Supervisors approve process to finalize economic development plan
Albemarle County’s Economic Development Strategic Plan is scheduled to be finished by the end of 2018 following a monthslong delay.
The county’s Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission and Economic Development Authority jointly endorsed a framework for the strategic plan in 2017. Supervisors directed staff to pause work on the plan until a new county executive and economic development director were hired.
Jeff Richardson began his tenure as county executive last November. After Roger Johnson was hired as economic development director in May, county staff outlined a process to bring the final draft of the strategic plan to the Board of Supervisors by November.
The schedule approved by supervisors on Wednesday would allow the strategic plan to inform the next fiscal year’s work program and budget for the Office of Economic Development.
“It is an aggressive but achievable timeframe,” said Deputy County Executive Doug Walker.
One objective in the current draft of the strategic plan is to expand Albemarle’s inventory of industrial land.
In 2017, Bowman Consulting conducted a site-readiness assessment for eight properties in the county’s development areas that are zoned for light industrial uses. The analysis estimated that it would take between 25 and 50 weeks to get each site shovel-ready.
The draft strategic plan recommends pursuing redevelopment opportunities through the county’s Rio+29 small-area plan. It also calls for an examination of opportunities in downtown Crozet and the county’s portion of the Woolen Mills neighborhood near Charlottesville.
The draft plan includes several strategies to increase the county’s engagement with local businesses. It recommends holding regular roundtable discussions with business and education leaders to raise awareness of employer needs, as well as creating a “community ambassadors program” to promote ongoing contact with existing businesses.
The draft plan identifies four recommended target industries for economic development in Albemarle: bioscience and medical devices, business and financial services, information technology/defense and security, and agribusiness/food processing.
On Wednesday, supervisors spoke about the need for other government functions to support economic development.
“Information technology is not going to go very far if we don’t have connectivity,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel. “Even in my urban-ring [district], we have dropout zones and dead zones. If we want people to work from home, if we want entrepreneurs, we need to at least have connectivity.”
Supervisor Liz Palmer said other infrastructure, such as water pipelines and sewage, should be included in economic development discussions, as well.
“[Economic development] is not just about attracting or keeping businesses. It’s about doing what government does routinely, and that is to make sure that our infrastructure is healthy,” Palmer said.
McKeel noted that Albemarle County Public Schools is hiring a work- and community-based learn-ing coordinator to form partnerships with local businesses and facilitate internships for high school students.
“If we work very closely with the school division and make them a partner in this, I think that would benefit all of us,” McKeel said. “We have a lot of kids graduating who want to stay in this area.”
The approved process for finalizing the economic development strategic plan includes an opportunity for public comment in August. An advisory group of county staff and external partners are scheduled to review the plan and provide comment in October.
The external stakeholder work group will include representatives from the city of Charlottesville, the University of Virginia, Piedmont Virginia Community College and the Albemarle County Service Authority, according to a staff report.
Supervisor Ned Gallaway asked Johnson and Richardson what they thought of the draft strategic plan so far.
Johnson said he was mostly satisfied with the current draft. He said he would like the final strategic plan to include more steps to attract private capital for real estate development, and to support the innovation economy.
“There is a focus on entrepreneurship [in the draft plan], and I think that is outstanding,” Johnson said. “There is often a precursor to innovation, and that is the innovation piece: working with partners to create pipeline of innovative ideas.”
Johnson said he was interested in partnering with I-Corps, a National Science Foundation program that provides training and grant funding to help scientists commercialize academic research.
UVa’s School of Engineering and Applied Science is among more than 80 I-Corps sites nationwide.
“I’m talking about things the county could maybe do to expand, and get our local talent into that pipeline as well,” Johnson said.
Richardson said the current draft of the strategic plan is a “well-designed, well-thought-out document.”
“I don’t have any areas [of the strategic plan] that I am concerned about at this point, other than recognizing that we are going to have to prioritize to be successful,” Richardson said. “We are going to have to monitor our capacity.”
The county’s economic development office has seen significant turnover this year.
Susan Stimart, the county’s economic development facilitator, left in January to start a clothing business. J.T. Newberry, a former planner in the Department of Community Development, replaced Stimart this spring.
Project information coordinator Beth Pizzichemi left the economic development office in May. Johnson said he would await direction from the Board of Supervisors before filling that vacancy.
Faith McClintic, Albemarle County’s first full-time economic development director, left in November 2016 to take a job in state government less than two years after she was hired.