Bob Martin says the impact he’s made on Carroll County is evident, something he’s banking on voters to take into account in the May 18 Republican Primary.
Martin, who faces a challenge from Tracy Moore for the right to represent the Pine Creek District on the Carroll County Board of Supervisors, would enter his sixth decade on the board of supervisors if elected in November. Martin also served on the board in every decade since the 1970s at some point in time. Just take a look around at the county’s schools, industry and roads, and there is a good chance Martin was involved someway.
“I say this to the voters in Pine Creek. If a person doesn’t do their job, they should be replaced. In the last four years, I have never worked harder and done more things for Pine Creek than anybody in the history of the county as a Pine Creek Supervisor,” Martin said. “I will also tell you it’s not enough to be in favor of something. You’ve got to put your heart and soul into it, and by the way, what’s your gameplan? When people tell me they are in favor of something, well that’s wonderful, but what are you going to do about it? The examples I will give in this article, I have done. They were my ideas and I fought tooth and nail to get them installed for better schools, more money in the school budget, better facilities for all of the schools.”
Martin has lived in the Pine Creek District all of his life, as has his wife of 48 years, Margaret Jackson Martin. His daughter, Marie, was a standout basketball player at Carroll County and currently is a special education teacher in Montgomery County. She has two children, one of which starts for the Christiansburg JV basketball team. Martin’s son, Robbie, is a deputy on the Patrick County Sheriff’s Department and lives in Claudville with his wife and four girls. The oldest is in community college, the two middle daughters will be enrolled at Virginia Tech this fall, and the youngest is a happy third grader.
Martin said he’s devoted his life to improving education in Carroll County, and improving the county in general. As a student at the old Shorts Creek Elementary for seven years, Martin remembers a school with outside toilets, a potbelly stove, and one where students carried in water from the spring. After graduating from Virginia Tech in 1971, Martin began teaching in Carroll.
“At that time only Carroll County High School had a gym, and poor lighting and hot classrooms were the standard. My first job was teaching at St. Paul School and it was a terrible situation,” Martin said. “I thought of how much those children were getting cheated in their education, no gym, and no place to go in bad weather except the hallway.”
In 1971, Carroll County funded its schools at the state minimum, Martin said. For the upcoming fiscal year, Martin said the school budget will be three to four times the required minimum of $6.5 million. Carroll will be funding the highest percent above the required level of any county in Southwest Virginia in 2019 except maybe Montgomery County, Martin said. Seeing schools with no gyms, poor lighting and potbelly stoves helped Martin establish goals for his life.
“The proof is in the pudding. All of the 10 schools in Carroll County, if you look at the school plaques in the building, my name is on all 10 of those,” Martin said. “Some people tell you how good they are and what they want to do, but the proof is in the pudding. I did it, but it took years and years to get the funding up in schools to the level they needed to be.”
While schools will always remain dear to the long-time educator’s heart, he said industry is another high priority of his. Martin said he’s helped further the county’s industry in a number of ways – from voting for the many water and sewer projects that have been installed in Carroll County during his time on the board to upgrades to electric service. Martin was instrumental in helping retain local manufacturer Mohawk by working with Appalachian Power Company (APCO) to move the Hillsville plant to a three-phase power system and by working with APCO to negotiate Mohawk’s electric rates down by about $1 million annually.
“What that meant was Mohawk stayed in the county. They didn’t leave. As best I remember, I think we got their rates down about $1 million a year,” Martin said. “A few years ago Mohawk had the Hillsville site and one in Alabama that produced the same product. And it was decided they would eliminate one of those businesses, close the plant, and that would open up 130 new jobs for the plant that stayed open. Plus there would be a $6.7 million expansion. Carroll County burnt the midnight oil working with the powers that be at Mohawk to make sure the Mohawk plant didn’t close and go to Alabama. And a lot of people wouldn’t count that as industry, but it is a part of it, keeping what you’ve got. Losing 130 jobs would not help the economy.”
Martin points to his time on the board of supervisors when natural gas was put in certain areas of the county. It has been installed in several areas in Hillsville and is scheduled to go into the Wildwood development at Interstate 77’s Exit 19.
“You’ve got to have the infrastructure in place,” Martin said. “I’ve always felt sensitive to current business needs. For example, Vanguard needed more parking and we worked with them to get that. We also work with the state to get low-interest loans or even outright grants to help that industry grow.”
Martin said in the last two-and-a-half years, the county administrator’s office has spoken to more than 50 industrial prospects in a formal way. The playing field is tough, however, as Carroll often has to compete against Northern Virginia. Making it worse, Martin said, is that Virginia also has to compete against North Carolina, Tennessee and other Mid-Atlantic states for industry.
“No disrespect to Virginia but its approach to industry will not stand up to the North Carolina approach, and South Carolina is probably the best of the bunch. So it is very hard,” Martin said. “I can also tell you there was a Walmart distribution center and we thought we had it. They were going to put it at Wildwood, and lo and behold at the last minute they go to Greensboro, which was very disappointing. A lot of times you can land industry informally and we are very fortunate to have a county administrator who has worked in high-profile big businesses across the nation and has developed many contacts. Informally, he has spoken to over 100 companies with his contacts, seeing if they are thinking about expanding or if Carroll County could meet those needs.”
The county is currently in negotiations with a company that Martin said is very interested in Carroll. The county will also soon receive a $150,000 grant for broadband service that will provide service to a lot of areas in Carroll, he said, including Coon Ridge, Mitchell’s Crossroads, Dugspur and Route 100 in the Pine Creek District.
“And while $150,000 is a great start, we are also applying for an additional grant from the Tobacco Commission in excess of that for broadband coverage. We are also going to apply for President Trump’s infrastructure money program that is just coming together,” Martin said. “It is possible to get up to $25 millon. We cannot do that, however, we may be able to apply for a lesser large amount that doesn’t require us to match, or if it does then we can recruit a broadband service company that will pick up the slack. Stay tuned.”
Additionally, Martin said he was pleased to be one of just 200 people from across the United States to be invited to The White House in 2018 for a report on prosperity in Rural America. One of the biggest items mentioned as a priority was broadband high-speed internet.
“President Trump established a paid committee to get this thing rolling and stay on it. The Vice President was there at the conference. Ben Carson and Kellyanne Conway were there,” Martin said. “The gist of that whole thing was the population of the U.S. in 2050 will be 400 million and the agriculture has got to expand to feed those and continue to feed the world. It will not be grown in Los Angeles, Chicago or New York City. It will be in Rural America and so I thought to myself, ‘We may be in the right place at the right time.’ This will be an ongoing thing and as many crops and so forth as we are growing in Carroll County, we may find a lot of industry and potential for the farmers in our county right here.”
Another critical piece of economic development is the quality of roads. Martin said he currently has two projects scheduled on U.S. 52 North from Hillsville to Poplar Camp. The first was an improvement to what he calls the “double ford curves” just below the rock quarry in that section of the county.
“I had one project there earlier but I have proposed a massive upgrade to those curves and I also have a project at Coon Ridge going from Joe Tompkins’ house that will greatly widen that short curve and the road going to the top of Coon Ridge. It will improve the site distance there. It’s already scheduled and will be done this coming year,” Martin said. “It is a prime area for improvement because if you have traveled that area on a holiday or when there’s an accident on I-77, you know what it’s like with 15 tractor trailers end-to-end on 52.”
Martin said another project that’s been completed under his watch is about a half-mile below Shorts Creek Church on U.S. 52 in what’s known as the “Hall Family Curve.”
“It was just a terrible, sharp curve that if two trucks met there was going to be trouble. And with the rock quary down there, they met a lot,” Martin said. “Water Plant Road is scheduled to be hardtopped in the very near future. Route 750 from Liberty Hill to Sylvatus Smith Road in Sylvatus will be done this spring, this year.”
Another of Martin’s projects has been finished on Panther Creek Road in Dugspur. The project was over a mile long and cost over $1 million.
“If I am evaluated on the last four years, I don’t see how anybody could have been more involved with the duties and extra duties of the board of supervisors,” Martin said. “I will also tell you that in the presidential primary nobody would step up in 2016 and I volunteered to be the Republican Chairman because I thought it was critical. I am a Republican. My great-grandfather Fowler was one of 16 people that started the Republican Party in Carroll County. I am conservative and I am pleased to say not only President Trump carried Carroll County in every precinct and got 82 percent of the vote, and the next year Congressman Griffith ran and he was at 80 percent and carried Carroll. I had a small part to play in that. I went to Harrisonburg four trips, gathered all the signs for Southwest Virginia and distributed them.”
Having served as a principal or assistant principal at the old Hillsville Elementary, Dugspur and Sylvatus schools, as well as Woodlawn School and Carroll County High School, Martin has probably served as principal for a good percentage of the population in the Pine Creek District.
”I spent 15 years with all of the kids that came through from Pine Creek and there is nobody that knows the families and the kids and what has gone on and has fought to improve it with a gameplan to make sure those kids have gotten a better education. And the same thing about jobs and the same thing about roads,” Martin said. “I lay out a course of action and I have done that.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN