A new analysis of Central Virginia’s economy projects job growth to continue in the region over the next decade.
It also identified an urgent need for education and investment to help the region adapt to transformative economic shifts affecting its major industries.
Since the end of the Great Recession, the region’s workforce has grown by 10.5 percent, and is projected to grow by another 15 percent over the next 10 years, said Robert Camoin, president and CEO of Saratoga Springs, New York consulting firm Camoin and Associates. .
However, the region’s construction industry lost 5,728 jobs between 2006 and 2016— a 31 percent decline. Two similar industries — manufacturing and wholesale trade — also lost over 1,000 jobs in that period.
“In prior recessions, if these workers lost their jobs they could use their skills to shift from one industry to the other,” Camoin said. “This time, there were no opportunities for them to make that shift.”
The Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development unveiled its Growth and Diversification Plan for GO Virginia Region 9 at Piedmont Virginia Community College Wednesday morning.
The plan will guide the council’s distribution of $796,302 in matching funds from GO Virginia. GO Virginia will also award $11.1 million through statewide competitive grants for programs that engage localities in at least two regions.
Launched by business leaders in 2015, GO Virginia is a state-funded economic development initiative that encourages regional collaboration on economic and workforce development activities.
Camoin Associates developed the Region 9 plan with guidance from the Region 9 Council.
“Your job mix is now very different,” Camoin said. “You have lost a lot of blue-collar jobs. They have been made up by higher-skilled, ‘knowledge economy’ jobs.”
This year, each GO Virginia region was required to submit a growth and diversification plan to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The plans identify economic opportunities, needs, and challenges and establish priorities for economic development.
The GO Virginia Board approved the plans on Tuesday, making all nine regions eligible for state funding.
Helen Cauthen, president of the Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development, said a pre-application form for GO Virginia funding is now open to “anyone with a good idea,” and the support of a locality in Region 9.
The Growth and Diversification Plan selects five target industries that the GO Virginia grants will support: financial and business services, food and beverage manufacturing, information technology/communications; light manufacturing and biomedical/biotechnology.
The plan also identifies framework initiatives that the funds should support, including talent development; growing existing businesses; startups, innovation and commercialization; site development and other opportunities.
Startups, innovation and the commercialization of scientific research feature prominently in the Growth and Diversification Plan. Camoin said that most of the region’s technology startups are concentrated around Charlottesville and the University of Virginia.
“[The innovation ecosystem] is very robust here,” Camoin said. “A lot of regions would kill for what you have here.”
The plan calls for Region 9 to provide grants and technical assistance to existing entrepreneurial incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces in the region, and to assist the establishment of new ones.
The plan promotes the development of a new hub for biotech businesses to double the amount of wet lab space in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. It estimates that developing 400,000 square feet of wet lab space would require between $40 million and $140 million in capital expenditures.
The plan also suggests trying to convince significant venture capital investors to open an office in Charlottesville or Albemarle, or to establish a “hybrid” venture fund with public and private dollars.
The Region 9 plan includes recommendations to stimulate development in seven industrial and business parks in the region. The site analyses were completed by Location Strategies, a South Carolina consulting firm that identifies optimal locations for manufacturing businesses.
Cauthen said the recommendations for these “ready-to-go” sites for business were “something [Region 9] can really take on and build upon.”
The plan identifies the UVa Research Park in Albemarle County as “… By far the largest and most ‘shovel ready’ site” in Region 9. It recommends working with UVa to set aside some of the park for light manufacturing and general office space.
Wednesday’s unveiling event was attended by about 50 people representing local government, educational institutions and businesses.
Chris Webster, principal at Underhill Engineering in Charlottesville, said he supported the plan’s goal to develop more robust career pathways through local community colleges and K-12 school divisions.
Survey responses from 142 business owners identified the quality of the local workforce as the top challenge to operating their business within Region 9.
“We are having to train new employees in basic engineering skills, like field surveying and Auto-CAD,” Webster said. “Some are having to come [to PVCC] to learn skills that major institutions are not teaching … We want workers who can hit the ground running.”
Valerie Palamountain, dean of Workforce Services at PVCC, said the community college’s Viticulture and Enology program has become one of the region’s exemplary career pathways.
Formed in collaboration with local wineries in 2004, the program offers courses for people interested in starting their own vineyard or working in Virginia’s agritourism industry.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that the workforce is still the No. 1 problem for the region,” said Palamountain. “Employee recruitment and retention are going to be the two biggest needs of every business in our area.”
The Go Virginia Region 9 grant pre-application form can be accessed online at centralvirginia.org/about-the-partnership/go-virginia/region-9-grant-project-pre-application-form.