By. Neil Williamson, President
Often life’s greatest lessons do not come when things are going right but more often in those less than positive experiences.
Now that even the ever optimistic Virginia Governor McAuliffe has given up hope of landing Deschutes Brewery in Albemarle County (Roanoke looks good though), the time is ripe to examine what lessons this unsuccessful process may provide.
1. Albemarle is a very attractive location. Despite higher than average land prices, the quality of life and intangibles are very positive in the region.
2. There is a lack of well positioned and permitted light industrial land. This is a competitive disadvantage. We know the Board of Supervisors has commissioned a staff examination of this issue but based on our conversations with commercial REALTORS® the results are already known.
3. The land permitting process is broken and takes too long. This places Albemarle at a competitive disadvantage. During the discussion of the Comprehensive Plan Amendment, those opposed to the project asked what we considered to be good questions regarding traffic, building footprint etc. Such details are not part of the CPA process. Planning staff has indicated a preference for CPAs to come forward separately as they require a different level of scrutiny (30,000 feet). This is also self serving philosophy as it provides additional work for the planning department. The processes can and should be combined to allow for a CPA, rezoning and site plan approval to be completed in six months.
4. While the Supervisors recognize the economic reality, the public is not yet sold on the concept of increased economic development. This lack of public support is seen by outsiders as “unwelcoming” and is clearly a competitive disadvantage. As Lisa Provence reported in C-ville regarding the Planning Commission denial of the CPA, some are not convinced that economic development (AKA Growth) is a good thing:
Former supervisor Sally Thomas represented the Samuel Miller District from 1993 to 2009, and she’s seeing a way of doing business that simply wasn’t done during her tenure on the Board of Supervisors, when the board was more concerned with keeping growth in check than luring out-of-state businesses.
“In the game of economic development, we’re shocked by the things Faith McClintic says are quite common in communities determined to bring new businesses,” says Thomas. While Albemarle always extracted proffers from developers to help pay for infrastructure costs, in other areas, taxpayers are paying for utility extensions like the one that will be needed to get water and sewer to the land Deschutes is eying.
Thomas says she encouraged the planning commission “not to be guilted into” voting for the amendment for fear of being accused of not being supportive of economic development.
5. Albemarle Economic Development Director Faith McClintic is a sharp, smart, economic development professional with a daunting task ahead of her. There has been relatively uniform approval of the job McClintic has done thus far (even from those opposing the CPA). It will be interesting to see if McClintic is able to maintain her high level of performance in the face of Albemarle’s competitive disadvantages or is recruited away to a more “business welcoming” locality.
It is entirely possible that Ms. Thomas position of keeping growth in check may be the majority opinion of Albemarle County citizens. If the philosophy of the Board is that any business is lucky that we are allowing them to locate here and should be happy to jump through our bureaucratic hoops, then there is not “A new day” in Albemarle.
The current and future leadership of Albemarle County need to determine the direction of the Economic Development Department. That decision, perhaps more than any other, will determine not only the success of businesses to locate and expand; but also the jobs that may or may not be available as well as the percentage of government costs that will be carried by property taxes.
Da Lesson from Deschutes – Albemarle was not ready.
Da Question from Deschutes – Do they really want to be?
Neil Williamson, President
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.