Metrorail Talk is Sending an Unexpected Message

Board of Supervisors is sending a surprising message to the business community.

Early in its term, it looked like the all-Republican Loudoun County was trying to define itself as the business-friendly board. It seemed to be intentionally sending a message to the business community: “We are on your side.”

Just a month after taking office, the board directed county staff to stop work on developing green building standards and a Comprehensive Plan amendment on energy efficiency.

It also stopped work on a zoning ordinance amendment that would have allowed dog parks in certain areas.

“I want to prioritize those items that are going to give us more bang for the buck economic development-wise and things like that,” Algonkian District Supervisor Suzanne Volpe said, as reported in Leesburg Today. “For me I am looking at the things that are going to help us expand our business base.”

The board killed a volunteer program that removed illegal signs from along the roadways. Some saw that program as unfriendly to businesses that use signs to advertise illegally in the public right-of-way.

During the budget process, the board added three “salesmen” to the and expanded the department’s budget by more than half a million dollars, even while killing popular programs like the Drug Court and Master Gardeners, and effectively .

Board members talked a lot about “,” and they made it clear that they placed economic development squarely in the core.

Now the board is sending a very different message to the business community, but this one appears to be unintentional.

The proposed extension of Metrorail into Loudoun is the biggest economic development opportunity to present itself to Loudoun County in many years, and the supposedly “pro-business” board has inexplicably been unable to embrace it.

A majority of the board has found one problem after another with the project, and has all but ignored the potential benefits of this investment in transportation infrastructure.

The business community is solidly in favor of the project. During an input session on June 4, it was striking that every business-related organization in the county strongly supported extension of the Silver Line into Loudoun. The Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce, Visit Loudoun and the Dulles Area Association of Realtors all lined up to speak in favor of the project.

If this isn’t a project that will promote economic development, then what is?

An executive in the county’s Department of Economic Development once told me that economic development can essentially be defined as adding jobs – and not just any jobs.

Some jobs will come just because of the residential development that will occur no matter what the board does, such as jobs in retail stores, banks and restaurants. Schools and other public services will be needed. The county does not need to try as hard to attract those kinds of jobs because they will eventually come anyway.

What economic development officials most want to attract are businesses that bring lots of highly paid, professional employees to the county.

Among the county’s biggest economic development successes over the past two decades have been the arrival of AOL, WorldCom/UUNET (now part of Verizon), and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) – businesses that not only brought lots of high-paying jobs but also attracted other businesses to the area.

If the county wants to attract more businesses like these, it needs to show that it is forward-thinking. It needs to show that Loudoun County is an attractive place for young professionals. It needs to demonstrate that it is serious about solving its transportation problems.

Clogged roads and an inadequate public transit system will eclipse all the talk in the world about Loudoun County being open for business.

For all we know, the county might be pursuing the next AOL or HHMI right now. What must those company executives be thinking, as they watch the stream of fault-finding about the Metrorail project coming from a majority of board members?

By dithering over a proposed project that just about any other jurisdiction would kill for, the board is sending a message to businesses that it does not understand what they need, and that it is not listening to what they say. It is telling the world that it doesn’t understand the seriousness of the county’s transportation deficiencies.

It is an inexplicable message to be coming from an all-Republican board that set out to be business-friendly, and that elevated economic development above almost every other priority.

It is simply mind boggling.

joe brewer June 28, 2012 at 11:13 AM
I do not see the conflict here. Problem solving transportation and the spending and the funding are exactly what our supervisors are supposed to do. Signing on to phase two without knowing the cost (garages, rail cars) would be sending a unexpected message to the business community that the powers that be cannot be trusted to do their job throughly. Dither away until answers for funding and spending are clarified. Don't sign Loudoun taxpayers up as a open ended funding source. Virginia money needs to stay in Virginia not be put into a general fund that pays for the maintenance that has been neglected. Loudoun pays twice first with the tolls from the toll road of 100 million, then the 270 million or 4.8%, plus 130 million for the garages, don't let us forget the increase in rail cars of 140 million, add the 150 million from the state which Loudoun Taxpayers helped fund and they got their hooks into us 3 ways. About 790 million just with these examples! hmmmm
Vineet Aggarwal June 28, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Great article Jim. On this note, I just wanted to say Thank You to the Opt-Out group for all the scrap paper -- you people littered my neighborhood with your unsolicited propaganda this morning, but have no fear because I did my duty as a resident and cleaned it all up. My compost heap will be happy.
Tony Arko June 28, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Carefully examining all facets of the project and using the time allotted is wise governing. Making a hasty decision because it will potentially "send the right message" is not. Please let them do their jobs and critique them after the deadline. Thank you. Tony Arko, President, Dulles Area Association of REALTORS
Kristen H June 28, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Tony, I disagree that we should let them vote and then decide whether they made the right call afterwards. Part of the media's job is to keep voters as informed as possible so that they can share their thoughts. That's what the public forum is for, and it's an incredibly important part of decision-making.
Jonathan Erickson June 28, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Mr. Arko I see your point of view but for the new supervisors who have had a 994 million dollar school budget to wrestle with is it fair for them to have less than 2 months to accumulate data and process it. There is a enviromental study going on, there is the Inspector Generals study going on seems to me there needs to be a extension so funding and spending studies can be completed!.
joe brewer June 28, 2012 at 10:41 PM
And you just littered into my e-mail compost pile and it thanks you.
Bob Bruhns June 28, 2012 at 10:48 PM
There are some strong arguments that opting out will be better for Loudoun County for decades to come. Why should your BOS be bullied into making a premature decision about a premature rail project that is overpriced nearly two to one as well? Why not show the world how adults plan the growth of a region, instead of showing them how people fall for ridiculous, shady operations like the MWAA Board?
CC Mojo June 29, 2012 at 12:49 AM
There are arguments with much more strength FOR Metro to Loudoun. This article is a fantastic example of many of those arguments. Loudoun is growing, will continue to grow, but without businesses and the transportation infrastructure to support and attract new businesses, Loudoun will lose out. Waiting another 40 years isn't going to cut it, and the BOS has had plenty of time to make a decision. No more waiting, bring Metro to Loudoun!
Vineet Aggarwal June 29, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Ha! You're very welcome.
Samantha Villegas June 29, 2012 at 01:25 PM
This whole thing is so infuriating. As you pointed out, Jim - this is the golden egg we've been looking for, for so long! You want more business here, bring the damn train in. Yes, it's expensive. It's worth it.
Bob Bruhns June 29, 2012 at 04:58 PM
The best answer for Loudoun County is a modern bus system. And with commuter-accessible rail only at two stations on the east side of the county (and in a few places nearby in Fairfax County), that bus system is needed anyway. Loudoun County should skip the rail construction expense and skip the exposure to WMATA's bottomless money pit, and build that bus system instead. Don't suffer 'Train on the Brain'. Just say NO to Metro!.


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