Q1. You’re a lifelong resident of Dinwiddie County and you served for 18 years on the Planning Commission before running for the Board of Supervisors. In your view, what are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing Dinwiddie County over the next 10 years?
Dan Lee: Dinwiddie is a rural community with a long, agricultural history. The fact that our County is dissected by Interstate-85, US Route 460, US Route 1, and major rail systems makes Dinwiddie extremely attractive to business and industry. Maintaining the balance between the rural character and small town feel of Dinwiddie, along with the desire for economic development and the need for supportive infrastructure, represent an ongoing challenge, as well as opportunity.
Q2. What are your goals for economic development in your region?
DL: As VACo’s representative for Region 4, I represent the counties of Amelia, Brunswick, Charlotte, Dinwiddie, Greensville, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, and Prince Edward. In rural counties, infrastructure is critical to economic development. The hot issue in our region right now is broadband. Broadband has become an “expectation” that citizens and prospective business/industry look for when moving into a locality. Efforts are being made to develop public-private partnerships and work together with neighboring localities to this end. The Counties of Dinwiddie and Amelia were awarded a grant through the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (TRRC) that will support the expansion of broadband to areas of both counties that are currently unserved or underserved, according to TRRC standards. Other localities are partnering with local electric cooperatives to address broadband issues in their areas. Workforce development is also a goal of localities in region 4. In order to attract first-class employers, we must provide them with a first-class pool of applicants for hire.
Q3. Last year Dinwiddie County hosted a VACo regional meeting at the new Robert and Betty Ragsdale Community Center (a project that won a VACo Achievement Award). What are some of your lessons learned from this project, which transformed the generous donation of a building into a hub of community activity?
DL: The Ragsdale project was a long time in the making and demonstrates the power of public-private collaboration. The generosity of the Ragsdale family presented an opportunity to address the long-standing need to expand recreation to the southernmost portion of the County. After conducting needs assessments and developing a strong plan of action, the national economy took a dive and the project had to be placed on hold. As soon as the County was in a position to proceed, the project resumed. The building was donated by the Ragsdale family, renovated with County funds, and furnished and decorated with the support of a grant from the Cameron Foundation and donations from the community.
The Ragsdale Community Center includes a branch of the Appomattox Regional Library System, Virginia Cooperative Extension/4-H, several community rooms, a seniors’ lounge, youth lounge, fitness center and indoor toddler play area. Patrons of the center enjoy free WiFi and satellite television during their visit. The center boasts something for everyone and has become the focal point of the McKenney community and is doing its part to revitalize this area.
Q4. You’re a sixth generation farmer in a time when there is a lot of concern about younger generations leaving agriculture. What do you think can be done to support young people who want to stay on the land?
DL: First, we need to work hard to ensure that regulations and taxes don’t put stress on our farms and farmers. It is important that County staff work closely with agricultural producers in their localities to promote agritourism. Including agritourism ordinances in zoning codes is a great way to support local producers. Utilizing resources such as the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) for market development also appeals to the next generation of farmers. Public school programs such as the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and Cooperative Extension/4-H also stimulate and nurture students’ interest in agriculture, and provide young people opportunities to explore the field of agriculture through participation in clubs and competitions at various levels.
Q5. In addition to farming, you work as a soil conservationist for the Appomattox River Soil and Water Conservation District. What do you think the future of agriculture holds for Virginia?
DL: Statewide, I believe that in order for agriculture to thrive, we need more direct marketing of farm products. On the federal level, I believe we need to reopen international markets and keep politics out of the discussion.
Q6. What are some of the “must–do” activities for a first-time visitor to Dinwiddie County?
DL: Dinwiddie has so much to offer visitors and is fast becoming a tourist destination. First time visitors should definitely visit our nationally recognized sports complex, where, depending on the season, visitors can watch athletic events from pee-wee to college levels. History enthusiasts should visit the Five-Forks Battlefield and Museum or Pamplin Historical Park. There is also a Civil War Driving Tour that covers 12 of the 43 battles of the Civil War that were fought on Dinwiddie soil. Adventurers can take skydiving lessons at the Dinwiddie County Airport, visit Lake Chesdin for boating and fishing, or take in an event at Virginia Motorsports Park. Dinwiddie County is one of the best kept secrets in the Commonwealth, and truly offers something for everyone!
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle