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Loudoun’s rural economy gets a boost

Loudoun County's rural businesses contribute 25 cents in additional sales output and 20 cents in additional earnings for every dollar in sales, but the sector faces some of the biggest regulatory hurdles and development pressures, county officials say.

In an effort to bolster rural businesses, the previous Board of Supervisors adopted a plan coined the Rural Economy Business Development Strategies (REBDS) in 2013, consisting of nine focus areas to enhance the county’s rural economy.

One of those strategies was assessing the need for an agriculture and rural business accelerator that would serve as a vehicle to allow rural entrepreneurs access to resources for training, research, food processing and office space.

The accelerator would also provide rural business owners links to local, state and national research centers to further their strategies.

The current Board of Supervisors recently gave the Rural Economy Business Development Strategy Implementation Committee the green-light to expand the scope of the
possible accelerator and to take a more regional and data-driven approach to the effort.

Loudoun County Agricultural Development Officer Kellie Hinkle told the Board of Supervisors the accelerator should be expanded because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been positioning value chain coordinators around the country as well as servicing northern Virginia and the rest of the state.

“There’s a mid-Atlantic food court that’s being planned for the area and one component that is being discussed within that food court is a manufacturing accelerator, which would take a more regional approach to the food system,” Hinkle said.

The county says the benefits of widening the scope of the assessment is key to addressing the many “limitations of the current market,” which include crop yield and diversity.

Rural Economy Business Development Strategy Implementation Committee Chairman Doug Fabbioli, owner of Fabbioli Cellars, told the board he has seen the benefits of a rural business accelerator on his own business.

Fabbioli said he helped start an agriculture workforce education program. As part of that program last year, he took people to work at Wegmeyer Farms in Hamilton to pick strawberries. When they realized there were extra strawberries, they decided they could use them to produce wine.

“We ended up using the labor that we were sharing, ended up putting it in the freezer, creating this new product,” Fabbioli said.

The original REBDS study was slated to cost $50,000 with half coming from local funds and the other half from the Commonwealth’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund planning grant.

Expanding the assessment will cost $25,000 more. However, the Department of Economic Development says it will absorb the cost into its budget without additional funds from the board.

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