FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce recently released its 2011 jobs report. The report, a virtual gold mine of data, covered from 2000-2010 and included job category growth and decline. The numbers showed that regionally jobs in manufacturing dropped over 45% and information dropped over 24% while leisure and hospitality jobs increased over 26%.
The report goes further to indicate that in 2000 Leisure & Hospitality made up 13.7% of the region’s private sector jobs (9,986). In 2010, that number had grown to 12,632 jobs (16.3%).
Henry, a Board member of the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council, is continuing his efforts to call attention to a fork in the road that he sees approaching for the area’s future; one branch leading to an economically and culturally diverse city with a healthy middle class (Austin), the other leading to a ritzy retirement and tourism community where only the wealthy can afford to live (Aspen).
According to Henry, if the region’s planners do not take action, greater Charlottesville will slowly drift towards the Aspen model, attracting more and more wealthy retirees until those providing services in Charlottesville will not be able to afford to live there. He advocates the pursuit of the Austin model, and his suggested method is the creation of a strong technology presence that would attract young, middle class workers to counterbalance the area’s aging population.
Here we are three years later faced with empirical data that confirms Henry’s prediction of “slowly drifting toward the Aspen model”. If the current drifting pattern holds, by 2020 one in five jobs in the region could be associated with the leisure and hospitality sector.
But are we “drifting” or does our local government funding impact this direction?
The Free Enterprise Forum asks the question how should the money (and time) we spend attracting tourists to visit the region with Albemarle/Charlottesville Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) compare to the money we spend to attract and retain high quality businesses through the Economic Development offices and the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development (TJPED)? How does such funding compare to other localities?
Earlier this month, Greene County Field Officer Pauline Hovey wrote about the Occupancy Tax and how this new tourism tax is being spent in Greene County.
The Occupancy Tax in Charlottesville and Albemarle helps provides a steady, consistent stream of funding to the CVB. It also ties the CVB to their own results, if they are successful in bringing visitors to hotels, their budget increases. There is no clear funding mechanism for economic development funding.
In the short term, it is clear tourists who come spend their money and then leave have an immediate impact without the cost of children to educate and significant infrastructure demands but does it improve the fabric of the community?
While I appreciate Mr. Henry’s choice between Austin and Aspen, I believe Santa Barbara, California is also a fair comparison to Charlottesville. My father once famously said, “It’s a town for newlyweds and nearly deads”.
The situation is demonstrated in a myriad of ways; Half of the city’s teachers, firemen and police forced to commute long distances. An ever aging population. Businesses leaving and potential arrivals looking elsewhere. An uncertain future for minorities and the poor.
About 30,000 workers now commute to the city of 92,000, some from the north county cities of Santa Maria and Lompoc, others from such Ventura County cities as Ventura and Oxnard, where housing prices are lower.
Is this where we are headed? Is this where we want to go?
Based on the success of the Transient tax model, should local governments look at a dedicated stream of funding for economic development activities that is driven by commercial tax revenue?
Are there missing infrastructure elements that are keeping certain industries out of our region? Is it the role of government to provide these elements? Should we accept the “drifting” as market forces at work or implement strategies to change direction?
In 2040, will the average worker in Charlottesville be writing computer code or writing up a lunch order?
Will we be making stuff or making beds?
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, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo Credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow, Santa Maria Times, Hilton Garden Inn