LOUDOUN COUNTY,Va. – Frustration with not having a long-term federal budget to aid in future planning will be on the minds of business owners in Tuesday’s primary election and the November general election,Leesburg business owners say.
Not having a long-term federal budget “weighs over a lot of people’s minds,” Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce President Tony Howard said.
“Especially with the federal government having such an outsized role in the health of the economy and quality of life in the entire D.C. area of which Loudoun County is a part of.”
Howard doubts President Barack Obama’s administration or members of Congress will make any decisions about the taxes or a budget anytime soon but will focus on winning elections.
From 2000 to 2010,Leesburg,the county seat of Loudoun County,had the second-highest percentage job growth in the nation,75.29 percent,according to CNN Money’s “Best Places to Live” list. Job growth came as the county’s population grew.
Terry Rephann,regional economist for University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service,said he believes the election is going to be determined in places like Loudoun County.
“Retail jobs have grown substantially,” Leesburg Mayor Kristen Umstattd said in an email.
Wegmans,the New York grocery chain,is one of the largest retail employers in the town of 42,616. Umstattd said the number of small,home-based businesses has also increased substantially in the last 10 years.
High-tech jobs and a profitable agriculture industry make Leesburg a place where data centers,grape-growing and wineries can all succeed. According to the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development,gross sales of the county’s more than 1,400 farms doubled since 1998 to more than $68 million annually.
“That helps us maintain sort of the fabric of our community as both a very thriving technologically oriented suburban community partnered with a very traditional rural economy that is itself economically vibrant and strong,” Howard said.
Keeping up with the growth
When it comes to local government,candidates who show ability to find ways to pay for new roads and schools without adding too much of a tax burden may stand a better chance with Loudoun County residents.
As one of the fastest growing counties in the nation over the last decade,Loudoun has as a top priority of building new infrastructure to prevent overcrowding.
The desire to live and work in Loudoun County creates crowding on roads and classrooms,Howard said.
He said leadership in the Virginia House of Delegates believes the state can create infrastructure necessary to support commuters and school children without raising taxes or other revenues,but the state senate doesn’t think the state should use any part of the general fund revenues,the income tax largely,to pay for new infrastructure.
Howard said the business community would handle the situation differently.
“If we were to do the deal as a business deal,we would say we would take some from one source and some from another and perhaps some from another source we haven’t even considered,and we’d get the job done,” he said.
Expanding mass transit,improving roads and fixing bridges that Howard described as “crumbling and falling down” should be priorities.
If the business community was handling the situation,Howard said,“We would address the issues before it hit a true crisis,and that crisis is around the corner.”
The recession’s effect
Though Loudoun County boasts one of the best economies in the nation,the recession still affected the area,and Howard describes it as having a lingering impact.
“A lot of folks did lose their jobs. It became more difficult for them to pay their mortgages,” Howard said. “We saw a lot of folks in the financial sector and the real estate sector see their business dry up.”
In 2008,Howard said the chamber lost some members,but in 2010 and 2011,membership began to go back up. Currently,the chamber includes about 1,150 members.
Military cuts a worry
Military spending cuts are another concern for some Virginia residents. Military spending cuts proposed in next year’s federal budget may take away some jobs in Northern Virginia. According to research by Stephen Fuller,director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University,Department of Defense spending reductions on equipment could cause the state to lose more than 120,000 jobs.
Rephann said the reduction in defense expenditures has the potential to affect whole communities in Northern Virginia,home to many defense contractors and military installations,and the Hampton Road region,home to the world’s largest naval base and other military installations.
“Even if there’s an economic recovery,it could pretty much negate any economic recovery for the state,” Rephann said. “It impacts everyone from the local Walmart to the dentist.”
Communities in Northern Virginia just outside Washington have unemployment rates between 4 and 5 percent. Elsewhere in the state,mainly in the south,unemployment is in the double digits.
According to the Wall Street Journal,which used privately gathered data,Virginia start-up companies received the fourth-highest amount of venture capital funding during the first half of last year. The majority of money went to the information technology industry,health care,consumer services and business and financial services.
Rephann said that over the past five to 10 years,in southern Virginia,along the North Carolina border,the textile industry moved overseas,followed by wood processing,furniture and manufacturing.
With incomes lower,“a lot of the younger folks have left. So it’s sort of a vicious cycle,” Rephann said.
Southern Virginians are more likely to be discontented with the current administration and may not support Obama in the November election,he said.
Howard said he believes the government needs to invest in infrastructure for the southern region of Virginia. In addition to roads and schools,Howard said the government needs to invest more in Internet access for rural areas.
Investing in different kinds of infrastructure will “allow these communities to re-invent themselves and to take on whatever is next for them,” Howard said.
“It’s absolutely imperative that the government,federal,state and local,within their means,invest in good schools,good roads,mass transit lines and Internet access.”
Speaking on behalf of Northern Virginia chambers of commerce,Howard said,“We don’t believe we can have a healthy economy and quality of life in our community unless every community in Virginia is experiencing the same. … We believe it’s imperative that we make those investments in their communities and ours for our own future and for the future of our children.”
Though Rephann said most analysts say the federal stimulus bill was effective,in southern Virginia the perception could be different.
“They think,probably,that the fiscal stimulus was inefficient,the government deficit is unsustainable and that we need to curtail our involvement in a lot of the government activities,the things that we’re doing now,” Rephann said. “While as in the north they’re more supportive because,in part,it puts food on the table.”
Reach reporter Brooke Kelly [email protected] or 202-326-9866. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.