Leesburg Economic Development Director Marantha Edwards recalls a phone call she received shortly after the results of the 2010 U.S. Census were released.
“You have a HUBZone, and I want to move to Leesburg,” said the voice at the other end of the line.
“I didn’t know what he was talking about,” Edwards said.
What the Census, and the man on the phone, had discovered was that a HUBZone—an acronym for Historically Underutilized Business Zone—had been created in Leesburg. While there are several ways an area can be designated a HUBZone, Leesburg’s fell into the category because of its proximity to a historic district and having its residents earning 60 percent below the area median income.
Leesburg’s HUBZone is bordered by Edwards Ferry Road, the Leesburg Bypass, King Street and the W&OD Trail. It includes The Fields Apartments and neighborhoods along or near Plaza Street. The area even includes Leesburg’s Mason Enterprise Center business incubator, allowing businesses to rent space within the building to take advantages of the benefits of the designation.
For businesses that deal with, or are thinking of getting into, the government contracting market, the advantages of locating one’s principal office in a HUBZone are huge. Federal government agencies are required to give at least 3 percent of their contracts to HUBZone businesses, and qualifying businesses are given a 10 percent boost on their bids for contracts for being located in a HUBZone. At least 35 percent of a HUBZone-certified company’s workforce must live within a HUBZone, although it can be a different HUBZone than where the business itself is located.
For Bob and Lisa Cusack of Custom Software Systems Inc., locating in Leesburg’s HUBZone has been a boon for their company. Within a year of securing their HUBZone certification, the company was awarded a five-year, $10 million contract with the U.S. Treasury.
But the Cusacks will be quick to point out that, to them, the real benefits of the program can be found with how it positively impacts the community. Because of the workforce requirements, the Cusacks and other HUBZone business leaders look to their neighbors when it comes time to hire. Many companies look to train potential employees with job skills that can in turn help them down the road with their own careers.
“By bringing contract dollars into this HUBZone area it allows us to hire people from within the area. It puts more dollars into the community, which is the purpose of this anyway,” Bob Cusack said.
“What it really boils down to is reaching into the community, finding people who don’t have those skills and building up those skills,” Lisa Cusack said.
The couple hired a few new employees during a recent HUBZone job fair organized by the Economic Development Department and now boast 28 total employees, almost half of which live in the specially designated zone.
“To me it’s the best government program that incentivizes small businesses because it’s the only one that focuses on the redevelopment of the community,” Leesburg Business Development Manager Kindra Jackson said.
For the town, Jackson said, being located in a HUBZone is “like discovering there’s a gold mine in your backyard.”
Edwards said the HUBZone has spurred diversity in the companies locating within the town, long known for its service industry businesses. Now, small companies focused on procuring government contracts have been finding ways to locate themselves in Leesburg and utilize its growing workforce. The Mason Enterprise Center and its Procurement Technical Assistance Program have been important partners in this, Edwards said.
The majority of HUBZone businesses in the town so far deal with IT and unmanned aircraft, or drones.
“It creates a small Silicon Valley IT bubble in downtown Leesburg. It’s our unspoken tech district,” Jackson said.
The Economic Development Department and Mason Enterprise Center host quarterly meetings for HUBZone businesses, and are always available to assist businesses interested in being certified in the program.
For more information about Leesburg’s HUBZone, go to leesburgva.gov/businesses/site-selection/hubzone.