Democrat campaigns in Mecklenburg

The Democratic nominee vying to replace retiring Rep. Robert Hurt in the U.S. House of Representatives campaigned in Mecklenburg County on Saturday, riding in the Boydton Day parade and attending a reception with a group of artists and artisans in Chase City.
Jane Dittmar, the former chair of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, says she is the right candidate for Virginia’s 5th District seat in Congress because of her 35-year economic development background in creating jobs and also her 16-year professional mediation background.
“We need to send people to Washington that can work with other people to agree on what the challenges are, address them and move on,” she said. “We have a Washington that is paralyzed right now because people are so partisan. I think I have the background to help with that and to make the 5th district proud of the person they have representing them in Washington.”
Prior to announcing her candidacy, Dittmar said she spent time in Mecklenburg County in the Clarksville area as a tourist. Since beginning her campaign in September of 2015, she has been back to the area multiple times.
“It’s been interesting to get to know the folks and the challenges and also some of the hopes and dreams of people in Mecklenburg County,” she said, mentioning specifically the local issue of school consolidation, which she said has led to much conversation about how the federal government can help K-12 education and also workforce training.
Dittmar agreed the issue of job creation and retention has been the No. 1 issue in her campaign against the Republican nominee, state Sen. Tom Garrett of Buckingham, and other candidates in the 5th District race.
She said to grow jobs, two things must be accomplished — build on your assets and address your challenges.
Dittmar said one of the major challenges facing Mecklenburg County and other areas of Southside Virginia is having access to safe, reliable and affordable internet, which she called a big jobs issue, along with cell phone service issues.
Dittmar said families who don’t have internet access in their homes or only have dial-up internet are left behind in the 21st century education and workforce environment. She cited national studies that indicate 70 percent of homework assignments involve the internet, and she said identifying and applying for a job, as well as completing workplace certifications and credentialing, is increasingly becoming a web-based venture.
“People who don’t have internet at home and have to drive to restaurants or hotspots to use it, their kids are at a disadvantage,” she said. “It’s pervasive the need for this infrastructure. Without it we’re going to continue to see the drain of people leaving home to find jobs and the inability to grow new jobs.”
Dittmar said as a member of the governor’s Broadband Advisory Council, she is aware of how to obtain funds through the Federal Communications Commission to build out internet infrastructure.
“I want to help Mecklenburg and our 20 other counties access those (funds),” she said. “Nobody’s been doing that yet.”
Dittmar said workforce training and development is important for any jobs that are recruited to the area. She said Mecklenburg County has good assets in this regard in its community college system as technical training centers around the area.
“What we need to do is make sure the jobs that we’re training for have jobs at the end of the pipeline,” Dittmar said. If this isn’t the case, she said people who are trained will have to leave the area in order to find work, while others following their progress may decline to be trained if there are no jobs available locally in that area.
“We have to make sure that our workforce training is coordinating well with jobs that are available or jobs that we’re recruiting for,” she said.
Acknowledging that Southside Virginia is different in some ways than the northern sector of the 5th District, Dittmar mentioned one of her plans to invigorate the economy along the Highway 58 corridor.
She said the Panama Canal in Central America has been widened and deepened and reopened this year to allow for supertankers to pass through, which she said should make some South American and Asian markets more accessible to Southside Virginia.
“We have a highway that’s in great shape, U.S. 58, and it connects to the deepest water port on the East Coast, which is here in Virginia,” Dittmar said. “We should be able to set up distribution businesses, final manufacturing, light manufacturing businesses and those support services all along 58, which includes the entire 58 corridor through Mecklenburg, and we can work together with state economic development folks, our local economic development people and use the seat in Washington to make that happen.”
Dittmar said her campaign has momentum going into election day Nov. 8.
“We are not only are feeling a strong sense of energy and optimism but hope, so I’m pretty excited,” she said.
One thing that excited Dittmar’s supporters in Chase City on Saturday is her vision for transforming communities through cultural projects.
The reception was held at the home of Chase City Art Club president and founder Elsa Cristina Gailor, where Dittmar and her husband and campaign staff along with art club members and other area residents were treated to light refreshments and music played by local teacher Marta Gonzalez-Hipps with two of her violin students. 
Gailor said Dittmar believes the talented people she is hoping to represent in Congress come Nov. 8 are the 5th District’s greatest asset and understands the positive, economic impact all artists can bring to their  community.
“I know firsthand what the infusion of art can do for our rural communities and have seen the direct correlation between art and economics at play,” Dittmar said, noting her involvement in creating an art gallery center in Albermarle County that has led to the growth and development of shops and restaurants in that county.
Amid a busy schedule closing in on election day, Gailor was impressed that Dittmar “found time to recognize and visit the inventive and creative citizens of Mecklenburg County.”