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HILLSVILLE — Travis Jackson is retiring as the area director for USDA Rural Development after 32 years to become the new Hillsville town manager.
Town council members unanimously approved hiring Jackson on Monday night, after a motion by Vice Mayor Ed Terry, taking only a few short minutes to fill the position that had been vacant since June.
Town officials quietly celebrated the circumstances that led to being able to hire Jackson.
“We’ve been working diligently,” Terry said. “We’ve been in process, interviewing for quite some time, we’ve reported progress on that process, and then take one step forward and two back…”
“Mr. Travis Jackson, he comes to us from a long and distinguished career in federal government…” Terry said. “He’s come to a place in life where he could retire if he wanted to, and if he elected to not retire it would probably keep some other, a junior member of his staff, from being able to keep their job.”
Jackson would begin as town manager Feb. 1.
“We’re so lucky,” said Mayor Greg Crowder after the motion was approved. “Everything turns out for a reason — we’ve had some good town managers to apply, for one reason or another it didn’t work out…
“I think we got the best,” he continued. “If I went and looked… I don’t think I could come out with a better one. We are so blessed to have you.”
“Welcome aboard,” Council Member Billy Walls added.
Jackson quickly found he could reach out and help more people by working in the federal government than in the private sector, he told The Gazette after the meeting.
“You know, I started out with banking,” he said. “The federal government in 1979 had an opportunity for me and offered me $500 more than I was making at the bank.
“I chose the federal government because I was able to do community service and still make it career. I’ve been very privileged throughout my entire career to be able to help communities be able to help individuals.”
Among the most memorable achievements in his 32 years was helping people get indoor plumbing for the first time. “It has a been a very rewarding career.”
Jackson’s position allowed him to work with lots of local, state and federal officials throughout Virginia, and also gave him a chance to meet people from all over.
People have the same basic wants and needs.
“Helping them overcome some of these deficiencies — whether it be safe drinking water, whether it be a safe roof over their house or have indoor plumbing — it’s been very rewarding because we’ve been able to provide that through our agency.”
The Wytheville office has invested up to $300 million per year in the region, which had a large economic impact on rural Virginia, but the victories that made the biggest impression on Jackson is the ones where he’s been successful in helping individuals in need.
“When you see an 80-year-old grandmother that’s never had indoor plumbing and you provide them a grant to be able to get a bathroom or be able to have indoor plumbing, or a gentleman that’s 90 years old but having to carry water into his house from over 100 yards away — those are the small victories you have on a daily basis,” Jackson said.
The Wytheville office has always been one of the top performers in wastewater, single-family housing and aid for first responders, and Rural Development sent Jackson across the country to talk to other federal administrators to share successful methods with them.
Rural Development during Jackson’s term as area director has helped Carroll County on many projects, from the recent water and sewer efforts at Interstate 77 exits and the renovations at the library in Hillsville to grants for improvements to facilities, like the new parking lot for the Hillsville Police Department, and funding for vehicles.
Jackson enjoyed working with the organizers of the Carroll Wellness Center to make that project a reality. He found the dedication that supporters brought to that effort was remarkable.
Jackson sees lots of opportunities in Hillsville working together with its neighbors — not only with Carroll County, but also with localities throughout the Twin Counties to bring benefits to all. That spirit of cooperation is one emphasis that he will bring to his new position.
Over his career, Jackson has made many contacts with federal and state officials and knows about programs that could provide additional resources for Hillsville to draw from.
The first order of business as town manager, though, is building his relationships with town council members, town workers and the citizens of Hillsville.
“What I pride myself on is being upfront with people being honest and earning their trust,” Jackson said. “That’s what I’m going to start with, is earning everyone’s trust. From there, everything else will fall into place and will grow.”
Originally from Wytheville, Jackson began his career with the federal government in Galax and built a home in the Coon Ridge section of Carroll County, living there for about two years before transferring to his hometown.
“I’ve had a very good career of 32 years. I’m eligible for retirement, therefore, I’ve reached that pinnacle, and I’m looking for the next career. Hillsville is a perfect fit. You cannot ask for nicer people than you’ll find in Hillsville.”
As Jackson learns what kind of growth and programs officials and citizens want, that will shape the agenda for the town.
“I think that there are going to be opportunities that we can take advantage of, programs that can help improve the local economy,” he said. “We have an interstate system that passes by Hillsville everyday. We need to start using that asset to attract those kinds of investments that we would like to see in this community.”
“I appreciate this opportunity that Mayor Crowder has given me and the rest of town council. They all seem to have the common interest of this town at heart and I think we’ll all work very well together.”