Albemarle Apologetic Economic Development

By. Neil Williamson, President

While it is not the role of government to create economic development, government has the ability to create an environment that welcomes suchClosed20Sign_thumb.jpg activity.  Building such an environment requires commitment but recent actions by the Board of Supervisors (BOS) as well as a close examination of the proposed Comprehensive Plan chapters leads some to believe Albemarle may not be “open for business”.

Based on recent discussions, Albemarle seems to be much more likely to hire a planner to preserve the past than a position to help facilitate the jobs of the future.

Please let me explain.

Last Wednesday, just hours after two incumbents (Duane Snow and Rodney Thomas) lost their reelection bids, one of the other “lame ducks” on the Board, retiring Dennis Rooker, raised questions about the responsibilities and accountability of an Economic Development Department. 

Rooker was concerned about creating such a  “cost center” without specific metrics to evaluate its performance.  It would be refreshing to see this same level of accountability to some of the other County expenditures Supervisor Rooker has favored over the last twelve years (including the Historic Preservation Planner below).  While some in the audience saw this as a subtle delaying tactic designed to make the proposal come before the newly elected Board, Supervisor Snow went so far as to call it “a full retreat”.   

This Wednesday (11/13) the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will consider three chapters of their Comprehensive Plan: Economic Development, Historic Resources, Natural Resources.  To be clear, we are appreciative that after 30 years of Comprehensive Planning, Albemarle County has an economic development chapter but  The Free Enterprise Forum believes it is not an accident that the Economic Development Chapter is the shortest of the three (and the shortest in the Plan).

Beyond the mere number of pages dedicated to economic development,  much of the document reads like an apology.  By means of comparison here is the Objective 1 of the Natural Resources Plan:

Protect the quality and quantity of surface water and groundwater resources in the County.

A crisp, measurable objective without conditions.  Objective 1 of the Historic Resources Plan is equally clear:

Continue to identify and recognize the value of buildings, structures, landscapes, sites and districts which have historical, architectural, archaeological or culture significance.

But the tenor of the Economic Development Objective 1 is completely different:

Ensure that economic development efforts are supportive of the County’s Growth Management Policy and consistent with the other Comprehensive Plan goals.

Taken independently, one might find the Economic Development Objective 1 to be without objection but when compared side by side it is clear some chapters are more equal than others.

The Natural Resources Chapter speaks at great lengths regarding habitat fragmentation (including the below chart):



If it is important to educate citizens about the negative impacts of a fragmented wildlife habitat, is it not as important to educate citizens of the perils of underemployment (see chart below) and impact such underemployment has increasing the number of chronically unemployed youth?

Why wouldn’t the Comprehensive Plan seek to identify how this lack of good jobs is impacting the different segments of our population differently?

If it is an Albemarle County  strategy to “re-establish the full-time Historic Planner Position to assist in the implementation of the Preservation Plan”, is it not equally important to actually have at least one person’s full time job to be focused on the jobs of the future? 

Wednesday’s question for the lame duck BOS (and its newest member Jane Dittmar) is whether together they will fight to make economic development, and jobs, a priority in Albemarle County.

Looking at the tea leaves, I am not optimistic.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


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

Chart credits:,


  1. Mr. Williamson has pulled a few words out of context for his thesis. The proposal was for the County to spend an additional $160,000 per year for added economic development personnel. We already have 1 1/2 people assigned to economic development. Economic development expenditures by County government are being sold as cost effective ways to increase tax revenues. I think the Board should see proof of this before it commits to spending $160,000 in perpetuity (with annual increases, or course.) Do the jurisdictions which spend more on economic development actually have lower unemployment rates or underemployment rates than Albemarle County? Is there a relationship between the amount they spend on economic development and their business tax revenues? Perhaps the jurisdictions which emphasize education and other quality of life issues do better economically than those that spend more on economic development. It would be wise for the new Board of Supervisors to have this information and make this decision after they take office; after all, they will be living with the economic consequences.

    I supported the Economic Vitality Plan, County membership in the Central Virginia Economic Development Partnership (to which we pay dues and which has the job of economic development in the area) and the Target Industry Study, to which the County contributed money and which identified the specific industry types that are most compatible with the County and likely to have an interest in locating here. The County also has a $250,000 economic development fund and an Albemarle County Economic Development Authority, both of which I have supported.

    Governments take on many tasks which are not based upon cost/benefit analysis. Examples of such tasks are protection of natural resources, educating our children, providing police, sidewalks and bicycle facilities, fire and rescue services, zoning, social services and court facilities. Historic preservation is one of these.

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