Highland County Chosen for Economic Recovery Corps Fellowship

Highland County was one of 65 communities in the country selected as a host community for an Economic Recovery Corps (ERC) Fellowship. Led by the International Economic Development Council, the ERC program builds capacity in economically distressed areas across the U.S by placing a dedicated fellow — fully funded for two and a half years — in local communities to support and strengthen ongoing economic development efforts.

Highland’s ERC fellow, Landdis Hollifield, will begin working in Highland on Feb. 19th and will spend the next 30 months helping to implement Highland’s Strategic Economic Development Plan, which includes revitalizing the Highland Inn, supporting small businesses, enhancing visitor experiences, and launching a marketing campaign to attract younger residents and remote workers.

For more information on the ERC, visit: www.economicrecoverycorps.org or check out the recent article in The Recorder.

Feedback Sought for Small Area Study Along Dinkel Avenue/Friedens Church Road

The Harrisonburg Rockingham Metropolitan Planning Organization (HRMPO) is developing a Small Area Study along Dinkel Avenue/Friedens Church Road from I-81 to Main St. in Bridgewater to identify the needs of the corridor and its future growth.
Share your feedback and let us know your concerns and visions for the future of Dinkel Ave. The survey is open through February 23rd at the link below or visit the HRMPO website to learn more.

2023 Facts & Figures Published

One of the CSPDC’s roles in economic development is to be a resource for data about the region and the PDC’s localities. To help support this important function, the CSPDC creates and distributes Facts & Figures, an easy-to-read snapshot of each sub-region’s people, jobs, schools, and other unique attributes. The 2023 Facts & Figures documents are now available on the CSPDC website.



2023 Population Estimates Released

The University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center released its official population estimates for Virginia counties and independent cities this January. The Weldon Cooper Center’s estimates provide an accurate approximation of a locality’s population count on July 1st, 2023.  Government agencies use this data for funding allocations, planning, and budgeting purposes.

The CSPDC’s 2023 population estimate is 310,528. From the prior year, the region’s population grew by 1,740 people or 0.6%. Since the 2020 Census, the City of Harrisonburg experienced the greatest growth. From 2020 to 2023, Harrisonburg added 1,180 people to their population count, a 2.2% population increase. In contrast, Rockbridge County, the City of Buena Vista, the City of Lexington, and the City of Staunton experienced a slight population decline since the 2020 Census.

The 2023 population estimates are available on the Weldon Cooper Center website. Yearly population data is also available on the CSPDC’s Regional Data Center.

CSPDC Welcomes New Finance Director

Donnie Kern joined the CSPDC Team as Finance Director on January 16, 2024. Donnie’s scholastic background spans earning an undergraduate degree in Business Administration at Radford University and a Master of Science in Accounting degree at Liberty University. Donnie also earned his Enrolled Agent credential with the United States Department of the Treasury allowing him unlimited representation before the Internal Revenue Service. Donnie is a commissioned Notary Public.

Soon after graduation he was employed with Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) holding the position of Lead Accountant and Lead Senior Accountant at its LewisGale Alleghany hospital facility in Low Moor, VA. Donnie’s role during the past eight years would be best described as having fiscal management of approximately $40 million dollars and ensuring compliance with GAAP and the insurmountable expansive Sarbanes-Oxley Act. One major achievement during his first tri-annual audit with Ernst & Young was to improve the facility over all audit areas from the previous year with no memo comments being issued. HCA’s Division Controller Scott Weatherford stated regarding the facility’s financial desk reviews were the “cleanest” out of all the hospitals he reviewed.

Donnie is married to Kelly. Donnie and Kelly share the same birthday (July 1) as well as two children Christian (14) and Caylin (12). When not inundated with work or side hustles Donnie advocates for the civil rights of children with specific needs. Donnie volunteers his time to charitable causes assisting organizations with incorporating and filing for 501(c)3 non-profit status. Donnie also enjoys the great outdoors and is a habitual swimmer.

Bonnie Riedesel Announces Her Retirement

Bonnie Riedesel announced her retirement as Executive Director of the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission.  She will retire in March 2024.  Bonnie began working as a Regional Planner in 1994 and became Executive Director in 2008.

In her 29 years at the CSPDC, Bonnie was instrumental in creating and collaborating on a number of important regional projects and programs, including Fields of Gold, Virginia’s first farm trail.  Working with over 200 farmers and agri-businesses, Fields of Gold marketed the Shenandoah Valley as the premier agritourism destination in the state.

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Afton Express Rider Survey Update

In December 2023, the Afton Express bus service completed its second full-year of service. The commuter route has seen great success in this short amount of time. To ensure that we continue to meet the needs of current and prospective riders, Afton Express staff here at the CSPDC and at BRITE Transit collect and analyze different types of data throughout the year.

Route operators record performance data on their daily driver sheets, such as when and where riders are boarding and alighting, and through monthly service reports, which tell us the number of times that routes are delayed significantly or cannot operate. This information is helpful, but it cannot help us fully understand the customer experience. To get the full picture, we also collect qualitative data directly from the public.

The annual survey was first completed at the end of 2022 and asked a few basic questions to help us understand who our riders are and how they interact with the service. The roughly 30 responses collected provided context to the trends we saw in the performance data. For example, on-off counts conducted by the drivers can tell us at which stops the passengers are boarding and alighting, but they cannot tell us where they go once they step off the bus.

The information gathered through the survey was so helpful to our service planning that this type of survey will be collected each year.

The 2023 survey was available online from November 13th to December 15th, 2023, and included a mixture of structured and open-ended questions. As we continue to grow the Afton Express, we, as transit planners, are better able to identify what pieces of information will help us make decisions about the service. As such, this year’s survey will include questions about the respondent (demographics), how they interact with the service (do they ride regularly, periodically, or not at all?), and their overall customer experience.

We are pleased to report that we doubled our response rate from 2022, recording 67 legitimate responses for the one month the survey was available. We received responses from current riders, prospective riders, and individuals that had never heard of the service but were eager to learn more. CSPDC staff is in the process of reviewing the data and a full summary of the responses from both the survey and the performance metrics will be presented in the Afton Express 2023 Annual Report.

The report will be published and made available to our stakeholders and the public by the end of January 2024.


Rockbridge County Applies for DHCD 2024 VATI Program Funding

Rockbridge County leadership submitted three grant applications for the 2024 Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) program on December 19, 2023. The main focus of the VATI grants is to provide financial assistance towards service provider construction costs for projects that extend broadband to areas presently identified as unserved or underserved. These broadband expansion projects are done in partnership with local units of government.

To gain optimal value and economies of scale on their planned efforts, Rockbridge County teamed with BARC Connects (electric co-op), Brightspeed (broadband provider), and Verizon (broadband provider) to submit grant applications for the current round of VATI funding. This synchronized approach to effectively connect the region’s residents and businesses to broadband will provide for an efficient and cost-effective deployment of fiber-to-the-premises in remote and hard-to-reach areas in Rockbridge County. A concise summary of each project application is provided below.

The Rockbridge County and BARC Connects application consists of three projects providing high-speed internet to 404 premises located in remote areas with difficult topography in central and western portions of the county. The total estimated project budget is $2,988,568. Rockbridge County is requesting $1,255,199 (42%) in VATI funding with BARC and Rockbridge County providing $1,733,369 (58%)in matching funds.

The Rockbridge County and Brightspeed grant submission consists of one project providing high-speed internet to 1,734 premises located in isolated stretches with challenging geography in central, northwestern, and southeastern areas of the county. The anticipated project cost is $5,914,332. Rockbridge County is seeking $975,865 (17%) through the VATI program. Brightspeed and Rockbridge County plan to provide a combined $4,938,467 (83%) in matching funds.

The Rockbridge County and Verizon application consists of one project providing broadband to 85 locations/101 premises in a rural area of northeastern Rockbridge County with particularly difficult topography. The total estimated budget is $2,429,768. Rockbridge County is requesting $896,587 (37%) in grant funding. Verizon and Rockbridge County plan to provide $1,533,183 (63%) in matching funds.

The total combined 2024 VATI funding requested for the three projects equals $3,127,651. The CSPDC will provide grant administrative services for Rockbridge County should they garner funding awards on these VATI grant applications. Rockbridge County also plans to support applications for the upcoming Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) grant program funds and Line Extension Customer Assistance Program (LECAP) opportunities in 2024 to achieve universal broadband coverage in the County.

VAPDC Winter Series: First Fridays in 2024

Don’t miss the next online sessions of the VAPDC Winter Series, February 9, 2024 & March 1, 2024. Each session will run from 12:00 – 1:00 PM.

FEBRUARY 9, 2024, 12:00-1:00 PM

Housing as an Economic Development Strategy

Virginia Housing recently released a study that explores linkages between housing and economic development. It identifies housing as an increasingly central factor in decisions that businesses make about relocation, expansion, and formation. Join us for an overview of the findings and recommendations for integrating housing and economic development strategies.

Presenter: Fabrizio Fasulo,
Director of Policy and Planning
Virginia Housing

March 1 topic to be announced.