At the Tom Tom Founders Festival’s Future Forum on Wednesday, local leaders in business, government and community design spoke about their accomplishments in Charlottesville and their aspirations for the years ahead.
“[Charlottesville is] not just about Jefferson, and we are not just about history,” said Tom Tom Founders Festival Director Paul Beyer.
“In fact, we are actively founding. … It’s not just a town that’s in the past. It’s a town that is looking forward.”
At the conclusion of his speech, Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer made a proclamation in support of Tom Tom’s branding of Charlottesville as “America’s Founding City.”
“We believe in the power of the future and in trusting one another to get there,” Signer said.
Nikki Hastings, co-founder of the CvilleBioHub, shared new self-reported metrics from 12 local companies in the Charlottesville that gave evidence of the growth of the biotechnology and life sciences industry.
CvilleBioHub is a new online platform that connects more than 50 life sciences companies and nonprofits in the Charlottesville area and promotes their accomplishments.
CvilleBioHub found that local life sciences companies have received at least $118 million in investments since 2012. Member companies employ 1,800 people and generated $17 million in revenue in 2016.
Hastings, the chief operating officer of local biomedical engineering firm Contraline, said the average leasing rate for lab space in Charlottesville is $15 to $20 per square foot, compared to $80 to $90 per square foot in Boston.
“It’s actually a steal to be running a company here in Charlottesville,” Hastings said.
“Ultimately it’s about talent retention,” she said. “How do we get people who are drawn to this area to stay here for the long term?”
Hastings said CvilleBioHub would work to do that by driving the development of 1 million square feet of lab space and attracting $500 million in investments by 2027.
Dr. Richard P. Shannon, executive vice president for health affairs at the University of Virginia, said the UVa Health System was working to lower costs for patients and provide better care with predictive analytics and telemedicine.
“We need to achieve productivity and efficiency in health care through a technological revolution,” Shannon said.
Lynn Easton, whose Easton Porter Group owns Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards and the Red Pump Kitchen restaurant, and who plans weddings internationally through Easton Events, said that the future completion of the Landmark Hotel on the Downtown Mall would give a major boost to Charlottesville’s hospitality industry.
Easton said that 1,200 weddings in Charlottesville had a $150 million impact on the region last year, making it one of the top wedding destinations in the eastern United States. However, she said that Charleston, South Carolina, attracts even more weddings.
“We are missing luxury hotel rooms, and we are missing luxury venues,” Easton said. “We cannot grow this industry without it.”
While most speakers celebrated Charlottesville’s successes, Sarad Davenport, executive director of the City of Promise initiative, said that many youth in the city still struggle with generational poverty.
“We have to acknowledge these young people’s reality… we can meet them where they are,” Davenport said.
City of Promise is a social services program targeting the 10th and Page, Westhaven and Starr Hill neighborhoods. It is part of the national Promise Neighborhood program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Education.
Davenport described how his organization was combating poverty by helping children and parents access education, nutrition and job opportunities.
The final speakers at Wednesday’s forum were Wendy Brown, co-founder of the Community Investment Collaborative; and Ludwig Kuttner, a developer and venture capitalist who helped to re-store the Paramount Theater and founded the Ix Art Park. Charlottesville Tomorrow Executive Director Brian Wheeler also gave a presentation during the event.