By Brian Wheeler

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Planning and Coordination Council — a joint body with representation from the city of Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the University of Virginia — met Thursday and discussed joint economic development efforts.

Officials were updated on a united undertaking to grow local economic development opportunities in venues as diverse as local K-12 classrooms, university labs, local farms and at existing private and government businesses.

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Pace Lochte, the university’s director of economic development, said UVa views economic development as a means to “leverage the assets of the university to meet the needs of companies, government agencies, and communities.”

“It means to us that we are helping to build a workforce that is educated, we’re helping to foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem and we’re also helping to meet the needs of existing companies to help them remain competitive through access to our advanced research and technology,” Lochte said.

Albemarle County’s Lee Catlin, whose job responsibilities have been expanded from community relations to also include business partnerships, described Albemarle’s “sharpened focus” in this area.

“The county has become more intentional and strategic in how we address economic vitality,” Catlin said.  “We have adopted an action plan that lays out five very specific objectives.”

Catlin highlighted Albemarle’s efforts to support the growing local wine and brewery industries as well as initiatives supporting locally grown foods.

“One of the major areas of focus is supporting existing businesses, including helping small businesses grow and expand,” Catlin said.

Both Catlin and Lochte discussed existing initiatives underway in both Charlottesville and Albemarle schools to inspire and train a skilled workforce for science and engineering jobs. Catlin highlighted the Math, Science, & Engineering Academy based at Albemarle High School. Lochte described a federally funded pilot project to train all of the city’s elementary school teachers.

“We are providing teachers with new ways to introduce science to their students,” Lochte said. “It’s a three-credit hour course called ‘Teaching the nature of science and scientific inquiry.’”

Chris Engel, the city’s assistant director of economic development, said the joint effort was important for recruiting businesses to the community.

“We do work together, on virtually everything,” Engel said. “The bottom line is businesses don’t see our political boundaries or differences, they look at the community as a whole and what it can offer in terms of infrastructure, workforce, arts and entertainment and cultural amenities.”

In the audience, Timothy Hulbert, president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he liked what he heard.

“If you went back several years, a conversation about economic development and economic vitality wouldn’t have been focused or maybe even on that agenda,” Hulbert said after the meeting. “The magic is that it was presented to county, city and university officials in an organized fashion.”

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