FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
The early economic indicators are in. While there are limitations in the initial data set, it looks like the significant efforts to mitigate the economic impact of the US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) may have worked as designed.
Please let me explain our logic.
Back in 2007, Free Enterprise Forum Research Associate Natasha Sienitsky authored the Workplace 29 report that found:
The Workplace 29 study area:• supports more than 20,000 jobs, conservatively providing more than $800 million ($874,216,408) alone in direct salaries each year.• generates 35% of taxes by all non-residential uses in Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville; approximately $ 33,019,354 in total tax revenue paid to Albemarle County and Charlottesville City in 2006.• provides per acre tax revenue of $24,700 for non-residential uses, compared to the entire county average of $335 per acre.•produces approximately 45% of the county’s total tax revenue in 2006.
In addition to the above economic impacts it was determined that the Workplace29 study area generated 57% of all of Albemarle’s sales tax income. Considering this was prior to the construction of Stonefield, Costco, and several other retail establishments it is not a reach to suggest that number has remained steady.
The conclusion of Workplace 29 stated:
Non-residential uses in Workplace 29 generate significant jobs and taxes for Albemarle County. The master planning process must continue to engage owners of these properties as the economic vitality and level of government service in Albemarle County and Charlottesville City have a close relationship to revenues generated by non-residential properties in the Workplace 29 area. The current Places 29 plan calls for a reconfiguration of the road network which will cause significant business disruptions along US Route 29 during an extended construction period. Neither the extent nor time frame of disruptions has been addressed.
Although changes in the character of US Route 29 may have long term economic benefits, short term disruptions, through extended construction periods, most likely would negatively impact business and as a result the revenue stream for Charlottesville City and Albemarle County. Therefore, careful consideration should be given to the impact of master plan formulation and implementation on business.
Our 2007 hypothesis does not hold up based on recently released 2016 economic data.
The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce regularly reports regional sales tax data. Their reports provide both updates as well as historical sales tax data.
The report last week, for all of Albemarle County, indicated sales tax revenue for the first half of 2016 was up over 2015 by greater than $495,000 (+7.25%).
Considering the significant disruption to the corridor including the closure of the intersection from May 23 – July 18, 2016 [opening date corrected 12:50 8/29-nw], one must conclude the intense marketing efforts, signage and business assistance efforts had an impact.
Back in March [in our Lemonade Post], we mentioned our appreciation for the marketing efforts of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) as well as Albemarle County.
With these early returns, it seems their mitigation efforts, which continue today, are having the intended results. While we continue to witness economic dislocation (Better Living, PJ Networks, Sultan Kabob), much of this dislocation may have occurred with or without the new GSI.
As Albemarle prepares to produce a small area plan for the US29/Rio area, they would be wise to attempt to capture intersection specific economic data to confirm our conclusions based on county wide data.
We have not yet seen the July numbers but considering the trend for the first six months, I anticipate they will continue to be slightly ahead of 2015.
Absent a more detailed metric, I believe it would be appropriate to congratulate all the businesses involved for weathering a difficult storm; and to congratulate the speedy construction, all of the marketing and business outreach teams for a job well done.
As for our failed 2007 hypothesis, I am happy to have been wrong but one might wonder what the numbers would look like with a longer construction period and absent the unprecedented outreach efforts.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a 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