Business and community leaders set an agenda last week to make Loudoun County a model for economic vitality and quality of life in the nation’s most dynamic region.
With 2018 as a target, the leaders identified key opportunities to establish the county as a center for economic activity while offering an embracing lifestyle that reflects its distinctive sense of place. The second phase of Metrorail’s Silver Line is scheduled for completion by the end of 2008, extending a transportation corridor that extends the federal Capitol District as well as the Northern Virginia technology corridor into Loudoun.
Community leaders deeply engaged in the county’s rapid growth were invited to the Times-Mirror’s quarterly Business Leaders Roundtable to consider the changes and issues impacting Loudoun into the future.
While each contributed a unique perspective about growth and development, diverse points-of-view converged around a common idea: the need for a singular, community approach to managing growth and change.
“There’s all these silos where business people hang out with business people and do business stuff,” said Karen Schaufeld, a Middleburg entrepreneur and technology investor who founded the collaborative philanthropy 100WomenStrong. “Government people hang out with government people and do government stuff. And nonprofits do their little thing and often don’t know what the other nonprofits are doing, so there hasn’t ever been a … mechanism to bring these groups together.”
The county’s economic development director, Buddy Rizer, disclosed that one kind of mechanism was in the works: a program called Loudoun 2018 that looks at all the conditions and situations that arise from the arrival of the silver Line.
“We want to take a wholistic look at what Loudoun will look like,” Rizer said. ”What are the things we need to do in order to be successful?”
One aspect of the plan is to ensure the quality of life that Loudoun residents enjoy, as well as to sustain and extend that quality of life to a diverse group of people moving to the county. Employers such as Telos, a fast-growing Leesburg company that provides security and cybersecurity solutions for the federal government, choose Loudoun because of its neighborhoods, schools, shops, recreation and entertainment -- amenities important to attracting and maintaining highly-skilled employees.
Participants in the Times-Mirror Roundtable suggested a broader approach that addresses the overall health and well-being of the community.
“Our county is not getting healthier,” said Dr. Grace Keenan, chief executive officer of the NOVA Medical Group. “ … we talk about what a wonderful place it is in Loudoun. But people are working hard here. People are under a lot of stress.”
What is unique about Loudoun, she said, is the desire to find some kind of balance.
Balance is also key to economic development. How the county develops the abundant land around Silver Line stations and beyond may determine whether Loudoun becomes a congested, urban hodge-podge like Tysons Corner or a more inviting destination that reflects its natural assets between the Potomac and the Blue Ridge and continues to preserve its historic, hallowed ground.
Land use, either through the re-purposing of existing properties or the development of new, multi-use “mini-cities,” is key to what Loudoun becomes.
“To make these rail stations a success and to make Loudoun County a success we have to create a vision that’s a game changer for us, and implement that vision through flexibility,” said Lind Erbs, a former county engineer who now serves as vice president of Tetra Properties, one of several groups interested in developing sites around the county.
Participants such as One Loudoun developer Bill May and Catoctin Creek Distillery founder Scott Harris believe Loudoun’s two sides -- high-energy urbanism in the east, pastoral playground in the west -- are complimentary.
“People want to live in places that are convenient and exciting,” May said.
Harris believes people will rediscover themselves in a place that is real and authentic. He left a career in government contracting and information technology to start the first distillery in Loudoun County since before Prohibition. Scott and Becky Harris launched the distillery in a historic building, once a Buick dealership and garage, built in downtown Purcellville in 1921. They installed solar panels on the roof as a power source.
The Harrisses’ banker loved the idea.
“We take our most pleasure from dealing with folks like Scott and Becky and projects like this, where we can see someone come up with an idea and carry through and grow a business out of that,” said Bill Ridenour, president of John Marshall Bank.
Comparisons complicate the idea of what Loudoun should become. Reston? Clarendon? Tysons Corner?
“We just have to be the best Loudoun we can be,” said Rizer. “We are a unique success story … while the rest of the county has really struggled.”
But success has many faces, warns Schaufeld, who suggests that the county involve stakeholders from all aspects of Loudoun’s society to conduct an objective “asset evaluation.”
“What are the assets in this county? What are the resources in this county? And how do you look at where you want to bring in the future and figure out how to use those assets,” she asks.