Economic Development Low on Charlottesville’s Priority List

Charlottesville’s City Council retreated to Staunton last weekend to discuss the strategic priorities for their actions moving forward.  As discussed in a previous post, Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow was the only member of the public or media to attend the open meeting.

Strategic Priorities are defined by The Business as:

Strategic objectives ranked by their importance in achieving the strategic goals. All subsequent operational or tactical planning and resource allocation is based on strategic priorities.

According to Charlottesville Tomorrow’s report, Charlottesville City Council participated in a dot exercise, where councilors placed a red dot on those items they felt were most important priorities for the city.  By counting these “votes” three tiers of importance were extrapolated.  Public and affordable housing had the highest number of votes creating tier 1.  Repairing aging infrastructure, workforce development/job opportunities, and race relations created the second tier of importance according to the dot exercise.  The third tier of importance included tree canopy protection, transit and mobility as well as business development.

The Free Enterprise Forum recognizes this is not a final city policy but the results of this retreat exercise are eye opening in terms of the priorities of the members of council.  It is seems clear from this exercise that the council does not believe the creation of a positive business environment that would retain businesses and attract new investment is a significant priority for city government.

According to the latest Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce Jobs Report (pdf):

Between 1997 and 2003, private sector employment in Charlottesville generally declined, including a 2.2% drop in 2003.  Between 1997 and 2003, private sector employment increased by 4.7%.  However, the data show the City of Charlottesville lost 924 private sector jobs in 2007, a decrease of 3.4%.  Overall, private sector employment in Charlottesville is only 0.2% higher in 2007 than it was in 1995; the lowest overall rate of private sector job growth in the region. (emphasis added – nw)

By attracting new businesses and retaining existing enterprises, the city preserves and creates new positive tax revenue.  Businesses that are thriving tend to expand and build new job opportunities.  Successful businesses share their success with the employees increasing take home income.  A cohort of successful businesses tends to attract other related enterprises.

Faced with the reality of the Chamber Jobs report data and the clear economic benefits of business retention and growth, the Free Enterprise Forum believes business development (which often means getting government out of the way) should be a first tier priority for Charlottesville City Council (and all local governments).

We hope that as city council reviews the notes from their distant retreat their priorities can be arranged in a more strategic manner.

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