Danville, Pittsylvania land on top ‘micropolitan’ list
A yin-and-yang approach has led to business success in the city of Danville and Pittsylvania County, which were collectively named the No. 6 micropolitan area in the nation by Site Selection Magazine in April. It’s the third time the region has landed in the top 10 list, which is based on economic development deals in small communities.
Although the localities are partners in six industrial parks, much of their collaboration is informal, says Pittsylvania County Administrator David Smitherman. “We have a very clear vision of what we want to do with our partner Danville without politics, without bureaucracy,” he says. “We don’t have turf wars. It works because we have a shared vision. We are targeted as to what we want.”
The COVID-19 outbreak has affected the region just like everywhere else, including the indefinite closing of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. tire plant, Danville’s largest employer, but other plans are moving forward. Morgan Olson LLC, the Michigan-based delivery van manufacturer, is still renovating the former Ikea plant in the county, Smitherman says, with the first vans to roll off the lot in July as scheduled.
Ken Larking, Danville’s city manager, also cites collaboration as a source of the localities’ success; in 2019, the region made deals on seven projects that brought in $453 million in capital investment and 1,315 jobs. While it’s tough to predict what will happen in 2020 due to the coronavirus, Larking says the region’s strong manufacturing presence is “a good sign for us. We have seen a lot of activity in that area. If we have a [renewed] manufacturing base here in the United States, that will be helpful to Danville.”
Improving the region’s quality of life — investing in the downtown River District, outdoor spaces, education and public safety — is similarly important in drawing potential residents and workers, Larking says.
The White Mill, a 650,000-square-foot industrial building on the south bank of the Dan River, is under development. It could be home to a casino — depending on which proposal Danville City Council supports, and whether the city’s residents pass a referendum this November — or something else important to the city, Larking says.
Also, the city is redeveloping Schoolfield, a former textile mill village, 90 acres of which is owned by Danville’s Industrial Development Authority. It’s expected to be a commercial and residential neighborhood similar to the River District.
“There are a lot of reasons for people to want to live in Danville,” Larking says.