By Tony Howard
President, Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce
Loudoun County finds itself at an economic crossroads.
For the past generation or so, our community has enjoyed a robust economy and what many of us consider to be a world class quality of life.
But Loudoun’s future prosperity will not be secured by employing strategies that worked in the past. Especially given the historic shifts happening in how people want to live, work and play.
To meet the demands of a changing marketplace, Loudoun needs new, forward-thinking ideas. Otherwise, our competitiveness and ability to fund the schools, roads and public safety our citizens demand is in peril.
What are these changes happening in the local market and throughout American society? The first is the historic population shift toward urban style, walkable, amenity rich communities where businesses, workers, residents and visitors attend to all daily tasks without using a car.
With that population shift, another market shift logically occurred: commercial investment and job growth followed. As residents and workers moves to urban areas, so do employers, retailers, restaurants and services. With that came economic growth and opportunity.
According to George Washington University Professor Chris Leinberger, areas within the Washington, D.C, region with greater “walkability” saw significantly higher property values, lease rates, retail sales and tax revenues.
“There is a game-changing shift in real estate: research shows that urban walkable places with strong amenity options are driving the real estate industry and economy,” says Leinberger, who heads up the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at GW.
In the contest to attract commercial investment and the talented workforce that businesses want, Loudoun can’t afford to ignore these market trends.
If residents of ALL ages and incomes prefer to live, work and play in walkable environments with rich recreational and entertainment amenities, Loudoun needs growth policies that reflect this reality.
To better understand and react to these trends, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors authorized the creation of the Nighttime Economy Ad Hoc Committee (NEAC) in May of 2015. They appointed yours truly and Todd Pearson of the B.F. Saul Company to lead this effort. We recruited many of Loudoun’s most engaged and knowledgeable business, government and community leaders to join us.
Over the past 10 months, our nearly 60-member Committee worked to identify the essential elements of a successful “Nighttime Economy.”
We also worked hard to engage the Loudoun community. More than 80 local citizens attended the NEAC’s public input meeting on March 14th and more than 1,100 individuals – 90% of them Loudouners – completed an online survey on the issues the NEAC was exploring.
What we found was that our ideas for making Loudoun more competitive in the future economy, by enlivening our social and recreational options, were broadly supported by those who live here today.
Almost all of the survey respondents said they enjoyed visiting wineries, going to the movies, live entertainment or going out to eat. More than 80% of Loudouners said they want a greater selection of cultural and recreational activities here at home and offered specific examples of what they’d like.
This public input and the Committee’s research, analysis and findings are being put together into the NEAC’s final report.
On May 13th, Mr. Pearson and I delivered our committee’s report to the Economic Development Advisory Commission. The Board of Supervisors will receive our report at the beginning of June.
What they will receive is a report that proposes several policy changes. Among these are:
- Allowing developers more flexibility to adapt to changing market conditions;
- Having the County prioritize housing diversity and affordability as a strategic objective;
- Creating public/private partnerships to market Loudoun’s dining and entertainment options;
- Make it easier to stage special events in Loudoun County;
- Better use of technology to make travel between activity centers safer and more reliable;
- Focusing on public space and public safety as part of our future growth plans
We are very proud of the work of our Committee and are forever grateful for their generous contributions of time, energy and expertise. We are also grateful for the contributions made by the Loudoun community, and the outstanding support we received from County staff.
It probably seems cliché to say this, but the Nighttime Economy Committee’s work was truly a team effort.
Now that the Committee’s work has concluded, the real work begins. I promise you the Loudoun County Chamber will remained actively engaged on this issue and the ideas we developed. I ask that you do, as well, so that we can work together to ensure the same economic opportunity that we have been blessed to enjoy.
(Tony Howard is President & CEO of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce. This article originally appeared in the Loudoun County Chamber Insider.)