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VA Grocery Investment Fund Would Target Neglected Communities


Wednesday, December 27, 2017   

RICHMOND, Va. – Supporters say a state grocery store investment fund to be considered by lawmakers would help Virginia communities without easy access to fresh food.

The fund is designed to make investment capital cheaper and easier to get for companies that want to run grocery stores in what are known as food deserts – such as rural Surry County on the Virginia coast.

Tyrone Franklin, county administrator for Surry County, says the county hasn't had a real grocery store for maybe 20 years.

He says he was reminded of why that's important when a young girl skipped the veggie plate when getting refreshments at a public event.

"So I said, 'Well, you might want to get some of those vegetables,'” he relates. “She said, 'I don't eat vegetables.'

“So that just hit me, hard. A young person that, if they keep on that track, they may have all types of health issues."

Three bipartisan bills to set up a fund already have been filed with the General Assembly.

The goal of a grocery investment fund does not seem controversial. Objections center on whether it would work and how much it would cost.

Jim Allen, president of Honor Capital, says his company has gotten investments from similar funds while putting small Save-A-Lot stores in food deserts in five states.

He says the stores do help, a lot. Plus Allen says a recent study by the Rand Corporation looked at what happens when a grocery store opens in a food desert.

"And the outcomes from a health perspective are just amazing to me: less cholesterol, less diabetes and the community psychology just feels better," he states.

Allen says the Rand study also found more local employment, increased sales tax revenue and less food insecurity.

Allen says Honor Capital plans to open its ninth and 10th stores early next year, and adds that nothing can help turn a neglected neighborhood around faster than a fund investing in a new grocery.

"Properly structured, the risk is relatively minimal and the reward is potentially large in terms of health outcomes, increased local sales taxes and just community betterment,” he stresses. “This more than pays for itself."

Allen says for Honor Capital’s stores, including the one in Danville, 95 percent of the employees are hired locally. And he says in rural areas, a grocery store rapidly becomes a center of community life.

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