Meet Fluvanna’s new economic development director

By Ruthann Carr

Jennifer Schmack impressed County Administrator Eric Dahl at the start with her 18 years of public service and more than two years’ experience working economic development in Central Virginia. 

That’s why when Bryan Rothamel, Fluvanna’s former E.D. Coordinator, took a job in Culpeper, Dahl interviewed Schmack and offered her the position of E.D. Director.

Schmack and her family moved to Fluvanna in 2019 so she could work in Albemarle County’s Economic Development Department. There she ran the Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) program.

Dahl knew that experience would be a boon to Fluvanna.

“Since she came to us from a neighboring locality, she had a better understanding of the pros and cons for our region,” he said. “She also has a vast knowledge around the available state incentive programs for existing and new business. Jennifer impressed the interview panel immediately with her excitement and energy talking about economic development.”

Schmack was born and raised in the tidewater area of Virginia and since she was a teenager worked in public service, starting with Suffolk Fire and Rescue.

She moved through the ranks in Suffolk Economic Development, working roles with increasing responsibility. 

When she moved to Fluvanna and saw the opportunity to work here, she knew it fit with her career goals.

“I live here and I believe in supporting the community where you live,” she said. “I think Fluvanna has a tremendous amount of opportunity for growth.”

Since taking the job in October, Schmack has been learning about the business community and the community at large.

“I’ve met with businesses, networking groups, the Chamber to get a feel for which direction we’re going,” Schmack said. “I’m working on Fluvanna’s first economic development strategic plan. A rough draft will be ready in late March and will pave our path forward.” 

One part of the path is more controlled development in the Zion Crossroads and Fork Union area. 

Dahl said the Board of Supervisors showed its commitment to growth when they approved funds for infrastructure (water, sewer, broadband).

“For Zion Crossroads, the commercial growth for new businesses is going to happen naturally,” Dahl said. “The Louisa County side of Zion Crossroads is somewhat limited with available parcels and with our near completion of the Zion Crossroads Water and Sewer System we are seeing more interest, including interest in speculative buildings, which is a shortfall in our region. With Jennifer’s knowledge of state incentives, she can help match the right incentives to those new businesses looking to move into the county.”

Dahl also talked about growth in Fork Union

“We are also in the process of creating a 133-acre, county-owned business park in Fork Union behind the Fluvanna Community Center/Fork Union Fire Station that could accommodate up to 500,000 square feet of commercial building space. With Fluvanna’s more rural character in that area of the county, we see the opportunity for agri-business being a good fit for that location. Jennifer comes to us having the experience working with agri-businesses previously and the knowledge of the programs necessary to attract new businesses or possibly expand an existing one. She understands the needs of all sized businesses and will continually find ways to help our business community grow.”

Schmack said she knows when some people hear about economic development, they fear uncontrolled growth. 

She doesn’t want that either.

“I understand. I get it. I picked Fluvanna to live in because I love its charm, so I have a vested interest in the (rural character),” she said. “Controlled growth is not a bad thing. If we recognize where our opportunities are and work with planning and other county departments to work within the boundaries of the strategic and comprehensive plan, we’ll attract businesses that are complementary to our community.”

A plus is that business development helps smooth out the tax load.

“Economic development creates a layer of tax base that takes some burden off the back of residents,” Schmack said. “When you have a major employer, you have employees come in (the county) to work, then go home so you don’t have a drain on your infrastructure, but more quality of life. Retail, restaurant, and other businesses support the educational system and create career pathways for students.”

Schmack said Fluvanna’s uniquely central location where a person can reach the western and eastern corridors (I-81 and I-95 respectively) is a boon not only for residents, but also for businesses.

“We’re a small community strategically located,” Schmack said. “From here you can go anywhere.”

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