Never before have Loudouners had more options when heading out for a nice family dinner or a cold beer with friends. It seems each week a new establishment is opening—representing a fulfillment of dreams by the owners and welcome additions to their communities.
But, increasingly, that business growth is proving unsustainable. Missing is a key resource—available employees. The hospitality industry has been hard-hit by its own successes. That won’t get better when students return to class in just a few weeks.
Many business leaders have been ramping up calls for greater investment in—and more opportunities to create—workforce housing. Mostly, those warnings have been dismissed as thinly cloaked ploys to break open new areas for development. But when restaurants can’t keep their doors open because there is no one to serve the diners lined up outside, the concern is viewed in a different light.
In recent years, there have been focused efforts by businesses, governments and educational institutions to coordinate training of high-tech workers, for example expanding STEM programs to ensure that skilled employees will be available to feed that growing industry. Those are the high-paying jobs for which most communities compete. But those jobs don’t come without support from more labor-intensive community amenities.
If Loudoun has reached a saturation point where the number of jobs has outstripped available employees at economically viable wage levels—as some businesses are reporting—the situation already is critical. The changes in housing and transportation policies needed to address the shortage will take years to reverse that course.
The evidence is that Loudoun leaders have overlooked a valuable resource and their inaction threatens to slow or reverse the economic surge they worked so hard to generate. It’s a concern that can no longer be dismissed in the county’s larger community development debates.