What Does Economic Development Look Like?

By. Neil Williamson

As Albemarle County is considering their Economic Development Action Plan in a public hearing on Wednesday, July 14th, the Free Enterprise Forum has been examining what does economic development/vitality looks like. harry-truman-picture

It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it’s a  depression when you lose yours. –Harry S Truman, in Observer, April 13, 1958
33rd president of US (1884 – 1972)

While President Truman’s quote rings home, there are a series of leading economic indicators usually include job creation, existing home sales, new housing starts as well as a myriad of other statistics that make up the economic landscape. 

These are important, objective measures but, there are much more local statistics that may be even more enlightening.

school lunch Free and reduced lunch program – how many children in the Albemarle County Schools qualify for free or reduced lunch? 

Last year it was 24.5% 

The Economic Underclass – How many local jobs are producing an annual income of under $22,000?

Last year it was 30%

The Unemployment Denominator – The equation used to determine the percent of unemployed in Albemarle County is determined by dividing the number of people looking for work by the number of people in the workforce.  How many people have dropped out of Albemarle County’s workforce and are no longer actively seeking work?

According to Virginia Employment Commission 500 people left Albemarle County’s civilian workforce [May 2009-May 2010].  This represents the loss of 1% of the civilian workforce.

The Free Enterprise Forum does not believe there is anyone in the community who wants to see one in four students need financial help to purchase lunch or who believes Albemarle should support a permanent underclass due to lack of economic opportunity. 

The benefits of a fully productive workforce can not be overstated.  Workers earning under $22,000 annually are a huge cost center for social services.  The best way to help these families is to create an environment that fosters job creation.

Rather than only focusing on cold statistics, we can also see economic vitality in a different light.  Beyond simple employment and personal empowerment, are the significant benefits to the community of a vibrant, diverse enterprise community.  Business sponsorships and underwriting are mission critical to the performing arts, public radio, community hospitals, area non profits and youth sports. 

In addition, the countless volunteer hours that are put in by owners and employees of local enterprises help to provide caring for animals, build houses, repair trails, clean up local parks, deliver meals, and countless other community activities.   

Albemarle County’s Economic Development Action Plan is an important first step in making employers and entrepreneurial enterprises feel welcome.  It is not a panacea but it is a clear statement that Albemarle County is open for business.

For the cold, hard statistical realities and the softer gentler social underpinnings of the community, the Free Enterprise Forum enthusiastically endorses the Economic Development Action Plan and the philosophy that a rising tide raises all ships.

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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