By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @PGJournal
Posted: Apr. 18, 2018 | 11:40 a.m.
VIRGINIA – The breezy and, at times, rainy conditions early last week didn’t detract from the engaging dialogue taking place inside the walls of Dinwiddie’s Eastside Enhancement Center as local government leaders and other community partners took part in a roundtable discussion with Congressman Donald McEachin (VA-04) during his day-long visit to the region.
Inside the conference room at the center, McEachin was joined by the entirety of the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors, along with school division superintendent Dr. Kari Weston and school board members Barbara Pittman and William Haney, Sheriff D.T. Adams, along with county administrator Kevin Massengill and members of the county’s economic development team, the local chamber of commerce and others as they discussed the county’s present and future, while the congressman offered his own insight and support to ongoing development in the county.
For the congressman, three of his key priorities – addressing the infrastructural needs of the communities within his district, working to eliminate food deserts, and expanding broadband internet access to more populations across the Fourth Congressional District – align with many of the priorities of Southern Virginia as he discussed what he has heard from leaders in his district and how that has shaped his legislative efforts in Washington, D.C., such as looking at the heavily talked about infrastructure plan that was unveiled by President Donald Trump earlier this year and how it would impact local communities like those in Southern Virginia.
“I don’t know if it does what we really need it to do at the local level,” he said to the room full of local leaders. “I think it shifts too much of the burden onto the localities. Quite frankly, if the local government had that type of money, you would’ve done the infrastructure reforms that you need yourselves,” he remarked by suggesting more should be done in this regard beyond tax incentives that could be used to bring in business and industry investment.
“Solar and wind can attract investors, but if you need to redo your water infrastructure or need assistance with broadband deployment like a number of jurisdictions do, I am not so sure that would attract the investor dollar that would take advantage of those tax credits,” he said, adding, “That’s where I think general fund money needs to be spent.”
Local leaders engage in discussions on a range of topics during a roundtable with Congressman Donald McEachin in Dinwiddie last week. (Michael Campbell)
Along with infrastructure, broadband was a talker among those in attendance for the roundtable, with McEachin offering his own input and listening to why these are top priorities for both the county and the school division. Since coming into office, McEachin has been actively engaged with communities working to bring broadband internet to unserved and underserved portions of the Congressional Fourth District.
Over the past year, the congressman has spent time with leaders of Prince George Electric Cooperative as they worked to develop a plan to expand their fiber-to-the-home project, a project that has now received funding from Prince George County to the tune of $1 million to help bring 500 new customers online with the fiber-based internet service and another $1.25 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission to expand internet into neighboring Sussex County.
The congressman’s visit comes days after the announcement that Dinwiddie and Amelia counties’ joint venture to expand internet service in their communities was approved by the Virginia Tobacco Commission, with $1.7 million being provided to help roll out service that will reach over 90 percent of the county with help from StraightUpNet, LLC, their private sector partner and Amelia-based internet service provider.
“I am thrilled to see the progress our communities have made to increase broadband access,” McEachin said in an interview. “I stand ready to continue supporting the expansion in every way that I can with legislation and funding support – or however I can be most helpful. This is one the most critical issues in the rural areas.”
While Wednesday’s discussion focused on local issues, national headlines found their place at the table as supervisors and McEachin discussed the possible impacts of Chinese tariffs being proposed on a number of U.S. goods, most notably for area farmers, a 25 percent tariff on soybeans. China is the largest buyer of U.S. soybeans, importing over $14 billion in 2016, according to published reports.
In the hours leading up to Wednesday’s roundtable, news of the proposed 25 percent tariff sent soybean prices down roughly four percent in trading, but the commodity has since regained some of its losses from last week as of this report.
“This is very concerning to Dinwiddie farmers and farmers in this whole area,” supervisor and farmer Harrison Moody remarked. “25 percent of $10 is a lot of money.”
According to the United States Department of Agriculture and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Virginia farmers are planting more soybeans this year as their data shows an increase in soybean acreage in the Commonwealth of 30,000 acres, with that acreage expected to total 630,000 acres in 2018. Overall, the soybean planted area for the United States is actually down about one percent, estimated at 89 million acres this year.
Other supervisors also noted the region has some advantages that other agricultural areas may not, pointing to area businesses that buy locally.
“This area is blessed with Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods who buy grain and keep the market price up because they can buy local grain cheaper than Midwest grain,” supervisor Daniel Lee said. “But, again, exporting is where the money is to be made with soybeans.”
For McEachin, hearing from communities, like those in Southern Virginia, about things of concern, such as proposed tariffs helps him once he heads back to Washington, with key information from constituents in-hand.
“As President Trump initiates a trade war with China, he should pause to recognize how detrimental this could be to American farmers and Americans – especially in our community,” McEachin said in an interview. “I know the hard-working agricultural communities of my district deserve support and assistance, not to be undermined by a needless trade war originating from overblown campaign rhetoric. Our community’s farmers cannot fall victim to threats coming from Washington and I will work hard to make sure that does not happen.”
With school and law enforcement leaders at last week’s roundtable, the discussion shifted to school security and safety. In the wake of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, communities across America have been looking at what can be done to keep students, teachers, and staff safe at their buildings and where funding can come from to pay for those needs, be it school resource and security officers to equipment and safety modifications.
Dinwiddie Sheriff Adams gave McEachin an overview of the department’s efforts, including three resource officers that serve various schools in the county, all of which were obtained through grant programs and eventually brought onto the county payroll when the grants expired.
“Other schools want resource officers so any help you can provide us on the federal level would be great,” Adams asked of McEachin, adding that school security in a rural community like Dinwiddie is a major concern of his.
“I am concerned because statistics have shown these shootings were over in two to two-and-a-half minutes,” the sheriff continued. “There is no way, in a rural county like Dinwiddie, that I can have someone at a school that does not have a school resource officer in time to do anything. That is concerning to me and my goal is to have a resource officer in every school, at all seven campuses.”
That conversation with Adams and school leaders was thought-provoking for McEachin, who, along with his staff, took detailed notes of the dialogue between attendees at the roundtable.
“After learning more about the local needs for our schools’ safety, infrastructure, and environment I will be able to draft legislation that addresses their specific needs and provides the results,” McEachin said. “Now that I know more about what they need – I can work to ensure legislation that meets those needs. I share the students, teachers, and parents demand safer schools and will work to achieve the goal that we all want – a safer America.”
Following the hour-long roundtable, McEachin was invited to tour the county’s newest business slated to open this year, the ALDI grocery chain’s regional headquarters and distribution center. Beating North Carolina for the center, by the end of the year, three major businesses will hold some form of distribution operations in the county, with ALDI joining longtime resident Walmart and more recently Amazon.
Congressman Donald McEachin tours the new ALDI regional headquarters and distribution center in Dinwiddie, which plans to open in the fall and bring over 150 jobs to the area. (Office of Congressman Donald McEachin)
According to county officials, the new 562,000-square-foot facility remains on schedule and the company “hopes to begin shipping groceries by October” of this year. The new business is expected to employ over 150 people.
County leaders then traveled to nearby Central State Hospital where officials took a bus tour of the campus, which Dinwiddie supervisor Brenda Ebron-Bonner gave insight on, asking the congressman to consider looking at the several vacant buildings on campus for possible renovation and use for other purposes to prevent them from falling further into disrepair, particularly those with generators attached to them.
By the end, McEachin said days like Wednesday are vitally important in doing his job, representing the people of the Fourth Congressional District.
“I value the time I spend with community leaders and constituents,” he remarked. “I hope to have these type of conversations as often as possible. I invite constituents to reach out and I look forward to seeing them in their communities. I was pleased last year to have visited all sixteen localities and to have hosted well over a dozen town hall type events.”