Making Products or Making Beds


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%).

Sometime ago, local businessman Gary Henry raised a concernGary Henry regarding the area’s increased reliance on tourism and retirees.  As Charlottesville Tomorrow reported in their 2008 article:

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 Los Angeles Times reported in 2003:

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.

30,000 workers (many in the Leisure & Hospitality sector) commute over an hour each way to get to work in a town of 92,000.  Businesses fleeing.

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?

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson


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, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website

Photo Credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow, Santa Maria Times, Hilton Garden Inn

4 responses

  1. It’s not surprising that manufacturing jobs have moved out…it’s a trend that is occurring on an international level. But Charlottesville shouldn’t be shifting the burden to the hospitality industry. For one, the global economy is in demand of high-skilled jobs. If we want to provide job opportunities for kids growing up here, are we committing ourselves to shifting our education program to teach how to manage hotels? We need to focusing on science and math, and bringing jobs that require those skills. Long-term economic growth is in advanced technology, not hotel maintenance.

    1. Neil asked: “are we “drifting” or does our local government funding impact this direction?” Both sadly, both. It is not all about where we want to go but in also (and perhaps too much of) how to get there. I suspect Austin did not indulge playing or manipulating the different occupation fields and/or economic classes. Does anyone have data on and care whether Aspen induced and regulated a living wage policy from its administrative social engineers?

      Here is a question of concern: is it necessary to pit prospect potential industrial and commerce sectors (e.g. Leisure & Hospitality vs. Hospice and Eldercare) against one another? I don’t believe so and I say no. Spare the obligitory expected or built-in about chalking it up to “competition.” In no uncertain words, the recent (also) released Orange Dot Project Report defines a situation relative herein to Charlottesville (Proper). It is not all sunshine, lollypops and the West Main Street version of Restaurant Survivor on television.

      Yes, encourage and create broader job opportunities for the most sought after nubile attractive middle-class workers. However, do not simultaneously ingnore the total societal segment below that range. If the city (apologies and pardon, I’m not presumptious to speak for the other locales here) should stick with seeing out of a blind eye, then we get what economic fall-out and disenfranchisement we invite and have visited upon us! Otherwise, split the different but don’t bet every acre of the farm on just the latest cutting-edge adavance technologies.

  2. […] we highlighted the shift of jobs moving out of manufacturing and into Leisure and Tourism (Making Products or Making Beds), we were taken to task by some asking what did we want government to […]

  3. […] If we as a community choose to ignore the significant negative implications of over regulation on business development and retention, the resultant community may not be one you wish to see preserved.  Just as one can ask if the community vision is “Aspen or Austin”, if  these proposals come to fruition a better question may be should Charlottesville be known for Making Products or Making Beds. […]

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