Loudoun’s Rural Business Study to Go Regional

For a rural business, the first steps are hard. But once a business is established, how does it grow?

A business accelerator helps them take that next step, and an ongoing study on the need for an accelerator in Loudoun will now be expanded beyond the county’s borders and into data-driven analysis.

In 2013, the Board of Supervisors adopted its Rural Economy Business Development Strategies, nine ideas to boost and support Loudoun’s rural economy, at the recommendation of the county Rural Economic Development Council. Among those ideas, the strategies call for an assessment of the need for a Loudoun Agriculture and Rural Business Accelerator.

That said, Rural Economic Development Council member, entrepreneur, and Fabbioli Vineyards co-owner Doug Fabbioli, is all about connections.

“It’s a program that will help the businesses get traction,” Fabbioli said. “An incubator is something that’ll kind of help it get started, but an accelerator is where you can say, well, now that you’ve got a little business started, how can you feed into that.”

And that networking means businesses helping each other succeed. Fabbioli gave the example of his own business, which produces a pear wine among several grape varietals. Eventually, the demand was more than he could meet with his own pear trees, so he started buying some from Pennsylvania—a profit to the Pennsylvania pear farmer, but also a profit to Fabbioli, who turns those pears into wine.

But that example also shows the limits of the accelerator needs assessment as it was originally conceived in 2013.

“I’m going to have a tough time getting apples out of D.C., but I sure could sell some apple wine there, or some apple cider,” Fabbioli said. And the region doesn’t just mean east toward D.C.—Loudoun is surrounded by agricultural land in other directions.

“It costs a lot if we were going to start opening up the Loudoun County apple industry again—we’re doing a little bit, but we’re not doing a ton—but we can build our industry off the apples in West Virginia and Pennsylvania,” Fabbioli said.

“Just as workforce and transportation are regional, so is our food network,” said Department of Economic Development Executive Director Buddy Rizer. “We believe there is more opportunity for a Loudoun accelerator to be successful if we take into consideration the opportunities that exist, for example, in Fauquier or Frederick County. Not only does the expansion cast a wider net, it also would give the program more agricultural product to work with, hence more opportunity.”

Rizer said making the study more data-driven will also strengthen it.

“I don’t believe you can figure out where you want to go if you don’t have an unbiased idea of where you are,” Rizer said.

Fabbioli’s own business, built in part on networking across borders, is evidence that a rural business accelerator would help Loudoun’s rural economy.

“The proof is in the pudding at this point,” he said. “Meaning we’ve done very well at holding the ground and investing in this land.”

The study was originally projected to cost $50,000, split evenly between the county and the state’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund planning grant. Expanding the scope of the study is expected to cost another $25,000, but the Department of Economic Development says it can absorb that cost into its budget without extra money from supervisors.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

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