The counties in orange and red have lost jobs over the past two years. Only the counties in blue have gained. Courtesy of Daily Yonder.

Most counties in the United States have lost jobs during the pandemic. No surprise there. But here’s one: Only three counties in Virginia have posted job gains from July 2019 to 2021, according to an analysis by The Daily Yonder, a website that covers rural issues. One of those is Grayson County. The other two are Lancaster County and Northumberland County on the Northern Neck.

Grayson had 7,801 jobs in July 2019. By July 2021, jobs had grown to 8,289, an increase of 488.

Grayson County Administrator Bill Shepley attributed the increase to a new economic development strategy – and, perhaps, the side-effects of the pandemic. He said it used to be that businesses considering locating in the county would ask about three things – broadband, health care and child care. The answers that county officials had to give weren’t ones businesses wanted to hear – that most of the population didn’t have access to the internet, that there were no health care centers in the county and no child care centers, either. “Rather than try to recruit businesses and explain that we don’t have those things, we decided to focus on fixing those things,” he said.

Grayson is now a pilot program for broadband that has even gotten Facebook involved. A non-profit health care provider – the Carroll-County-based Tri-Area Community Health – has opened two health care centers and plans a third. And Grayson has convened a formal child care committee to attract providers.

While it’s hard to pin down all the new jobs, two companies do come to mind, he said. River Ridge Meats in Independence, which produces beef sticks for the U.S. military and other customers, has expanded its workforce by 10 jobs. “That’s a whole lot for a rural area,” Shipley said.

And last year Metalworx, Inc. relocated from South Carolina to Grayson County, creating 59 jobs. The company makes fabricated metal parts.

More jobs are coming later this year with “a big expansion of our Food City” that will add about 70 jobs, Shepley said, although they’re not counted in the July 2021 jobs figures.

Another factor, he said, is the pandemic. “We’ve gotten a tremendous amount of calls from people who want to build homes in Grayson,” he said. With the broadband project underway, “we’re trying to market ourselves as a remote work community. I think that’s part of the growth of the future for Grayson County.”

The Daily Yonder has all the statistics for every county nationwide.

Dwayne Yancey

Yancey is editor of Cardinal News. His opinions are his own. You can reach him at dwayne@cardinalnews.org.