Do Sunlight and Economic Development Mix?

By. Neil Williamson, President

See the source image“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” – Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

Last Wednesday in a series of well coordinated “matters from the public” speeches, John Martin, as well as representatives from Advocates for A Sustainable Population (ASAP), the League of Women Voters of the Charlottesville Area  (LWV) and Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), cited Justice Brandeis’ quote either directly or indirectly regarding local economic development. Both PEC and ASAP specifically raised the Amazon’s HQ2 New York rebuke in their comments.

We found it interesting that an environmental group and a local population control group choose government transparency to be an issue.   We wondered if there might be other motivations at play?

While the Free Enterprise Forum enthusiastically agrees with Justice Brandeis, last week we found ourselves standing in front of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors supporting economic vitality efforts AND the continuing confidentiality of economic development prospects.

Albemarle County has come a long way regarding economic development.  The development of a publicly vetted economic development strategic plan [Project Enable] provides citizens an clear understanding of the Economic Development mission:

To attract additional financial resources into the community through responsible economic development activities that enhance the County’s competitive position and result in quality job creation and career employment opportunities, increased tax base, enhanced natural resources and community character, and an improved quality of life for all citizens.

While it is important for government to be open and transparent, economic development projects fall into a different category.

Not all prospects are a proper fit for Albemarle and Albemarle is not a proper fit for all prospects.  To be truly successful a project must be a “win-win” for everyone involved.  As easy as that is to say, to accomplish this task requires significant, and confidential, due diligence on both the public and private sector.

The President/CEO of the non profit Business Development Board [BDB]of Palm Beach County highlighted the need for confidentiality throughout the process:

Economic development is a marathon, not a sprint.  The courting process includes disclosure of very sensitive information but only works if we are trusted by our clients to keep confidential information within the walls of the BDB.  Our reputation of trust and the ability to establish a strong relationship with each client is what makes our economic development process unique.

The Board of Supervisors is interested in economic vitality that can help diversify their revenue streams and reduce dependence on property taxes.  The bottom line is the supervisors have been elected by voters to serve as their representatives in these economic development discussions.  If consummated, all of the deal details will be public see the sunlight’s disinfection.  If the voters do not like the deal struck, they have the ability to chose new representation.

If Albemarle County were to require thirty days notice and a public hearing for every economic development project, it would cripple their market competitiveness and cause prospects, including existing Albemarle companies to look elsewhere to grow their enterprises – perhaps that is the critics’ true motivation.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes in representative government, confidential negotiation  AND transparency.  While seemingly mutually exclusive, all three are required for Albemarle economic vitality projects to advance.

Respectfully Submitted,

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

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