Pulaski County, Virginia
Pulaski County, Virginia
Business View Magazine interviews Jonathan Sweet, CAO of Pulaski County, Virginia, for our focus on Economic Development in the U.S.
In March of 1839, parts of Montgomery and Wythe counties joined together to form Pulaski County. Named after Count Casimir Pulaski, a general in George Washington’s army, the area was settled primarily by Scottish, Irish and German immigrants, who migrated to the area to take advantage of farming opportunities. With beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, rolling hills and green fields, those who call Pulaski County home will experience four mild seasons of the best that nature has to offer, with an abundance of opportunities for education, industry, and a quality lifestyle.
Visitors and residents of Pulaski County can enjoy the New River Trail – a 57-mile linear park, of which 39 miles run parallel to the ancient New River, known as the second oldest river in the world. The park offers gorgeous mountain views, long trestles, tunnels, and opportunities for camping and fishing. Claytor Lake State Park, another popular destination in Pulaski County, is a 474-acre park, complete with a full-service marina, camping facilities, cabin rentals, and views of the scenic 4,500-acre lake. These two state parks are popular destinations in Virginia and showcase the beauty of Pulaski County’s natural surroundings.
“It’s an amazing place full of amazing people, a rural community that offers everything you would expect a rural community to offer, and so much more,” shares Jonathan Sweet, Pulaski County’s Chief Administrative Officer. One point of pride for the County is the access to high quality K-12 and post secondary education, including close proximity to Virginia Tech and Radford University, both world-class institutions. Pulaski County is also home to New River Community College, which is highly rated for performance in the state of Virginia. All seven of the county’s elementary and middle schools have been renovated, or are new, showing a strong commitment to education at all levels. Plans are underway for major renovations of the county’s high school, with the intention of “offering our students the finest 21st-century learning environment that that we can,” according to Sweet.
With a current population of 35,000 the County intends to grow the community by 5,000 people over the next decade. Sweet explains, “We don’t have to build more schools or bigger libraries, hire more law enforcement, or add more infrastructure to accommodate 40,000 people. We currently have the capacity. It would mean more people sharing the overhead and contributing to the local economy without being a burden. With tongue in cheek, we call it our 40 by 30 by 20. We want 40,000 people who are in their 20s to call Pulaski County home by 2030. We are creating new jobs, building the housing stock, and shaping a community for that generation of working professionals. We are even putting in certain amenities such as dog parks to accommodate what we think is going to be a wave of young professionals discovering Pulaski County.”
The County housing market is booming and both developers and contractors are working hard to keep up with demand. With such a hot market, there is a shrinking inventory of houses available but the County has plans to address this issue, converting two former schools into market-rate residential apartments through private developers. The Economic Development Authority is also working on rezoning an area of the County for future residential development. Sweet reports, “A developer has an option on the EDA’s 65 acres that’s currently zoned light industrial. The EDA is poised to rezone that to residential in order to put in one of the largest residential planned unit developments in the County.” Pulaski County is working with Stateson Homes, a major developer, to shift this industrial area into a mixed-use residential community. SHAH Development, LLC, another major developer, is also investing millions into new home construction throughout the county.
While many communities stayed still, trying to survive the impacts of COVID-19, Pulaski County did the opposite. Instead, taking the opportunity to move forward with the growth of the community. A tourism department and a small business department were launched, along with the hiring of a Small Business Solutions Manager to support the needs and opportunities of the local business community. With over $1 million in direct grants provided to local small businesses, the County was able to respond to their immediate needs and help them stabilize and survive during the early days of the pandemic.
“We have been putting human capacity in place to really capitalize on new opportunities,” says Sweet. “We are really trying to think strategically, think short- and long-term about how we help our small business community survive and thrive. How do we, as a local government reliant on a healthy local economy, foster an environment that is conducive for stabilization and growth? It was the Wild West for a while, a new frontier, this COVID world we lived through. We had to take some risks; revaluating every day, being in touch with our industry, in touch with our citizens, in touch with our small businesses to really figure out where to best invest our limited resources to maximize the return and the benefit to the entire community. In essence, we boldly wanted to turn the COVID negatives into COVID positives which translates into constructive opportunities for our businesses and our citizens to take advantage of.”
The County has also invested CARES Act funding and other available resources into broadband deployment to support the needs of the growing work from home population and its cottage industries within the community. Sweet describes, “We are not just putting the human capacity in place, but we are also putting communication infrastructure out there as well. We are doing things that we think are going to strategically position us in this new post-COVID economy, to catch up and get ahead.” The County is also working with Appalachian Power, as part of a pilot program to install 96-strand fiber optic cable from existing utility poles. This project will allow efficient, consistent and affordable access to broadband in the rural areas of the County.
One of the County’s largest employers, Volvo, is investing $400 million dollars into their Pulaski County plant over the next several years. The New River Valley assembly plant is the largest Volvo truck manufacturing facility in the world, with more than 3,000 employees. The expansion is expected to add close to 1,000 new job opportunities in the region. Sweet emphasizes, “Every Volvo truck you see in America is manufactured here in Pulaski County. They are going to be employing close to 4,000 people. A lot of our folks also work at NRCC, Virginia Tech, and Radford University. We are fortunate to have a lot of quality, stable, high-paying jobs that support our community. The front door, our side door, and the center of our community all have post secondary institutions. We’ve got a lot of talent coming out of those pipelines, and we want to keep that talent here. We are working on quality-of-life opportunities, housing opportunities, job opportunities, access to broadband, access to recreation… We truly believe we can be a next-level community at a 40,000 population because of the major economic drivers here and the robust infrastructure we have.”
Another multi-million-dollar project underway in Pulaski County is a solar farm, which Hecate Energy is developing. The third largest of its kind on the east coast, this project will help to ensure the County maintains their commitment to renewable energy. Sweet explains, “We have a desire to emerge post-pandemic, with this new administration, in this new 21st century economy, as a leader in a variety of things including renewable energy production. We feel that we can be one of the greenest communities on the eastern seaboard, if not the country, per capita.”
Pulaski County is also home to Appalachian Power’s 75-megawatt hydroelectric dam, and a three-megawatt methane conversion plant at their regional landfill site. The County has been awarded a gold Solsmart designation, one of only three in Virginia, and the highest ranking. This designation is given to communities who are leaders in solar energy growth. Sweet believes these green initiatives will benefit the county on all levels. He notes, “We are really establishing ourselves as a green community. We value the Triple Bottom Line; what’s good for our revenues, what’s good for our citizens, and what’s good for the environment. All three of those are factored into all of our decision making.”
As Pulaski County prepares for growth and moves to create what Sweet describes as a “next-level community,” there are plans to construct a new state-of-the-art recreation and sports complex. The County will also assist the Town of Pulaski with their Main Street rejuvenation efforts, and work aggressively to build out a 1,000-acre regional industrial park located in the County. “We want to bring new revenue streams to the region, and of course good jobs,” says Sweet. “We want to ultimately have one of the lower tax rates in this part of the Commonwealth, which means a cheaper cost of doing business and an overall lower cost of living.”
With innovation, intentionality and forward thinking, Pulaski County is moving in the right direction towards a growing population and a prosperous future.
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AT A GLANCE
Pulaski County, Virginia
What: Progressive rural mountain community; population 35,000
Where: Blacksburg-Christianburg, Virginia metropolitan statistical area
Stateson Homes – StatesonHomes.com
Pulaski County & Stateson Homes
There is a magnetic pull that exists in the New River Valley. Stemming from an all-natural magic that comes straight from the Earth. With a mighty river that has sustained life for over 65 million years to the mountain views that do something for the soul nothing else can. This is the perfect place to live more abundantly.
Incredible opportunity and strength also are created up and down the New River Valley, driven by the region’s commitment to research, innovation, job growth, and household formation. Life is thriving here. Stateson Homes is innovating right alongside so many other companies. Changing the way new neighborhoods are created, with a continued pipeline of innovation that will leave a positive mark on our area for decades. Creating unique lifestyle communities and an experience that stays with you long after move-in day.
Mother Nature created the backdrop with world-class views and outdoor recreation. Pulaski County laid the foundation with high tech employment and quality schools. And Stateson Homes brings it all under roof with leading edge homes and planned communities. It’s a powerful combination inspiring families from all over the country to make their home in the New River Valley.