Is Albemarle “Open for Business”?

Earlier this week (9/30/08) the Albemarle County Planning Commission held a work session to discuss the economic development chapter of their comprehensive plan.  This chapter is one of the slimmest in the Comprehensive Plan and has not been updated since 1995.

The Free Enterprise Forum called commissioners’ attention to the opening of the chapter:

The purpose of this economic policy is, first and foremost, to provide the local citizenry an improved standard of living, improved job opportunities and competitive wages, and workforce development opportunities rather than to seek future population growth.  We do not seek growth, or to add to population, but accept that more people will move to our community and that jobs, goods and services will be needed to meet their needs….

…We will provide information about those sites to those who request it and attempt to answer all questions promptly and directly.

This language, that exists in the economic policy today, means “If you (as a prospective business considering locating in Albemarle) call, we’ll answer the phone and be nice”. 

For far too long, Albemarle’s unstated (and sometimes stated) public posture regarding businesses is “You’re lucky we’ll even let you operate here”.

Based on the economic trends of the last few years and the increase in job leakage to other localities, the Free Enterprise Forum believes this outdated policy needs to be rewritten to better recognize the multiplicity of community benefits the businesses provide.  One need only look around the community to see the many good works underwritten by business: the youth athletic fields where businesses provide needed sponsorships, the thousands of man (and woman) hours given in the recent Day of Caring, the lovely trees that line North US 29, etc. 

Businesses and business people are a critical part of our community.  We need to continue to expand opportunities for our existing businesses to thrive and grow as well as providing a positive economic environment for new business creation. 

To this specific end, Tuesday evening The Free Enterprise Forum proposed one new strategy be added to the economic development chapter:

  • 2. Recognize, identify and quantify new cost burdens (for business and citizens) imposed by any proposed ordinance or policy change on business prior to taking action on said policy or ordinance.

The purpose of this strategy is to provide more information to the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.  Albemarle County staff already calculates the impact the proposed action has on their budget, shouldn’t they be equally aware of the costs they are placing on the rest of us?  This is not to suggest that the cost benefit analysis will always go one way or the other, just that the current discussions often do not have this information.

Much has changed since 1995, Albemarle County has improved its relationship with the business community.  It’s time the Comprehensive Plan recognized that shift with a rewrite of the preface to the economic development policy.

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