As Albemarle’s three-year economic vitality action plan comes close to completion, county staff are preparing to ask the Board of Supervisors to consider expanding economic development efforts.
“As we are more successful regionally, we’ve got to be prepared to respond to [business] leads that come in in a way that gets the best foot out there,” said County Executive Thomas C. Foley at a briefing Wednesday.
Supervisors adopted the plan in August 2010 to make it more business friendly. The plan included items such as streamlining the development review process and identifying which kinds of industries fit with Albemarle.
As part of the plan, Albemarle participated in the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development’s target industry study, which was released in the spring of 2012.
“We look at the four target industries we’ve identified and we [will] start to build workforce pipelines that will fill those kind of businesses at all skill levels,” said Lee Catlin, Foley’s assistant for community and business partnerships.
So far, Catlin said the county has been successful in finding new ways to promote biotechnology and agribusiness, two of the target industries.
For instance, Albemarle is partnering with the Virginia Biotechnology Organization and the University of Virginia to offer a biotech symposium in May. In January, the county sold out its first agribusiness marketing conference.
However, Catlin said the county has not had as much of an opportunity to engage in the information technology and defense sectors.
“We’re hearing about another potential [Base Relocation and Consolidation] action that will consolidate Department of Defense operations,” Catlin said. “We want to make sure that our community is a winner in that process and not a loser in that process and that takes time and focus to work with our defense contractors.”
One potential obstacle to the county’s economic development efforts is a lack of staff. Foley shared with the board staffing data from 11 Virginia counties that are similar in size to Albemarle.
“Of the 11, there’s only one that has less than four staff,” Foley said. “It’s about resources to get into the game … The one that doesn’t have four staff has three, which is twice the staff that we have.”
Economic development facilitator Susan Stimart is currently the only Albemarle employee solely dedicated to attracting more business, and Catlin spends half of her time serving as county spokeswoman.
However, Foley acknowledged that the county’s tourism efforts are augmented by the Charlottesville-Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau, a separate entity from the county that is funded in part by the lodging tax.
A decision on whether to hire additional staff for economic development will be made during upcoming discussion of the budget.
“I think that looks like the next step,” said Supervisor Duane E. Snow.
Catlin said the county is also identifying workforce development opportunities.
“We realize there is a wide spectrum of job possibilities [in biotechnology] but we really have to be paying attention to making sure we put systems in place that will create the workers that will meet those needs,” Catlin said.
For instance, a health academy was recently created at Monticello High School to train students to be medical workers.
“When we talked to the businesses that we would consider high-tech and advanced manufacturing, they have great need for associate’s degrees and great needs for people out of high school with technical needs like [the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center] provides,” Catlin said.
Catlin said the county is also seeking to retain about 1,500 Albemarle companies that have a “priority impact” on the county.
“It’s going to take us a while to connect to all of those businesses,” Catlin said. “We’ve seen recently major expansions of some very valuable local companies that had to find new locations but there were none suitable in Albemarle.”
The county recently lost about 450 jobs when the firm WorldStrides moved to downtown Charlottesville, and will soon lose several hundred more when the CFA Institute moves from the Fontaine Research Park to the former Martha Jefferson site.
“We’re lucky they stayed within our larger community so we were able to keep the jobs and benefits in the shared local economy,” Catlin said.
Supervisors also were briefed by Steven Allshouse, the county’s manager of economic analysis and forecasting. He said he expects revenues from sales, meals and lodging lodging taxes to all increase in 2013, particularly with the completion of Stonefield.
“The county’s economy is growing at a moderate pace,” Allshouse said. “The tax revenue data is mixed, but there is cause to believe the numbers will improve in the next year or so.”
Allshouse said the housing market is rebounding, as well, and the number of business licenses has increased.
“I am seeing things get a little bit better and that will feed into our revenue streams in the next year or so,” Allshouse said.
Foley said that “cautiously optimistic” is a phrase that will be heard when he recommends his budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
“That’s good news compared to what we’ve been through,” Foley said.
“When we looked at the ABC wine sales [figures] for taxable wineries, we saw a 27 percent increase in last year to this year,” Catlin said. “We continue to see that as being a dynamic economic engine for us.”