The partners in the venture — Halifax, Pittsylvania, Henry and Patrick counties, and the cities of Danville and Martinsville — offer an abundance of industrial parks, shell buildings and other enticements, and the job of the Alliance will be to sell these regional assets to site selection decision-makers.

Bolling expressed optimism that the additional marketing effort would pay off.

“I am confident that the position of this region is as good as any in the state and better than most to take advantage of an economic resurgence when it happens,” said Bolling.

The organization’s executive director, Leigh Cockram, said she and her staff are currently developing marketing materials for the region and hope to start meeting with company site selection officials starting in September.

Cockram said the regional pitch would revolve around a message of “this is a place you can come to do business and do it well.

“We have the labor force and the skill set that manufacturers need,” she said.

Bolling and Cockram noted that the regional venture will not replace local economic development initiatives but complement them. After the Alliance identifies companies interested in the area, “It’ll be up to local developers to sell their communities and seal the deal,” said Cockram.

“I know there will continue to be some competition among the partners,” said Bolling, “and that’s a good thing.”

The Southern Virginia Regional Alliance starts with a budget of some $600,000, funded in equal thirds by the General Assembly, the Virginia Tobacco Commission and contributions from each of the six participating localities.

Bolling said the Alliance marks another step in the McDonnell Administration’s efforts to turn around the Southside Virginia economy through business recruitment. He pointed to the example of the City of Martinsville, with its high but declining jobless rate, as an indication these efforts are starting to pay off.

“To come from 22 percent [unemployment in Martinsville] down to 17 percent in a little more than a year in a tough economy is an accomplishment,” he said.

The latest jobs numbers show that Martinsville had a 17.3 percent unemployment rate in June 2011, down from 21.0 percent in January 2010, the high-water mark in the past 18 months. Despite the declining percentage of unemployed workers, however, Martinsville actually has fewer jobs now (4,920) than it did in January 2010. (4,968). The size of the city’s workforce has shrunk by 337 workers in that same period.