By

Kurt Walters


Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Albemarle County staff announced the launch of a new economic development slogan and website to the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday as part of the county’s recent efforts to improve its business-friendly reputation.



The announcement came as part of a quarterly update on the county’s Economic Vitality Action Plan, which the board passed in 2010 to strengthen the county’s economy, expand its commercial tax base and foster the growth of high quality jobs for its residents.

Last month Charlottesville and Albemarle moved from 20th to 14th on the Milken Institute’s annual list of top small metropolitan areas in creating and keeping jobs. Still, Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd, who spearheaded the plan, said the work is far from over.

“I continue to wish it moved faster, but I’m pleased with the results we’re getting,” Boyd said. “I’m anxious to start implementing some of the ordinance changes [in the plan].”

An ongoing focus of the plan is to simplify regulations to make the regulatory approval process quicker and easier to understand for businesses.

The website, which is accessible under the “Businesses” tab on albemarle.org, has a similar aim, with sections highlighting the “Albemarle Advantage” for business owners and providing resources and walkthroughs of the approval process for entrepreneurs looking to start, expand, or relocate their business in Albemarle.

“Our new website is great, but it just rolled out today basically, so it won’t have that much impact for months and years,” said Susan Stimart, the county’s economic development facilitator.

Stimart said in an interview that the event with the most immediate impact on county’s economy was the completion of Martha Jefferson Hospital’s move from inside the city’s borders out to Pantops. This contributed to an increase of 1,000 jobs in the county from 2010 to 2011.

However, when presenting data on tax revenue to the board, Stimart noted that the relocation of Whole Foods into Charlottesville meant a large dent in the county’s tax base.

On the whole, staff reported modest improvements in economic indicators and tax income, but said there was still ground to cover before achieving economic health. Housing supply, for example, stands at 11.7 months worth of unsold houses, still far from the “sweet spot” of 6 months.

Albemarle also recently received a $30,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to study the market possibilities for hard cider, which could add to the county’s current two cider producers.

Governor Bob McDonnell recently proposed an agricultural grant program that could similarly benefit the area. Stimart said that agriculture is often left out from the only current state economic grant program, which applies to ventures involving at least 50 jobs and $5 million.

“If you’re a farmer it’s really hard to get there,” Stimart said.

The new slogan “Growing Ideas and Opportunities,” was meant to echo the agricultural side of Albemarle’s economy while also alluding to the innovation coming out of the University of Virginia.

The Economic Vitality Action Plan will see a busy 2012 as well. A Target Industry Study investigating what types of businesses the county would most like to attract is due to be released in February and could have big policy implications.

Additonally, county staff plans to continue studying the possibility of allowing more land to be zoned industrial, with the hopes of attracting more jobs to the area. They also will be developing options for allowing fast-tracked review processes for businesses that are deemed especially beneficial to the county.

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