By: Ben Walls
Though the county remains ineligible for state assistance for communities that once heavily relied on a tobacco economy, Pulaski County has proved to support their business-related growth.
Members of the House of Delegates Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources in the 2023 legislative session voted to table the General Assembly bill which would have added both Pulaski and Giles counties to the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Fund.
“I don’t know why these counties were not included in the original designation as we both have raised tobacco since the beginning of the colonies,” Pulaski County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Laura Walters said. “We are a hole in the middle.”
The commission’s funding specifically applies to economic growth projects in member counties. Officials from both counties–like Chairwoman Walters and Giles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey Morris–said personally they did not know where they would implement their assistance money.
County Administrator Jonathan Sweet says the county has worked extensively for Pulaski to reach eligibility that their neighboring counties have, however. Though Bland, Wythe, Carroll and Floyd are eligible for assistance, Sweet says it is just as important for Pulaski to give back to Southwest Virginia and the residents as it is for them to join the commission itself.
“Though Pulaski County is not in the region, we support through employment opportunities for a lot of citizens who do live in the tobacco region,” Sweet said.
If the tobacco commission were to grant Pulaski its kind of state assistance, the county would like to build a new community college, a regional airport and a regional industrial park. Along with its other priorities with or without the tobacco commission status, Pulaski has a goal for 40,000 residents to call it home by the year 2030 under Sweet’s leadership.
“It just makes more sense to have the resources from that commission to further invest in employment opportunities, educational opportunities and foundational community opportunities for the greater benefit for the citizens,” Sweet said. “Ultimately, that’s what we’re all working toward.”
According to Sweet, Pulaski must enter multi-faceted reform to reach their goal by 2030, including economic, workforce and retail development. Meanwhile, the county economic development authority and its small business solutions subsidiary have a strong presence in the community by helping newer small businesses and startups obtain permits. The small business solutions center also assists established businesses with marketing plans and reviews business plans for county organizations.
“We’ve received a lot of recognition locally for our small business efforts specifically just because not a lot of companies have a person or an office dedicated to small business,” said Pulaski County Small Business Solutions Director Lydia Gilmer, who has become the county’s go-to person for business owners navigating red tape. “What we want to see is a business moving in for a few years, kind of get their feet wet, take advantage of cheaper rent in a small space and then eventually grow out in the community. That’s what we really want to see.”
According to Gilmer, Pulaski has become an ideal locality for businesses for its affordability and accessibility for citizens. 40 of the county’s small businesses today are housed in the county’s innovation center where tenants can take advantage of the small business services and smaller amenities like a kitchen and gym. Gilmer says her attention to small business makes all the difference for business owners.
Under county leadership, Gilmer is confident for Pulaski to look “unrecognizable” within 3 to 5 years.