OUR VIEW | Finding the Good in the Goliath

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A study published recently by George Mason University professor and regional analyst Stephen S. Fuller has revealed what residents who live near the Virginia Paving Plant may not want to hear because of environmental concerns its presence elicits: It is quite a relevant revenue and employment source for the city. As Alexandria faces revenue shortfalls and budget cuts, this West End economic engine cannot be dismissed or run out of town without great cost.

An industrial eyesore and pollutant to some, to a city that overwhelmingly relies on its residential real estate taxes for revenue, Virginia Paving should also be viewed as a positive contributor to our city. Certainly health concerns do not become moot in light of money, but Fuller goes so far as to call the company a good neighbor for good reason.

Admittedly, Fuller, who was commissioned by Virginia Paving to prepare this study, cannot be viewed as an unbiased source. Some of the numbers in his report are creative to say the least, like the $740,921 in revenue for the city that he reports was generated by Virginia Paving last year. That number includes a lot of indirect revenues like money exchanged through contractual transactions with city-based businesses and money spent by employees in the city.

Still, even if city data is used rather than that provided by Fuller, Virginia Paving paid $524,000 to Alexandria in taxes and fees during 2008, which is not an insignificant amount. The incoming City Council was elected in part to recast Alexandria as a business-friendly city, and the citys industrial base often the subject of protest represents indispensible commercial revenue.

Aside from the revenue Virginia Paving produces in taxes and fees paid to the city government, the company which had $39.4 million in revenues last year also makes significant indirect contributions, according to Fullers figures. Virginia Paving Employees who live in the city made $3.2 million in personal earnings last year, presumably spending much of it in Alexandria. Aside from the 86 full time jobs it provides at the plant, Virginia Paving does business with local companies and spends almost $5 million doing it, with 21 percent of the funds staying with city-based firms.
There are some residents who will not rest, due to perceived environmental hazards posed by Virginia Paving (which since 2006 has made $4 million in environmental upgrades), Norfolk Southern Corporation or the Mirant power plant (in the process of making $34 million in upgrades), until those companies are gone from Alexandria. In a perfect world, perhaps those companies would not be located here, and indeed there would be no pollutants in the city.

But since such commercial endeavors have a right to be here, and in many cases existed in Alexandria prior to the neighborhoods that have been developed around them, it is important to acknowledge the beneficial factors of the citys easily-intimidating industrial Goliath, Virginia Paving. Its environmental emissions are certainly lamentable but its economic emissions are agreeable.

As the economy looks to bounce back and the city looks for ways to expand its commercial tax base, companies like Virginia Paving suddenly become prized tenants rather than unwanted houseguests.

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