FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
Much like turning an aircraft carrier, Albemarle County Economic Development Strategic Planning Process is very slowly moving forward while some involved are busy paddling in very different directions. The reality is there is not only a need to change direction, there is a dire need for the crew to work together to change the many adverse elements surrounding the ship.
Last night’s (7/26) joint meeting of the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission and the Economic Development Authority showcases how each member of this crew has a different perspective on not only the current reality but also regarding the eventual destination of this cruise.
Albemarle Economic Development Director, Faith McClintic shared a couple of stunning facts regarding how the county must respond to business inquiries (including expansion of existing businesses):
If a manufacturer calls interested in locating near a highway they tell them “we have nothing for you”
Prospect businesses are looking to move within 3 – 6 months if they are not looking to build. We have no product “ready to go today”
Several members of the joint meeting questioned some of the statistics presented and suggested the focus of the economic development strategic plan might be redirected. Board of Supervisors Chair Liz Palmer mentioned that she thought this process was about bringing more business into the county to generate new tax revenue.
Planning Commission Chair Tim Keller also raised the concept of the types of jobs the plan was seeking to target suggesting the breakeven point [when the taxes = the services demand] for residential is $600K+ questions if we should be seeking to grow lower pay jobs.
Supervisor Ann Mallek took a different approach highlighting that the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce Orange Dot report identified her district as having 440 families lack basic self-sufficiency. She is thinking of them when she is thinking about economic vitality.
Supervisor Rick Randolph took exception to the concept of looking toward advanced manufacturing as the sector focus. Aaron Richardson of Charlottesville Tomorrow reports:
Of those in the workforce, the report showed, more than 26 percent of Albemarle residents hold some form of advanced degree, but only 7.8 percent of available jobs require more than a bachelor’s degree.
Those numbers, said Supervisor Rick Randolph, do not support staff’s assertion about the need for more manufacturing jobs.
“I am feeling a disconnect between the need for manufacturing, when what we really need to focus on is the underemployment situation,” he said. “I am looking at a target sector for employment that is missing our biggest need.”
Over the last five years, Albemarle has been focused on several target business sectors for growing and expanding business. The numbers indicate they have actually lost 324 jobs in those segments that have been the focus. We agree based on these results a re-tuning of the targets may be appropriate.
The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates all of these different perspectives on the types of jobs needed but we continue to believe all the navel gazing in the world will not promote a new Albemarle paradigm where land is readily available and businesses are welcomed by the community rather than being seen as a threat to their way of life.
Until significant structural (proactive zoning, streamline approval process, etc.) and cultural changes are made Albemarle will continue to lose new job opportunities and existing businesses who chose to locate in localities who have embraced the prospect of new business.
Absent such changes Albemarle’s Economic Development Program will not be compared to a well coordinated warship but more to the S.S. Minnow of Gilligan’s Island fame.
Neil Williamson, President
Photo Credit: United Artist Television