Is manufacturing the future of Albemarle’s economic development?
Albemarle County’s first economic development director is dedicated to the idea that the future of the local economy rests in large part on its ability to attract advanced manufacturing jobs.
Advanced manufacturing — the production of complex, specialized, technologically advanced devices and products — requires skilled labor, pays well and will help the county fill a gap in the area’s burgeoning innovation sector, said Faith McClintic.
But bringing those jobs to the county will take rezoning and redeveloping existing industrial space or finding empty land to put small-scale factories.
As entrepreneurs working in startups in Charlottesville bring new ideas to market, McClintic said, the county must be poised to provide the space they need to produce their goods.
“We could and we need to be capitalizing on all of that innovation and filling in the space in the ecosystem,” she said.
Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Liz Palmer echoed McClintic’s sentiment.
“We need to be working with the city on this,” she said. “As their small businesses grow, they need places to expand, and we need to work with them, not compete with them.”
The dearth of office and industrial space within Charlottesville’s city limits creates an opportunity for surrounding localities — one Albemarle could lose to neighbors with more affordable land.
The Board of Supervisors currently is looking at ways the county can provide space for such businesses while working within the county’s designated growth area.
At a joint meeting of the supervisors and Albemarle Planning Commission last month, Supervisor Brad Sheffield advocated for putting business-related land uses in the county’s comprehensive plan.
For Palmer, the way forward is redevelopment within existing growth boundaries, rather than adding land to the development area.
“We have a lot of asphalt on [U.S.] 29 north that could be redeveloped,” she said. “I think the Board of Supervisors should make that easier and look at ways we can do that.”
That could mean proactively rezoning land parcels for industrial — rather than commercial or residential — uses, she said. Real estate tax revenue, Palmer said, will not cover the county’s costs in the long term.
“I am confident that we have to grow the tax revenue with economic development rather than residential,” she said.
The county website lists biotech research and development, information technology and defense, agribusiness and financial services and insurance under target industries, which were adopted after a 2012 target industry study. None of the four sections on the county website details manufacturing jobs.
But the North American Industry Classification System specifies a host of manufacturing jobs under all of those areas except financial services and insurance.
Helen Cauthen, president of the Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development, echoed McClintic’s enthusiasm for manufacturing jobs.
While jobs in sectors like retail and tourism are important, Cauthen said, their impact on the economy does not compare to manufacturing.
A report by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis showed each manufacturing job on average contributes more than $186,000 to gross state product, compared to $61,637 for retail and $38,000 for hospitality.
“Basically, if you are making things, you are making more revenue for your community than if you are not making things,” Cauthen said. “That is a basic premise, these … jobs are the most desirable type of jobs.”
Workers in manufacturing often are better poised to gain promotions and raises, Cauthen said, and manufacturers tend to export their wares.
“If you just grow your retail jobs, and you lose your other sector jobs, you might end up with a workforce with lower pay,” she said. “Retail jobs are not bad jobs, but to grow your economy, you need manufacturing.”