Loudoun Chamber Forum Highlights Growth Concerns

The economy at both the global and local levels is still not growing at its pre-recession pace, and Loudoun’s housing stock may not be sufficient to accommodate future needs.

Those were some of the key takeaways from Wednesday’s Loudoun Chamber of Commerce forum, Keepin’ it REAL in LoCo, held at One Loudoun’s Alamo Drafthouse.

Economist Anirban Basu, of the Sage Policy Group, served as the keynote speaker for the forum, giving attendees an overview of economic activity at the global, national, statewide, and local levels. The global economy grew at a pace of 3.2 percent last year, and this year looks to hover around 3.5 percent, he said. That’s alarming considering that during the 10 years of the financial crisis it averaged over 4 percent, Basu said. The U.S. itself hasn’t averaged 3 percent growth since 2005, he noted.

Virginia added more than 58,000 jobs last year, with an economic growth of 1.5 percent, slightly above the U.S. average of 1.4 percent. The Washington, DC, metro area boasted the fourth lowest unemployment rate in the nation from August 2016 to August 2017.

Loudoun County’s unemployment rate during that time was 3.1 percent, and the county added just under 5,700 jobs. But Basu cautioned that statistic does not necessarily mean that that many jobs were created.

“That’s just more people have jobs here than a year ago. It might not be new jobs,” he said. “That speaks to an increasingly tight labor market.”

Coupled with the low unemployment rate, this places an increased emphasis on the need for more housing options in Loudoun, Basu said.

“When you have an unemployment rate that low it’s hard to retain them because they get tired of the traffic each and every day. It stimulates turnover, which is not good for business.”

Homeownership is going to come back “with a vengeance” in the next five to 10 years, and the millennials who are now seeking more urban-style apartments and condominiums will transform into be young families desiring a suburban, single-family home or townhouse-type of environment.

“We haven’t built many single-family homes for them. We’ve built a lot of apartments and condos,” he said.

Basu also pointed to the declines in both the retail and office markets, with the latter’s vacancy hovering around 20 percent in the metro area.

Colleen Gillis, a land use attorney and partner with Cooley, led forum attendees through an interactive poll which allowed them to weigh in on their typical commutes, as well as their preferred outcomes for Loudoun County as it navigates a review of its comprehensive plan, dubbed Envision Loudoun.

Words used by the audience to describe the county’s housing market ranged from challenging to exclusionary to supply-constrained. The far and away winner in the category—expensive.

Gillis also led a panel discussion, including some of the county’s top employers, like Deborah Addo from Inova Loudoun Hospital and Robert DuPree from Telos.

krodriguez@loudounnow.com

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