Two big announcements were made this week as Loudoun County leaders were briefed on the status of rural economic development efforts.
The first was the completion of a new equine survey that found the county’s horse industry has an economic impact of $180 million and supports 27,000 jobs.
The second was that the county government’s outreach to foreign markets will have big impact on Loudoun’s countryside as well. Rural Economic Development Committee Chairman Destry Jarvis said a family from China plans to build a 40-room country inn on a 197-acre property on the south side of Rt. 9 just west of the Harpers Ferry Road intersection.
The news was shared by the REDC to a crowd that included County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randal (D-At Large) and Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) at Morven Park on Wednesday evening.
Plans for the new country inn have their roots in a meeting former County Chairman Scott K. York had with the family last year while on a trade mission, Jarvis said. They had visited Loudoun and fallen in love with the northwestern part of the county, in particular the Appalachian Trail.
“They want to build a high quality inn close to the trail, so hikers and bikers can access it easily,” Jarvis said. The family is in the process of selecting a design firm and contractor for the project, as it moves through through the design and permitting phase.
The new Loudoun County Equine Survey is based on 2013 statistics and was conducted by the Center for Research at the Cooper Weldon Center in Charlottesville. It estimated there were 14,452 horses based in Loudoun, with an approximate valuation of $13,242 per animal and a total estimated valuation countywide of $191.4 million.
The survey also revealed that equine events in the county during 2013 attracted more than 78,000 spectators—about one-third from out of state. The survey estimates that the equine industry in Loudoun has a total economic impact of $180.4 million, excluding real estate tax revenues—estimated at approximately $2.4 million in 2013. That figure, would be considerably higher if projected out to all estimated equine owners and enthusiasts in Loudoun, according to survey calculators.
Most respondents (68 percent) said they rode for pleasure, followed by riding lessons (55 percent), trail rides (52 percent) and shows/competitions (48 percent).
In a more detailed breakdown, 63 percent favored trail riding, followed by dressage at 35 percent, hunter/jumper at 33 percent and fox hunting at 28 percent.
Challenges cited by respondents included the need for upgraded facilities in the county, pressure from development for land and lack of appreciation of the equine culture.
Morven Park Executive Director Stephanie Kenyon noted the Leesburg-area estate undergoing a huge transition as it prepares to renovate and rebuild the equestrian center.
“It’s a big project,” she said, noting the new partnership with the Virginia Equine Alliance that will see flat racing return to Morven Park in 2017.
The REDC is appointed by the Board of Supervisors to promote rural business activities in the county, primarily as a way to keep the open land from being converted to housing subdivisions.
Department of Economic Development Director Buddy Rizer said he could not think of any other organization that is “so dedicated, with such a vision.” The department’s role, Rizer said, is to try to build the rural economy and give entrepreneurs the tools they need to thrive.
Even though she has lived in Loudoun for 23 years, Randall said she hadn’t known a lot about western Loudoun, where most of the rural economy is centered, but she is very committed to supporting it. She said the board’s upcoming effort to revise the countywide comprehensive plan would take rural economic goals into consideration and that the REDC would be represented during those talks.
“I want to protect the west; I’m very serious about that,” Randall said. “A lot of tax revenues come from the beautiful west.”
“We need to step up and find ways for owners to have viable businesses,” she said.