Supervisors See Increased Role for Rural Economy Council

The Board of Supervisors’ finance committee could start hearing from the county’s Rural Economic Development Council on a regular basis.

“I’d like to see the Rural Economic Development Council operate a little more closely, like the Economic Development Advisory Council, where there is a work plan that comes to the board, and you can come back routinely like the EDAC and report to us on how that’s going and be a little more systematic on the way we’re working together,” said board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn).

The more generally focused Economic Development Advisory Council, which just launched an ad hoc committee on financing large, transit-oriented projects, meets regularly with the finance committee. Its rural counterpart is not often seen in the county boardroom.

Council Chairwoman Alta Jones said the county has an opportunity to delve into the result of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s five-year Census of Agriculture. That census found that from 2012 to 2017, Loudoun lost almost 10 percent of its farmland, a trend that accelerated over the previous five years and faster than the state at large. It also showed Loudoun first in the state in the production of grapes, hops, honey, alpacas and llamas, and in having the most minority farmers.

Jones said with the help of the economic development staff, the information in that census could help put hard numbers and analysis on trends in the rural economy.

“It’s really important,” Jones said. “To give you an example, last year was a challenging year in the rural economy, especially for the farms and winemakers, and we realized we were getting information that the number of wine bottles being sold was lower, but we weren’t getting information that the revenues were down.” With the census data, she said, the county government and rural businesses may be able to nail down that kind of information.

She said the council also hopes to tackle growing revenue for agriculture-related businesses, workforce development for the next generation of farmers, a network of multi-use trails throughout the county, rural road improvements, and the long-term preservation of farmable lands, open spaces and natural resources.
In particular, she said, she’d like to teach students in the county school system about farming jobs. She said recruiting the next generation of farmers from Loudoun County students presents “a large challenge.”

“They have little awareness of agriculture, food industry careers, jobs, and it’s just not on the radar screen,” Jones said. “There are few references in the curriculum, such as literature, science, even the math problems, and farming is full of challenges and math problems. It needs the STEM skillset.”

Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) agreed it would be “good to have a closer relationship where we touch base more often with the board,” and said “somehow we need to get the attention of the School Board members … they have to come forward and want to fund that, and make a request to us.”

Finance committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said the panel will meet more regularly with representatives from the council.

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