The top economic development leaders in Loudoun and Virginia laid out the path for the state to reclaim its position at the top of the American economy during a Chamber of Commerce breakfast presentation Friday, Aug. 3.
Loudoun County Department of Economic Development Executive Director Buddy Rizer and Virginia Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Steven Moret both talked about the local and state economy’s turnaround since the 2008 recession. Northern Virginia has long been the economic engine of the Virginia economy—at times accounting for more than 100 percent of the state’s economic growth, Moret noted, continuing to grow while the rest of the state was losing jobs.
“And I think that the one county that’s probably the best positioned for growth and to control its growth in this region is Loudoun County,” Moret said.
Rizer said when his department publishes its annual report later this month, it will report more than $6 billion in new commercial investment and almost 10,000 new jobs.
But both also laid out what they saw as the challenges going ahead. And for both, the workforce—particularly in the technology industry—plays a big part.
“We produce a lot of graduates in STEM fields and so forth, but the challenge is that the demand here is far, far, far greater than the supply, particularly in the computational sciences,” Moret said. “… We appear to have the biggest gap between demand and supply of any state in the country.”
“Workforce is our main limiting factor for continued growth,” Rizer said. “There are tens of thousands of open tech jobs in Northern Virginia. I talk to employers every week who say ‘if there were 500 trained and cleared people who came into my office today, I would hire every one of them.’”
Part of the problem, Moret said, is that while Virginia sees positive net immigration numbers, domestically, the state has in fact seen net out-migration of college graduates.
And figuring out how to keep those professionals in Virginia will be a deciding factor for attracting large new investments, such as Amazon’s HQ2, they said. Rizer pointed out the Board of Supervisors this year funded a first in his department, a workforce development position.
“Trying to attack this is going to be incredibly important, maybe the biggest economic development job we have going forward,” Rizer said. “These major deals will be decided when they say, ‘where does my future workforce want to live?’”
Moret also said Virginia’s economy is focused on large, established companies, with a tax structure that gives fewer breaks for starting new businesses, and less “entrepreneurial energy” for smaller businesses. And he said if the state is going to be an economic leader, it will need “near-ubiquitous” broadband, including in rural areas.
And Rizer said locally, those areas are a “unique asset” that must be protected.
“It is incredibly important that we uphold what is special about western Loudoun,” Rizer said. And he said economic development will play a “critical role in sustaining western Loudoun.”
“The only alternative to farmland in western Loudoun is going to be housing,” Rizer said. “We need to keep the farmland, farmland.”
The breakfast session was part of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce’s PolicyMaker series.