Sunday, October 30, 2011

2011 Dulles District Board of Supervisor Candidates and Loudoun Economic Development

Our upcoming elections in Loudoun County are a tremendously important choice in community leadership to shape and cultivate a re-awakening of economic development and opportunity. It's also a chance to reshape and adjust some of the intractability and resistance to coordinated, productive and transparent collaboration between and among the Board of Supervisors (BOS), Board of Education and the local business community.

One of the most persistent issues we face is the difficulty in attracting and retaining large commercial taxpayers – complete with local employment and economic trickle-down, community development and investment, and contribution to local market, transportation and educational amenities.

From one of the many "rampant-population-growth-without-corresponding-large-commercial-development" centers of the County, here in the Dulles District, we asked the Dulles BOS challengers:

"How can the Board of Supervisors help the local business community work together to attract and/or retain new commercial businesses?" Also, "What immediate or very tactical activities will you undertake or consider, if elected, with respect to improving Loudoun County's economic development posture, outreach, activities or other initiatives - with the goal of dramatically improving the commercial investments and resultant tax base in the County?"

Republican challenger Matt Letourneau responded immediately:

"Economic development is a major focus of my campaign for Dulles Supervisor. My experience at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world's largest business organization, has given me insight into what the business community needs to be successful in Loudoun. Right now, our county is far too reliant on residential property taxes, resulting in high taxes for homeowners. By bringing in businesses, we'll create new revenue streams to help pay for needed infrastructure, and we'll improve traffic by reducing commutes.

I believe that Loudoun County should create an Economic Development Authority (EDA), like Fairfax County did in 1976. We need a professional sales force that will sell Loudoun to the global business community. With a world class airport that has room to grow, excellent schools, and a highly educated workforce, we can be more successful in attracting businesses, but we must be much more aggressive and make it the next Board's mission from day one.

Both existing businesses and prospects should be assigned an individual at the county level to help navigate the complicated zoning and land use process. In addition, we should explore opening up satellite offices around the nation and the world to help facilitate recruitment. Our sales force should use data metrics to measure success and track progress, just like a business would."

(Regarding the "excellent schools" comment above, we're hopeful that Jeff Morse, Dulles South candidate for the Board of Education, can inject additional substance and support for this increasingly difficult assertion – but that's another discussion.)

As it turns out, this idea for examining various "Industrial Development Authority" models was floated from the Loudoun Economic Development Commission (EDC) to the BOS during the 2009-2010 sessions, with some research into the pros and cons of the various, existing regional models (See the Feb. 5 2009 Meeting Minutes). The initiative "died on the vine", so to speak, with internal committee decisions to discontinue the exploration.

The Fairfax model in particular appears to overcome many of the "cons" of the current model in Loudoun, though might not be able to retain or at least continue the great progress made to date by the DED/EDC model in these areas:

(From the Economic Development Organization (EDO) structure Pros & Cons DRAFT)

"Model I: Department of Local Government. Example(s): Arlington County DED and Loudoun County DED

Pros:

- Ability to forge strong relationships with Board of Supervisors, County Administration
...
- Access/integration with other government agencies & projects"

Would, therefore, the ultimate model be one that reflects the success of the Fairfax EDA, yet incorporates local G2B (Government-to-Business) collaborative achievement made to date by the DED?

Mr. Letourneau explains: "EDA's can vary, but basically it boils down to independence, autonomy and professionalization. As a matter of governance, it would work more like the Planning Commission--Supervisors would appoint a certain number of commissioners--Fairfax has 7--and they would then operate independently and make strategic and funding decisions. It would be a more focused effort, and the EDA would have full time professional staff who would be carrying out the objectives of the commissioners.

The Fairfax EDA has been recognized around the world for its success--I think one of the first things the new Board should do is undertake a formal review of EDA options and use Fairfax as a case study."

At the very least, it's encouraging that several of the BOS candidates understand that additional energy, attention and perhaps updates to the current economic development resources should be explored, if only to find more of the success that our Fairfax neighbors enjoy.

This includes supporting development of the underlying infrastructure, i.e. transportation – as Mr. Letourneau goes on to describe:

"...we must make progress on our missing road links, such as Loudoun County, Tall Cedars and Claiborne Parkways. This will make both corporate and retail development more attractive. The County must work with VDOT to widen 606, and ensure that the Route 50 project stays on track. Dulles South residents lack many amenities found in other parts of the County and have to travel to Fairfax for services. By bringing more retail and dining options to our part of Loudoun, we will generate more sales tax revenue and improve the quality of life for our citizens."

Mr. Roeder, the Democrat challenger for the Dulles District BOS election, offers the following themes and information regarding the issues and questions as posed...

"Our website offers many ideas on the economy, including bringing staff to meet with store owners "Bring Leesburg to Dulles." Store owners don't have time to drive to Leesburg and sterling to seek advice. I'll bring the advice to them and sit in the meetings. There is also a strong multi-modal transportation philosophy that services E-W commuting and our commercial sector. I have also offered ideas to deal with foreclosed homes and help people with lower salaries keep their homes. I developed those ideas by talking with the people for over a year.

So to answer your question of what my top economic priority is, it is to "build a citizen conversation that identifies the people's vision for Loudoun's economy, as well as how to bring that vision to reality." Over the last twelve years in Loudoun, I have found a significant disconnect between Leesburg and the Dulles citizens, regardless of party. People feel ignored; and thus Supervisors have often been ineffective in Dulles. Our leaders must do better asking what we want for an economy before voting..."

"...I have proposed ideas; but the people must be asked before action is taken. We need a stronger business sector to raise capital to pay for services. We need to manage services effectively to reduce waste. We must bolster our schools and public safety sector; but those actions must be in the context of the people's vision. My first priority for building a strong economy is to ask the people what their vision is, to have a true conversation, to bring my background and experts into that conversation, staff, and other stakeholders as well -- always making sure that my economic votes are fully vetted. That is bound to build a stronger, more democratic Loudoun and a sustainable economy and business sector."

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