By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Members of the public who felt they were excluded from the creation of a plan to encourage economic development in

Albemarle County

were given the first of two chances to contribute Wednesday night. And contribute they did, in fine detail.


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“This document is extremely important to a lot of us,“ said Albemarle County resident Kirk Bowers. “We don’t want to see our culture and environment diminished.”

Bowers and over 40 others crowded into a conference room for a vigorous and spirited debate about the plan. Participants went line by line through the document in order to offer suggestions on how it might better reflect the interests of the whole county and not just businesses.

The primary goal of the plan is to increase tax revenue for the county by increasing commercial development. To do that, the plan calls for increased cooperation with the

Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development

(TJPED) to identify specific businesses that the county might want to attract or grow.

A major thread in the discussion was what form that cooperation might take. Does it mean bringing new businesses to Albemarle, or encouraging them to grow from within?


Tom Olivier of the

Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club

said seeking new businesses might bring more people to Albemarle County.“We’re already unsustainable in terms of our size,” Olivier said. “Every bit of growth in population makes us less sustainable.”

That comment bothered David Mitchell, the owner of a construction company and an amusement center in Charlottesville. He said he wanted a healthy and diverse economy to ensure his four children have an option to stay in the community as they enter the workforce.

“You have organic growth here that you just can’t stop,” Mitchell said. “We should concentrate on our citizens here and the ability of our children to stay in and around us.”

Gary Henry, chair of the

Charlottesville Business Innovation Council

, said the plan as written focused too much on existing businesses.

“If growing new business is a piece of [economic development], there’s a need to meet with organizations that support entrepreneurs who are not yet a business,” Henry said. His organization is not named in the plan.

Mike Harvey, president of the

Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development

, said his goal was to focus on existing businesses and grow new ones from within.

“We want to understand and focus on people who are here first,” Harvey said. “We don’t do business attraction. It’s been my focus to focus on organic growth here.”

He added his preference would be for the city and the county to work closely with the University of Virginia to develop companies using research generated there.

Lee Catlin, county spokeswoman, said she thought the first roundtable had been productive.

“I thought it was very energetic, very passionate, and what you’d expect when you bring a variety of people together on a topic they feel deeply about,” Catlin said.

A

second roundtable

will be held on July 1 at 1PM at the

Albemarle County Office Building

. A public hearing on the plan will be held before the Board of Supervisors on July 14.

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