosphere.
The five candidates are vying for two positions on the board.
As seen before with dreams of building a local airport, the issues of expansion heavily rely on community support. The airport never became a reality. But the candidates agreed that it’s time to expand opportunities in the local economy.
Incumbent Lewis said the county is its best resource.
“Our lifestyle is what sells us,” Lewis said. “We have to work smarter and harder to market our area.”
Lewis said he wants to change the perception of the county as “dead-end” because it attracts retirees.
Green and Kopp focused on working parents and their children and attracting new industry.
As a business owner and parent of four children, Kopp said he has “skin in the game.”
Kopp said he wanted to keep money inside the county. He said there aren’t enough jobs countywide, so people work in Lexington or Buena Vista and consequently spend their money there.
“I moved here because of the farmland,” Kopp said. “I worked outside of the county until I started my own business. We need to look at other counties; they have both.”
Green said the infrastructure is already here. He cited people’s ability to choose between three different tax rates and three different school systems, an asset to attracting new residents.
“We need to be competitive with Lynchburg, Richmond. We need to foster a proper environment in which businesses can grow and families can stay,” Green said.
Kopp’s suggestion of inviting leaders of large industry to look at parts of the county had already been tried. Lewis said the county has written to several CEOs.
“It’s not like we don’t know what we’re doing,” he said.
Incumbent Russell “Rusty” Ford also backed the current efforts of the county.
“This Board works with businesses to get things done,” he said. “Our own county development department is doing a fine job. That is where most of our expansion is going to happen.”
Swisher said attracting new industries was all about having the infrastructure ready.
Ford said he felt that a lack of support and poor planning have caused the county’s past failures.
“We just need to be prepared when that next call comes,” he said.