What makes Loudoun the place to live?
“I think of this as probably one of the most important things in Loudoun County,” said John Wood, CEO of one of Loudoun’s largest employers, Telos Corporation in Ashburn. “And I think of it from this perspective: our people, basically, because of technology, can live wherever they want to within reason.”
Last year, Loudoun’s Economic Development Advisory Commission brought together business and development leaders to create the Nighttime Economy Advisory Commission, or NEAC, to answer that question. Now, after months of intensive meetings and research, the commission is ready to take its ideas to the public.
Although NEAC’s recommendations have not yet been released publicly, at their heart is promoting a community development philosophy of integrated lifestyles based on walkable, urban environments. In other words: places people can live, work, and play, without ever needing to get into a car and brave DC-area traffic. In short, more places like One Loudoun in Ashburn.
The first draft of NEAC’s ideas for how to make that a reality for more Loudouners will be unveiled at a meeting at BLVD in One Loudoun on Tuesday, Feb. 9. There, people can tell the group charged with bolstering the county’s nightlife what they want to see in the county’s future.
“When I was chairman of the Economic Development Commission, I used to say that Loudoun County does a great vanilla ice cream, but we need a lot more flavors out here,” Wood said.
He was talking about housing in Loudoun, which has historically been characterized by suburban sprawl. That sprawl has started to push against the boundaries of Loudoun’s rural west, as illustrated by the single-family home subdivisions that have sprouted up in Loudoun’s Transition Policy Area, which splits the county between the rural west and suburban east.
Urban walkable environments, NEAC Co-chairman Todd Pearson contends, can match the strong demand for work-life integration while taking pressure off the rural economy.
“There’s places for them to live, but there’s not a lot for them to do,” Wood said. “There are housing opportunities for people, but they’re expensive, so either they head out west, or they head out east to Arlington.”
Wood held up Leesburg’s active downtown historic district as an example of a lively, walkable place to live.
Ara Bagdasarian is one of the people who helped make it so. Bagdasarian is the CEO and co-founder of Omnilert in Leesburg, along with several other technology businesses, and served as chairman of Leesburg’s Economic Development Commission from 2004 to 2012. During that time, the town created the Arts and Cultural District, which helped bring live music downtown and kick start Leesburg’s nightlife.
“It’s about the private sector having a critical mass of enough venues,” Bagdasarian said. “You have to reach that level where you become a destination by having multiple venues, multiple resources, multiple everything.”
Grafton deButts, the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce Director of Membership and Brand Strategy, agreed that attracting young professionals is all about creating a lively social scene. DeButts was an organizing member of the chamber’s Loudoun Young Professionals.
“It’s been my mantra since the time that we started Loudoun YP that young professionals aren’t moving to where their job is, but they are very focused on moving to a place where they have a community,” deButts said.
The next step is to get developers and the community involved, starting with the meeting Feb. 9.
“The fact that they have had such amazing engagement in this process, and started the conversation—in my mind, that’s success right there,” said Buddy Rizer, executive director of the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development. “We have actually started down this road, made people aware of it, and started this conversation.”
Based on what they hear at Tuesday’s meeting, NEAC members will revise their recommendations to start their way toward the Board of Supervisors.
“As we continue to grow, especially in the technology world, and we look at the younger workforce, I think it is fair to say we don’t have the full complement of housing options,” Rizer said. “I think the more information we have, the better decisions we can make as we go forward.”
Meet the people who led the NEAC effort here.
Take the online survey here.
The Nighttime Economy Ad Hoc Committee will take public input on its recommendations to boost Loudoun’s night life at a meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9, at BLVD in Loudoun Station. The address is 43805 Central Station Drive in Ashburn.