After 19 months on the job, Albemarle County’s first full-time economic development director is leaving.
Faith McClintic, who came to the county in April 2015, told county staff last week that she is leaving for a job with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership in Richmond.
She previously worked in Stafford County and Chesterfield County and holds a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration from James Madison University and an MBA from the University of Richmond.
McClintic said Tuesday she is moving in part to spend time with her ailing 92-year-old mother, but she also said she at times felt hamstrung by skepticism from the county’s elected officials.
“It has been very challenging,” she said. “I am a results-oriented person, and with that level of frustration and an opportunity to work with the state, it was the right time to go.”
In an interview, she said she was frustrated that efforts to attract Deschutes Brewery to Albemarle County were fruitless, and that negotiations on how the county Economic Development Authority operates were sluggish.
The Deschutes negotiations began in earnest almost as soon as McClintic took office, which, she said, made her job much tougher.
In an effort to attract Deschutes, a Bend, Oregon-based brewery that eventually decided to open East Coast operations in Roanoke, McClintic advocated for expanding the county’s growth area by more than 230 acres. The expansion was planned for a rural area site just south of the U.S. 29 and Interstate 64 interchange.
The Board of Supervisors eventually settled on a 51-acre expansion in September of last year, but designated 13 of those acres as park land. McClintic said at the time that developing the site with the smaller expansion would create “challenges.”
“Having to come here and having to immediately get started on a comprehensive plan amendment for the brewery caused some skepticism with members of the community and [county supervisors],” she said this week. “It wasn’t fair, I was doing my job, but it wasn’t a great time to get involved.”
Neil Williamson, executive director of the Free Enterprise Forum, a nonprofit public policy organization that monitors and analyzes local governments in Central Virginia, worried that McClintic’s tenure will put off high-quality replacements.
“We have been impressed with McClintic over her tenure in Albemarle, even if we did not always agree with her,” Williamson said. “But how will the county attract a solid economic development director if the inaugural director did not make it as long as it takes a rezoning to go through the county?”
Supervisors on Wednesday were quick to praise McClintic and the work she did over her tenure.
“She was put in a very difficult position from the outset,” Supervisor Rick Randolph said. “Given the circumstances, she has done a lot of good things … we finally have the memorandum of understanding with the Economic Development Authority where we need it to be.”
McClintic and the county’s Economic Development Authority, an appointed body under the Board of Supervisors formed in 1976, struggled over the last year to expand what it could do without board approval.
The authority asked the board in June to loosen its governing ordinance so that fewer of its decisions would need the supervisors’ approval, a move authority officials said would allow the body to act more swiftly.
County supervisors earlier this month delayed a vote on a memorandum of understanding between the two bodies delineating each one’s economic development responsibilities.
As the ordinance is currently written, the authority may not approve bylaws or implement new strategies without the go-ahead from supervisors.
“What we had to go through just to get the Economic Development Authority to operate just as the commonwealth defines one can operate has been a significant challenge,” McClintic said. “It made me think, ‘Wow, if we cannot get that little piece without frustration and deliberation, it is going to get a lot to get this group to embrace an economic development strategic plan.’”
Supervisor Diantha McKeel said she hopes to build on the work McClintic was able to accomplish but that big changes will take time.
“Because of the culture in Albemarle County, change like this takes a long time,” she said. “I ran on economic development and I have tried to focus on how we create a vibrant urban ring and make people want to live there … but for other parts of the county, the change will take time.”
She starts her new job sometime next month, but McClintic said she will spend the rest of her time in Albemarle finishing up the economic development strategic plan until it is presented to the Board of Supervisors in mid-December.
Randolph said the authority’s work over the last year and a half has given the county valuable guidance and direction for future development.
“Unfortunately, it took one person’s efforts and leaving for the community to realize we need to be pursuing economic development,” he said. “Now that we know the fiscal realities, I think this actually creates an opportunity for a fresh start, for someone to come in and say, ‘We need to do this and this and this.’”
In a statement Tuesday evening, County Executive Tom Foley thanked McClintic for her service and her continued work on the plan.
“I am pleased that Faith will continue leading the development of the county’s first economic development strategic plan through the plan’s presentation to the Board in mid-December, and we will work with her during that time to assist in her transition to her new job responsibilities in Richmond,” the statement read. “I know you join me in thanking Faith for her service to the county as our first Economic Development Director and in wishing her the very best as she takes on these exciting duties with VEDP.”
“I have told the county that I will finish the economic development plan so that if they get the political will to do it, they will have a roadmap,” she said.
At the state level, McClintic said she will be working in a new division that aims to grow small companies around Virginia.
“Given the job she was offered, I don’t see how she could have said, ‘No,’” McKeel said. “That was just such a wonderful opportunity for her.”