The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has endorsed a study that recommends the county pursue specific industries, despite opposition from groups who claim further growth will harm the environment.

“Though more and bigger businesses will benefit a few… for most of us the new firms will not improve our lives,” said Jack Marshall of the group Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population .

The Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development paid the firm Younger Associates $150,000 to study the region’s economic strengths and weaknesses to determine what would be the most appropriate businesses to recruit.

“The recommendations take into account our community’s strategic focus on balancing growth with maintaining outstanding quality of life,” said county spokeswoman Lee Catlin.

“It’s [also] important to remember that the study’s primary outcome is on providing employment opportunities for current residents,” Catlin added.

However, Tom Olivier of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club said the plan was flawed in part because it would seek to retain talented University of Virginia students after they graduate.

“As you know, human population growth harms our environment,” Olivier said. “Our organization believes that county economic programs should be judged by the extent to which they support a vision for a sustainable community in which every resident has an opportunity to live a good life.”
The Younger report suggested that Albemarle seek to attract three target industries: biosciences and medical devices; business and financial services; and information technology.

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd supported the study, but said he has heard from many people who believe it is only designed to attract jobs that require advanced degrees.

“The plan should explain that… this isn’t just a plan to say you have to be a doctor in order to fit into our desire positions,” Boyd said. “We recognize that they need support people and accommodations for heating/air conditioning [technicians], carpenters, construction workers.”
Marshall said he believed not enough new jobs would go to Albemarle residents.
“New industries will hire workers from outside the county or simply poach from existing businesses,” Marshall said. “These additional workers will need schools and other expensive infrastructure… The tax revenues for new workers will not completely pay for the local government services they need.”
The study informs certain land-use decisions that await Albemarle supervisors.
“Once we finally get the targets endorsed by you all, [we’ll] break down what they need, what they require in terms of infrastructure, what land features, what do they like to be near, and what needs to support them in transportation,” Catlin said. “And then we’re able to look and see what we have available.”
Catlin said a preliminary analysis comparing the study with an inventory of available light industrial land shows that the county can accommodate growth in the short term.
“Many of our target industries can be accommodated on commercially zoned land,” Catlin said, singling out financial services. “Targets with a manufacturing component are very likely going to require industrially zoned land.”
One way to find that land would be to preemptively rezone land to a new industrial category that would allow for more flexibility. The Planning Commission will hold a joint meeting with supervisors later this month to discuss potential changes.
Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center said the report is helpful because it attempts to match Albemarle with suitable industries. However, he said he did not want the board’s endorsement to indicate support for particular strategies to recruit new businesses.
“We urge you to make clear… that the board is committed to evaluating any proposed policy change or ordinance amendment on its merits after weighing the impacts against its potential benefits,” Butler said.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she supported the plan because better jobs would mean a better quality of life for people who currently have few opportunities to move up the career ladder. She added that she did not believe additional industries would necessarily hurt Albemarle’s natural resources.
“I’m certainly not throwing the environment under the bus, believe me,” Mallek said. “With very high performance standards, we can do this.”