The Department of Economic Development will be growing its office to put more attention on agricultural business and the county’s workforce, if supervisors stick to informal votes cast at a county budget work session Thursday, March 15.
Business leaders across many sectors have said publicly that the biggest difficulty opening or expanding a business in Loudoun is finding a workforce. While Loudoun has a very highly educated, highly-skilled workforce, it has very low unemployment, expensive housing, and very low vacant housing inventory. The Dulles Area Association of Realtors recently reported that in February, Loudoun had the lowest number of active real estate listings in more than a decade.
The combination of cost and availability can make it hard for businesses to find people to hire, or for new employees to find places to live. And Economic Development Executive Director Buddy Rizer said that’s a problem when his office is trying to recruit new businesses for Loudoun—especially in technology, where he said there are 127,000 unfilled jobs in Northern Virginia.
“We very much see this as a limiting factor,” Rizer said. “In every project we talk to, the number one decision is location.” He added that Amazon has said finding their future workforce is their number one priority in choosing a site for their new headquarters, a project for which Loudoun is competing.
Board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said he had heard through his work on regional economic development organizations that difficulties around workforce are “the biggest impediment to economic development out there regionally.”
To that end, Rizer’s office has requested a new position: Workforce Development Specialist, at an annual cost to the county of $91,337. The responsibilities of that position would be diverse, from advising on workforce development programs and training, to quarterly market analysis, to networking among human resources professionals and educators.
Some parts of the job description didn’t sound quite right to supervisors, such as a line about organizing job fairs.
“The issue isn’t job fairs,” Buona said. “The issue is getting people with the right skills aligned with the employers.”
Supervisors supported the new position 6-2, with Supervisors Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) and Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) opposed. Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) was absent.
The department will also be expanding its part-time Rural Resources Coordinator position to a full-time Agricultural Business Development Manager, responsible for attracting the infrastructure to support large-scale agriculture, such as mills. The position is partly driven by the retirement of the current rural resources coordinator; without being able to offer a full-time position, the department was concerned it would not attract a qualified candidate.