Tag Archives: economic development

Fluvanna Financing Fun

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors approved debt financing plan for Zion Crossroads water project at the April 19th meeting.

The project doesn’t have final design or numbers yet, but the possible funding source will be the Virginia Resource Authority (VRA).

The supervisors approved applying in the summer bond pool with the VRA. The application will be for $10 million, the latest estimated cost of the project. The deadline for the application is May 1.

The county should get a final design and cost in the next month. At that time, the supervisors can decide how much financing they want to use and amend the application. The county administrator recommends putting $4 million from the county’s cash balance to the project.

In regards to current county debt, the high school bonds have a window of about 100 days in the fourth quarter 2018 where $57 million can be reinvested. The county has two known options.

One option is to issue a ‘float agreement’ where the county contracts with an investment firm now at a locked in amount. The investment firm gives the county a set amount now with the hopes the firm can invest that money for a better return when the window opens.

If the county issued a float agreement right now, it is estimated it would bring in a $74,000 immediate payout. They could also ask for a specific amount and once a bid comes in at that price, accept it. The county can issue the float agreement at any time but as the window nears, firms will be less like to ‘bet’ high.

A second option is to purchase a state and local government series (SLGS) when the 100 day period occurs. The only issue is the SLGS are sometimes blocked to be purchased. Two years ago SLGS were not allowed to be purchased for most of the year.

Supervisors directed staff to ask more questions about possibilities to Raymond James, the county’s financial adviser.

At April 12th meeting, the supervisors approved the FY18 budget and tax rates on a 4-1 with Don Weaver (Cunningham District) dissenting.

The real estate tax rate is set at $0.907 per $100 assessed. The personal property stayed at $4.35 per $100. The business rates decreased in an effort to help local businesses.

Late changes to the budget included giving staff a 2 percent raise to start January 1, increasing the budget for county attorney, additional funds for the Sheriff’s Office and Earth Day hazardous waste collection. The supervisors also are using cash to purchase a new brush truck for emergency services.

More public was present at the meeting but overall the budget season had few county residents active in the process.

The supervisors will next meet on May 3 at 4 p.m. for a regular session. A work session on county projects, including the Zion Crossroads water project, is expected before the May 17 meeting.


https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/bryan-rothamel.jpg?w=151&h=151The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS®and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

The Banana Boat and Charlottesville’s Proposed BPOL Reform

By. Neil Williamson, President

My first car was a yellow 1976 Ford Pinto Station Wagon 1977_Ford_Pinto_rear photo credit motoburg(fondly referred to as the ‘Banana Boat’).  Over time, I upgraded the stereo and dressed up the interior but it never really changed the fundamental fact that my teenage “ride” was a yellow Pinto Station Wagon.

This car came to mind as I watch Charlottesville consider important and proper changes to their Business Professional Occupancy License (BPOL) tax.

Please let me explain.

On March 6th, Charlottesville City Council will be considering changes to their BPOL Ordinance designed to promote fairness to mid-sized businesses.  Currently, any business operating in Charlottesville is required to pay BPOL based on its gross receipts. In fiscal year 2016, the BPOL tax generated $6.9 Million dollars in revenue for the City, 4.4% of all City revenue.  All 38 cities in Virginia charge BPOL.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is an unfair tax as it is based on gross receipts and has called for it repeal.

Staff provided several examples of the challenges under the existing ordinance:

Charlottesville businesses grossing $50,000 or less per year pay a flat fee of $35 and businesses grossing more than $50,000 pay based on a rate (established in State Code and as determined by the particular type of business) multiplied by annual gross receipts.

As an example, a veterinarian grossing $49,000 per year pays $35 for an annual business license. A veterinarian grossing $51,000 per year pays according to the standard rate for veterinarians and other similar professions ($0.58/$100), and would pay a rate-based fee of $295.80.

A graphic designer grossing $49,000 per year pays $35 for an annual business license. A graphic designer grossing $51,000 per year pays according to the standard rate for graphic designers and other similar professions ($0.36/$100), and would pay a rate-based fee of $183.60. The effect is that similar small businesses with very similar gross receipts end up paying very different fee amounts.

Meanwhile in neighboring Albemarle County, businesses earning up to $100,000 pay a flat fee of $50.  Therefore the business starting out (>$50,000 gross revenue) pays less in Charlottesville until they cross the $50K threshold and then they pay much more.

The Commissioner of the Revenue has reported of hearing significant concerns from taxpayers about what can be a dramatic jump in their BPOL costs as they cross the $50K gross annual threshold.  It is important to recognize that $50K in gross revenue is the point where many businesses may be at the tipping point between viability and failure.

As the staff report outlines:

In an effort to attract, retain, and encourage small businesses in the City of Charlottesville, the Commissioner of the Revenue and City Treasurer are proposing a modest change to the fee structure used to assess BPOL:

  • Businesses grossing $50,000 and below continue to pay $35 license fee
  • Businesses grossing $50,001 to $100,000 pay a $50 license fee
  • Businesses grossing over $100,000 pay the license fee based on applicable BPOL rate

This proposed change would benefit small businesses within the City of Charlottesville by reducing the license fee paid by businesses earning between $50,000 and $100,000. Staff estimates that approximately 450 businesses would benefit from this structural change. There would also be a comparable change in the technology business incentive as well. We are recommending that these changes take place for the upcoming assessment year of 2018.

The Commissioner and Treasurer would note that this is a relatively modest proposal that seeks to provide meaningful relief to small businesses in our community within limited statutory, system, and budget constraints.

These changes do not come without cost.  Staff estimates adoption of this proposal would potentially reduce BPOL revenue by $93,000.

While the Free Enterprise Forum has consistently called for the REPEAL of BPOL, we are supportive of the reforms contained in the proposal.  In addition, we commend the Commissioner of the Revenue and the Treasurer for thinking beyond the bean counter box and seeking reform.  When properly implemented, we see these changes as leveling the playing field with adjoining localities, increasing fairness for small to mid sized businesses and promoting economic development.  1979 pinto cruising wagon

We would be remiss if we did not remind the City that regardless of changing the paint job, adding new tires and a kicking new stereo, you are still driving a Pinto Station Wagon.

Yes, repeal would be better but we support these commonsensical BPOL reforms.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson

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.

Photo Credits: Motorbug.com, Autospost.com

Is The Jury Still Out on Albemarle Courts Relocation?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Tonight (10/24) the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will take “public input” regarding the albemarle-courthousepossible relocation of their courts system.  Of the five options on the table, all but one keeps the courts in the City of Charlottesville. While the Free Enterprise Forum would like to have a favored option, we do not believe the case has been made for any option — considering how far along the process is, we are astonished at the basic questions that remain unanswered.

To review here are the five options:

OPTION 1: DOWNTOWN/LEVY EXPANSION
OPTION 2: RELOCATE COUNTY & CITY GENERAL DISTRICT COURTS TO COUNTY OFFICE BUILDING MCINTIRE

OPTION 3: RELOCATE COUNTY GENERAL DISTRICT COURTS TO COUNTY OFFICE BUILDING MCINTIRE

OPTION 4: RELOCATE COUNTY GENERAL DISTRICT COURTS & CIRCUIT COURTS TO COUNTY OFFICE BUILDING MCINTIRE

OPTION 5: RELOCATE COUNTY GENERAL DISTRICT & CIRCUIT COURTS TO COUNTY SITE

As we examine the decision matrix provided by the county, we have many more questions than answers.

Here are our top ten inquiries:

  1. Has the city offered any economic incentives to support any of the City based options? (see last week’s blog post)
  2. Why does option 1 (stay downtown) cost $12,500,000 more than building in option 5?
  3. Why does it cost $18,000,000 to put the General District Court at the County office building when it appears that most of the infrastructure is already there?
  4. If you build a new county admin facility, where will it be located and, how much does it cost?  Where is that cost shown?
  5. Do options 2-5 factor in the lost property tax revenue for whatever parcel is acquired?
  6. The matrix seems to indicate that options 2-5 strongly support the County’s strategic redevelopment/urban place making priorities.   Doesn’t that really depend on where the County offices are built and how?  It could eat up a bunch of property in the urban area and create little long term value.
  7. Will option 5 allow a mix of uses on their site?  What of creating affordable housing over top of the new county offices?
  8. It seems that you are assuming any new construction by the County in the County has high economic development value.  Why?  What assumptions have been made to draw that conclusion?
  9. Is taking urban county property off the tax rolls good for economic development? Will the development area be expanded to replace this lost land?
  10. Why is the construction risk higher for option 1 than any of the other options?

The public input offered can only be as good as the information provided to them to base that input.  We forwarded these questions to Albemarle County early last week and they indicated they hoped to have answers in their presentation tonight. If that is the case, the public will have limited time to process the information before the public input session closes.

Regardless, these questions need answers before anyone should make a decision on the future location of the court.

The jury is not “still out” — the full argument has yet to be presented.

Respectfully Submitted,

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 http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Albemarle County

Bananas and Albemarle’s Outdated Economic Opportunity Map

This article first appeared in the August 21, 2016 Daily Progress

By Neil Williamson

Imagine being in the banana business — and you have no way to obtain fruit.Image result for Albemarle county development area

That is Albemarle County’s current economic development sales position: “Yes, we have no bananas.”

“If a manufacturer calls interested in locating near a highway, we tell them, ‘We have nothing for you,’. Prospect businesses are looking to move within three to six months if they are not looking to build. We tell them, ‘We have no product ready to go today.’” – Faith McClintic, Albemarle County’s economic development director

The “product” Albemarle is lacking is available, properly zoned land. McClintic’s comments to a joint meeting of Albemarle Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission and Economic Development Authority paint a very dark picture for Albemarle County’s economic future.

During the Fiscal Year 2017 budget cycle, the county budget summary stated:

“Other communities for a larger commercial tax base have been able to keep their real property tax rates more stable over the past several years.”

Despite the great recession, other Virginia localities with more vibrant business sectors have not been forced to raise property taxes to balances their budgets.

Currently 80 percent of Albemarle’s local tax revenue is from property taxes; only 20 percent is from business taxes. Other communities are closer to a 70/30 ratio.

If there was one lesson the community learned from losing the Deschutes Brewery opportunity (regardless of whether we were ever really in the game), it was that this community is ill prepared for the very economic development that the Comprehensive Plan envisions.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Over the years, Albemarle has spent millions of dollars setting aside parkland and open space to make sure nothing happens on selected properties. Isn’t it time Albemarle invests in making something happen in economic development?

Solving Albemarle’s economic development problem is not about the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors holding a plethora of focus groups and multiple public work sessions to determine the types of jobs (and salaries) they would like to see. The elected and appointed bodies should instead focus on what they do control: the regulatory environment (planning, zoning and procedures).

Albemarle does not have enough land properly located and zoned for new business development or business expansion. The fundamental problem is that Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan map and zoning maps do not agree.

Absent new land for development, Albemarle’s annual projected property tax increases are only just beginning. As the tax rates grow, businesses will stop expanding here, choosing instead more businesgreece-diagrams-friendly (and lower-tax-burdensome) localities. Fleeing commercial tax revenue exacerbates the situation, further increasing reliance on the property taxes.

There is a simple answer: Make more.

The two ways to “make more” are to expand the development areas (currently around 5 percent of land mass) and/or proactively rezoning development area land.

Proactive rezoning

Proactive rezoning is when a locality (with owner consent) takes the initiative and rezones land to match its Comprehensive Plan designation. In practice, this makes it easier to develop to the uses and the specific densities expressed in the community-vetted Comprehensive Plan. Since the locality is the applicant, misnamed “voluntary” proffers are eliminated.

Community involvement and education are key in any proactive rezoning. The idea that the community can weigh in on the concept of the rezoning rather than seeking specific site-plan information for a potential applicant keeps the discussion on the macro rather than micro level.

Political will and an understanding of development desires are required for proactive rezoning to be successful. Such rezoning can’t be significantly restricted by onerous form-based zoning codes.

Albemarle has proactively rezoned one region, the Downtown Crozet District (DCD). Due to the highly  restrictive form-based code that accompanied this proactive rezoning, thus far only one new private businesses has located in the DCD zone.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes strongly in property rights; therefore, the concept of owner consent to any proactive rezoning is critical. Such consent can easily be established with an opt-out provision prior to the final zoning change enactment.

If a countywide, comprehensive, proactive rezoning is not possible, perhaps Albemarle can look at those areas it has already determined to be the so-called “priority” development areas and start there. Pantops and the new Berkmar Extended both seem ripe for consideration.

Development area expansion

Due to the political work in Richmond of those who came before us, Albemarle has Interstate 64 cutting through the county. Later political activity produced the 1979 development area boundaries Image result for Albemarle county development area(approximately 5 percent for development, approximately 95 to remain rural). Because of the 1979 decision (and little adjustment to it), Albemarle County is woefully behind other communities in land designated for growth.

Based on new environmental restrictions (protecting stream buffers, preserving slopes) and the creation of Biscuit Run State Park (where development once had been approved), the 5 percent land mass of the development areas has been shrinking for more than a decade.

In addition, drinking the “new urbanist” growth control Kool-Aid, Albemarle choose not to maximize its highway frontage and disco-fashion-bradysto restrict development at highway interchanges.

Let’s face it: 1979 had a number of bad ideas (pet rocks, disco, Ford Pinto, etc.). It is far past time to reconsider this nonsensical notion about growth and, at a minimum, open economic development near interchanges to both commercial and industrial opportunities.

Expecting less than 5 percent of your land mass to generate enough positive business revenue to pay for increasing service demands from residents is not feasible. Albemarle will never catch up to its so-called “peer” communities if it does not dedicate, designate and zone more land to jobs.

Fractured board vision

A secondary but equally important problem is a lack of unity within a one-party-dominated Board of Supervisors regarding economic development goals. While Chairman Liz Palmer has stated that her desire for new business is to increase tax revenue, White Hall Supervisor Ann Mallek is concerned about the lack of job opportunities for the 440 families in her district living below self-sustainability (according to the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Orange Dot Report).

Planning Commission Chairman Tim Keller raised the idea of seeking jobs that paid enough for residents to afford homes costing $600,000-plus.  Such price points generate “breakeven” property taxes [when the taxes generated equal the cost of services demanded]. He questioned the fiscal responsibility of seeking to grow lower-paying jobs.

Supervisor Rick Randolph took exception to the concept of looking toward advanced manufacturing as the job sector on which to focus. Charlottesville Tomorrow quoted Randolph as saying:

“I am feeling a disconnect [regarding] the need for manufacturing, when what we really need to focus on is the underemployment situation. I am looking at a target sector for employment that is missing our biggest need.”

Over the past five years working with the Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development, Albemarle has identified and focused on four target industry sectors for growing and expanding business [ bioscience and medical devices, business and financial services, information technology/defense and security, and agribusiness].

Despite this concerted effort, the results have not followed. The most recent job statistics indicate a loss of 324 jobs in those segments that have been their focus. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that either we need to realign the targets or rework the opportunities we are presenting to the targets.

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 paradigm in Albemarle where land is readily available and businesses are welcomed by the community rather than being seen as a threat to our way of life.

Who will champion the Albemarle Board of Supervisors coming together to lead the charge for improving the business climate?

Until significant changes are made in the county government’s staff culture and development structure (initiating proactive zoning, expanded development areas, and streamlined approval process, etc.), Albemarle will continue to lose new job opportunities, as well as losing existing businesses that chose to move to more welcoming localities.

When a new or existing business calls the county wanting to expand Albemarle’s employment opportunities and the business tax base, there should be a better answer than “Yes, we have no bananas.”

Neil Williamson is president of the Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non-profit public policy organization focused on local governments in Central Virginia. For more information visit freeenterpriseforum.org.

Photo Credits: http://www.livemaguk.com, Albemarle County, http://www.whyoffashion.com

Economic Development Homework Assignment from Albemarle PC

E-mail received Wednesday July 27th:

“Last evening (7/26), under New Business (after your departure) the planning commissioners briefly discussed your comments under “matters from the public.” We wonder if you might expand on your thoughts in a 1-3 page “discussion piece” for our review, reflection and comment at a future meeting.

Thank you.

Best regards,

Tim

J. Timothy Keller – At-Large Commissioner and Chair
Albemarle Co. Planning Commission

By. Neil Williamson, President Free Enterprise Forum

For a LONG TIME, Albemarle County has been institutionally aloof regarding business prospects. The consensus thinking had been ‘of course they want to come here, they are lucky we’re even considering letting them in’. Virginia’s economic development office only reluctantly sent prospects to Albemarle based on this attitude and the lack of inventory available. Many neighboring localities benefited from this posture as they positioned themselves as “Not Albemarle”.

According to some, this philosophical position has changed, we are still waiting to see “the New Day in Albemarle”. Like it or not, economic development is a competitive effort. The question is not only does Albemarle want to compete – the question is does Albemarle want to win?

Citizens are beginning to recognize the need for commercial and light industrial economic development that could increase revenue and relieve tax pressure on Albemarle County land owners. Staff to is recognizing the need as some have taken to comparing economic development decisions to getting a child to eat vegetables, it is no longer ‘do you want vegetables’ the question is ‘peas or carrots?’.

As part of Albemarle County’s Economic Development Strategic Planning, the Free Enterprise Forum believes the Planning Commission is uniquely qualified to assist in identifying and reducing the regulatory barriers to development while preserving the public input to the process.

In her presentation, Economic Development Director Faith McClintic identified Regulation & Development Review Time as one of the four County influences of cost components. As “Time is money”, the Planning Commission should consider several steps to reducing the time required for a prospect business to gain the necessary approvals to build or lease space and be open for business.

We believe the Planning Commission should focus on this charge rather than determining which type of job or income level we should be targeting. By focusing on improving the process, you make Albemarle more welcoming to ALL jobs.

Idea #1 Proactive Rezoning – The community vetted Comprehensive Plan map and the Zoning maps do not agree. If the Planning Commission simply did a County wide adjustment to the maps, with owner consent and proper public input, you could increase the inventory of properly designated land AND remove an unproductive 1.5 years from an applicant approval process. Such a public process might include a public education component regarding business taxes reducing pressure on property taxes.

To be successful the proactive rezoning must allow for development to occur. When Albemarle created the Downtown Crozet District with a proactive rezoning it added a burdensome layer of design guidelines that precluded almost all private investment in the district (only 1 business is now using the DCD zoning- and they almost could not).

Idea #2 Expand the development areas

Albemarle County is woefully behind other communities in land designated for growth. Based on the new environmental restrictions (stream buffers, preserved slopes) and the Creation of Biscuit Run State Park.

Expecting 5% of your land mass to generate enough positive business revenue to pay for citizen service demands, is not feasible. Absent new land for light industrial development, Albemarle’s projected property tax increases are only just beginning. As the tax rates grow, businesses will stop expanding here, choosing instead more business friendly (and lower tax burdensome) localities.

Albemarle will never catch up to its so called “peer” communities if it does not dedicate, designate and zone more land to jobs.

Idea #2.5 Removing highway interchange zoning restrictions.

Starting with the end in mind, Albemarle County should have land available to meet the Comprehensive Plan’s Economic Development goal of a varied and vibrant job base. According to McClintic, if a prospect business contacts her office seeking to have highway access, she must tell them she has nothing to offer.

Due to political work of those who came before us, Albemarle has Interstate 64 cutting through the County. In 1979, when the development area boundaries were created, Albemarle made a decision not to maximize this highway frontage. Let’s face it 1979 had a number of bad ideas (pet rocks, disco, Ford Pinto etc.) it is time to reconsider this nonsensical notion and open economic development near interchanges to both commercial and industrial opportunities.

As an aside, this issue continues to be discussed in the community. Just last week, the Albemarle County Farm Bureau passed a resolution in support of this concept.

Idea #3 Streamline Approval Process – One need only look to the Development Review Task Force, Development Initiative Steering Committee (DISC), DISCII (AKA Son of DISC) to see specific proposals to streamline operations that have not been instituted.

The level of detail required at the rezoning stage is ridiculous. Albemarle should return to the “bubble map” methodology which focuses on the use not the design of the project. This would significantly reduce the staff time to process applications and the applicant cost of reengineered drawings for multiple iterations.

Idea #3.5 Eliminate Mandated Community Meetings-Holding such meetings in the prescribed county fashion adds unnecessary red tape and time costs. Such meetings should be voluntary for applicants and those who hold them will tend to have a competitive advantage when their proposal comes forward. These meetings have become unelected screening devices that limit the quality and density of proposals that move forward to the Planning Commission.

Idea #4 Consider Municipal investment in an Industrial Park – Albemarle County has dedicated a significant portion of its development area to open space (parks, easements, stream buffers, etc.) that positively impacts the “Quality of Life” but generates zero tax revenue. An argument could be made that investing in an industrial park where local jobs could grow would be at least as valuable as paying a landowner not to develop their development area property.

Idea #5 Remove Development Area Building Height Restrictions If Albemarle wishes to develop a true urban core with significant population and business density, the current height limitations should be repealed. Allow the market (rather than government) dictate height requirements.

Idea #6 Metrics, Metrics, Metrics The Free Enterprise Forum believes people pay attention to those things that are measured. We recommend the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors receive quarterly reports that contain the following:

          • what is the success rate for NMD projects?
            • How much commercial absorption is happening each year? If we achieve no real commercial, then aren’t these just overcomplicated residential projects?
          • What’s the Review time per project?
          • What’s the tax revenue impact per project?
          • What is the cumulative tax revenue impact of commercial development?
          • New Commercial SF construction/yr
          • New Industrial/Flex SF construction/yr
          • Residential build-out of higher profile areas or projects (e.g., Crozet, HTC, Belvedere, Liberty Hall, Spring Hill, Riverside Village, Old Trail)

As stated previously, the Free Enterprise Forum believes the Planning Commission is in the best position to identify and eliminate regulatory barriers. Such action will require courage and faith. Many of these types of decisions will require the Planning Commission NOT to weigh in rather to grant approval administratively. While we recognize this may be a new concept for many commissioners we believe not weighing in may actually generate more of the type of development the Comprehensive Plan envisions.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide more than three minutes of thoughts on this issue.

Respectfully,

Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

Where Is Albemarle’s Economic Development Headed?

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.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Photo Credit: United Artist Television

 

 

Fixing Albemarle ED — Step 1 Get Out Of The Way

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from comments made to The Albemarle County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors April 19, 2016

Tonight, at your request, you have heard three presentations regarding local government’s role in economic development.

  • Planners want to “Create Centers for Livability and Economic Development”.
  • Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) explained their plans to address transitioning workforce needs
  • Albemarle’s own Director of Economic Development, Faith McClintic, described Economic Eco-systems as more than just buildings.

UnknownAfter all that, I have a simple question that actually dates back to the 1992 vice presidential debate, the Admiral Stockdale question – Why are we here?

What purpose does the Planning Commission have investigating the topic of Economic Development?

In what world, should the appointed planning commission, which is advisory to the Board of Supervisors on land use matters, be examining how we train the workforce – don’t we have an elected school board, and 4 members on the PVCC Board for this function.

Backdoor becomes front door 2Perhaps rather than having staff spend time preparing a PowerPoint about how they think “Centers for Livability and Economic Development” should be designed, perhaps they could be directed to proactively remove overly prescriptive zoning regulations that make it illegal to park customer cars in front of a business.  Current code philosophy is we don’t mind your business it’s your customers that are the problem (relegated parking).

Rather than asking what you can do to help PVCC train our workforce or helping the Economic Development Director to focus on the right businesses to come to Albemarle County, the Planning Commission (and Board of Supervisors) should DO THEIR JOB and focus on removing unnecessary regulatory barriers and streamlining the time (and money) consuming approval processes that doom many economic development projects before they even start.

Over the last four years, we have seen the accountability factor for our elected officials obfuscated by Citizen Councils and Planning Commission actions.  We continue to believe these unelected bodies have too much power in the approval process and should be disbanded.  Why not streamline the approval process for any project that already agrees with the community vetted Comprehensive Plan and send those proposals directly to the Board of Supervisors for action.

We have heard several horror stories of projects where businesses have walked away from Albemarle County after calculating the time and expense required to see an application from start to finish.

Albemarle SP_Review_Process_Flowchart.pdf

The Free Enterprise Forum understands it is human nature to want to do “something” about a perceived problem.  Perhaps the best way to examine the problem is to recognize your role in the problem and heal thyself.

The best way for Albemarle County to increase economic development is to follow rule number 1 and get out of the way.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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

Photo Credits: Albemarle County, Free Enterprise Forum, Getty Images

Changing Albemarle’s Obstructionist Culture

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentBronco photo credit UVA media relations

Late last year when the University of Virginia hired Bronco Mendenhall as their new football coach from Brigham Young University, he brought with him great expectations and a promise of culture change.

In four short months, he  has made his point clear according to an Andrew Ramspacher article in the Daily Progress:

“There will be no numbers on the jerseys in the spring,” Mendenhall said Monday. “Nothing on the helmets, other than their names on the front.” …Welcome to the Mendenhall era in Charlottesville, where everything is earned.

While Virginia Football has yet to win (or even play) a single game under Mendenhall, his passionate attention to detailed accountability has made a significant impact on the culture of the football organization.

Albemarle County may be in the same place as Virginia Football was in late December as they are in the process of replacing a significant portion of its senior staff.  County Attorney, Chief of Police, County Engineer, County Clerk, Planning Director and County Assessor are all in the midst of transitioning.

Does Albemarle senior staff matter as much as Virginia’s Head Football Coach?

The short answer is yes.

While most elected supervisors may last four, eight or perhaps twelve years, the majority of Albemarle’s well compensated senior staff has 20+ years of service.

As the Board of Supervisors and County Executive contemplate the replacement of long tenured staff, what is the goal of these critical hires?

The Free Enterprise Forum has long compared the ideal staff role in the government approval process to be analogous to a mortgage broker – yes the process is daunting but staff’s job is to see you through it.

Today, too often, staff’s answer seems to be “no one ever got fired for saying no to a new project”.

Considering Albemarle’s newly  found economic development passion, should the County Executive and Board of Supervisors look for an outsider, Mendenhall-like, Senior staff change to lead the paradigm shift and finally alter Albemarle’s well known culture of obstructionism?

If Albemarle suddenly became a place where deals get done in rapid pace how might that impact quality development in the development areas?

Alternatively, might Newton’s first law of inertia prove to be too strong to attract a top notch change agent?

Is Albemarle really ready to embrace the change they need to be truly competitive in the economic development arena?

If Albemarle is willing to make a cultural shift welcoming new business activity (and jobs) to the development area – they should look beyond the County office building for candidates for senior staff.  The most innovative candidates will likely come from other successful local governments and the private sector.

This really leaves four key questions:

Does the County Executive and the Board of Supervisors have a vision for a new, economically vibrant, job rich Albemarle County?

Can these senior staff hires significantly advance such a vision?

Will Albemarle reform the well documented obstructionist culture?  Does it want to?

Once again only time will tell.

Respectfully Submitted,

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

Photo Credit: UVA Media Relations

Albemarle’s Anemic VDOT Economic Development Score

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County earned a failing report card from Virginia Departmentepic fail of Transportation (VDOT) regarding the economic development impacts on their proposed transportation improvement.

This low score, coupled with other factors, resulted in the ONLY Transportation project Albemarle County The Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization [correction 11:27am 2/22-nw] submitted for possible funding the I-64/US29 Interchange (Exit 118) ranking 282 out of 287 projects statewide and DEAD LAST in Culpeper District.

Like a parent, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned with this economic development report card and we wonder if Albemarle is willing to do what is necessary to improve their scores.  We believe absent a paradigm shift regarding economic development and proactive zoning Albemarle County  may not receive significant transportation dollars for a generation.

Please let me explain.

The Commonwealth just completed the first ever objective scoring exercise of transportation projects.  This exercise is the result of a 2014 state law commonly referred to as HB2.  This legislation was so significant – it has its own website.  According to the website:

House Bill Two (HB2) is about investing limited tax dollars in the right projects that meet the most critical transportation needs in Virginia. At the heart of the new law is scoring projects based on an objective process that involves public engagement and input. Once projects are scored, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) will have the best information possible to select the right projects for funding.

Governor Terry McAuliffe signed HB2 into law in 2014, which directs the CTB to develop and use a scoring process for project selection by July 2016. Candidate projects will be screened to determine if they qualify to be scored. Projects will be scored based on an objective and fair analysis applied statewide. The law will improve transparency and accountability. The public will know how projects scored and the decisions behind the CTB’s project selections.

In an attempt to capture the different demographic needs of the state, different values are placed on the six different areas of scoring.  Albemarle and Charlottesville are in Category B.

In Category B, accessibility factors (which really are about economic opportunity) are weighted 25%,  economic development factors are weighted 20%, safety factors are also weighted 20%; Environmental quality and land use are each weighted at 10%.

In VDOT’s safety calculations, fatalities rank significantly higher than simple injury and property damage accidents rank even lower.  As this is an interchange not an intersection, the majority of the accidents are sideswipe incidents.

In his article on the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s meeting on this issue Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs quotes Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission Executive Director Chip Boyles:

“We got zeroes for economic development and we got zeroes for crash frequency reduction,” Boyles said, adding that there have been no fatalities at the intersection in the past three years.

Short of generating a rash severe life grabbing accidents, there is little a locality can do to change the safety ranking.  The other areas however localities can make a difference.

Examine the scorecard below for Exit 118, 60% of the accessibility factor revolves around “Increase in Access to Jobs” another 20% of this score is related to “Increase in Access to Jobs for disadvantaged Populations”. Therefore, 80% of the accessibility score relates to economic opportunity.  Reading the report card below, Albemarle failed to achieve a full integer on accessibility scoring .9

The Charlottesville Tomorrow article highlighted opportunities for improving scores:

John Lynch, VDOT’s Culpeper District administrator and a voting member of the MPO, said localities can increase scores by demonstrating they are actively investing in infrastructure.

“As you progress through the development of that site you would get more points towards that particular element because you’re investing money into that plan,” Lynch said.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the HB2 ranking system is here to stay and that the system as currently designed favors those localities seeking to use state dollars to advance economic development and economic opportunity.  The logical nexus is that by spending limited state dollars on projects that increase economic activity, there will be more state dollars to spend in the future.

This is where proactive zoning comes in.  Proactive zoning is when a locality seeks to rezone land, with the consent of the owner, to the uses already approved in the Comprehensive Plan.  Albemarle county last completed a proactive rezoning when it created the Downtown Crozet District.  Opponents of proactive rezoning cite the lack of applicant proffers creating an undue burden on the locality to mitigate the project impacts.

While we have been a proponent for landowner authorized proactive zoning for many years, the new transportation funding paradigm makes the proffers argument moot.

If proactively rezoning land, and investing in infrastructure, allows the community to be not only more attractive to new or expanding business but will improve our chances to receive needed state funding for transportation, the economic benefits clearly outweigh the costs.

poker chipsHB2 Transportation funding is very similar to sitting down at a new poker game.  The cards are the same but the rules are now completely different.  The big question is  if the Albemarle County Supervisors will ante up.

If not, other localities surely will and they will reap the benefits of their foresight and investment.

Time will surely tell.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson December 2 2015 Albemarle BOS meeting Photo Credit Charlottesville TomorrowNeil 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.

Photo Credits:   Charlottesville Tomorrow, VDOT

Greene Supervisors Briefed on Stanardsville Revitalization Grants

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

stanardsville sealCraig Wilson of the Community Planning Partners has been hired by Stanardsville and addressed the Greene County Board of Supervisors  at their first meeting of February to discuss the potential of additional grants to further enhance the Town of Stanardsville, the county seat of Greene.

Speaking prior to Wilson, Superintendent Jim Northup from the Shenandoah National Park, updated the Board and one of his key statistics was that last year there were 1.3 million tourists in the park in 2015. This was a perfect entry to Wilson asking for support of the Board to try to attract more of the tourists to downtown Stanardsville.  Wilson went on to explain there are $9 million available in state grants (Community Development Block Grants or CDBG) with probably 30 applicants trying to receive grants of up to $700,000.

The grant can be used for improving infrastructure in Stanardsville. Wilson showed a diagram of a performance pavilion for both inside and outside events as a result of the planning grant already received.

David Hill of Hill Studios along with Stanardsville Mayor Gary Lowe, Chairman Bill Martin, Country Administrator John Barkley, Economic Development Director Alan Yost and STAR President Don Pamenter, have been working with Mr. Wilson. He addressed the proposed location as the hillside behind the county administration building  which slopes down to a creek and then the other side goes up to the school parking lot. He further explained that the sloping hill would make the structure very economical to construct.  He did not address any stream buffers, stormwater impacts or other environmental mitigation that the site might require.

As currently conceived, the project would be done in phases with the octagonal pavilion being done first, with a wing added followed by additional phases. According to Wilson, Hill estimates the venue being able to seat nearly 2,000 people. Further, the structure could be used for a farmers market and suggested one or more pedestrian bridges to the school parking lot.

Whitmarsh 2

Andrea Witmarsh, Greene County Schools Superintendent

Wilson went on to explain that he has spoken with Greene County School Superintendent Andrea Whitmarsh about how the school system could also use the facility.

The key issue of the presentation was explaining to the Board of Supervisors that the more support that the Board would give the project the more apt Greene County would be to get the grant. Wilson suggested at least a letter from the Board or, better yet, a resolution in support of the project. The grants are to be awarded on March 23rd by the Department of Housing Community Development.

Chairman Bill Martin asked what else the grant would be used for. Wilson said that improvement to facades of structures in Stanardsville and possibly demolishing blighted structures. There are also funds that can be used for marketing and signage. Wilson will also be meeting with Lowe and the town council to discuss the grant process.

Supervisor Jim Frydl asked if owners of the buildings need to give approval at this point. Wilson explained that at this point it is non-binding on the owners of the structures but the more owners of building in town would be looked upon favorably. Frydl asked when the Board needs to act and Wilson explained that he recommended not waiting until the day the grant applications are due (March 23, 2016) as there is a lot of detail and suggested submitting it one or two days in advance.

Vice Chairman Michelle Flynn asked how much the maintenance of the structure would cost. Wilson did not have that at this time but the operating plan will be developed and he will provide it to the Board.  Barkley then addressed the Board with his support of the project. It is an example of the private and public sectors partnering and hopes that the Board and Town Council will support the grant request.

Supervisor David Cox agreed that we need something positive in Stanardsville but had questions on ownership of the structure, who is liable for the structure and where do we park 2,000 cars?

Wilson assumed most of the events would take place on the weekend or during the summer when school parking would be available. He further explained that this would be a 2 year project and could it begin this fall.

Frydl expressed his support of a resolution. Wilson offered his help in drafting a resolution and presenting it back to the Board. It was agreed that having the resolution done by the first Board meeting in March (March 8, 2016) would be most helpful. Wilson said that he would provide a draft document to Barkley before the March 8th meeting.

Ironically, this project sounds similar to the amphitheater in the county park that Dave Matthews’ manager Coran Capshaw proposed to Greene County in 1998. This was to be fully funded by Capshaw along with up to $1 million to develop that park. The tradeoff was that Capshaw/Matthews wanted to have 2 or 3 dates per year to have new bands get exposure. This proposal was turned down by the Board of Supervisors at that time and led to the development of the amphitheater on the Charlottesville downtown mall. It will be interesting to see if now, 18 years later, this Board of Supervisors believes an amphitheater is now a “good idea” in Greene County.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Community Planning Partners, Greene County, Hill Studios