Its true times are difficult. Its also true that in difficult times we are faced with making difficult decisions. Our City Council will be making some very tough decisions these next few months for the citys fiscal year 2011 budget. The Alexandria Chamber of Commerces hope is that our representatives will make proactive decisions versus reacting to the short-term environment with regard to funding important economic initiatives that will have long-term, positive effects on our citys financial health.
City leaders should look back at the recommendations made in 2007 by the Mayors Economic Sustainability Work Group and stick to the plan to make our economic vision a reality. The vision is to make Alexandria a knowledge-based, creative community where businesses want to locate and grow; where government is responsive; and where land use and business development is fiscally responsible. This vision supports the overall objective of rebalancing the tax base to have commercial activities fund more of our public programs, thus relieving the tax burden of residents. Thats all pretty great stuff!
This was the right plan in 2007 and remains the right plan today for the economic sustainability of Alexandrias future. The current economic climate should serve to remind us how important it is to be better prepared for future economic challenges. Sticking with this long-term plan is good, responsible governance and will lead to wise decisions. Heres what wed suggest:
Keep supporting and increase funding for the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. AEDP has a new CEO, Val Hawkins, who is highly experienced and primed to go out and actively recruit developers and corporate tenants to Alexandria. Lets not forget that this strategy really works. The city embarked on a targeted initiative to recruit trade associations to Alexandria in the 1980s and this effort was wildly successful, resulting in Alexandria serving as the home to more than 400 associations. We need AEDP working to retain these associations as a desired industry here, as well as identifying and seeking out new industries and commercial enterprises that would benefit from and thrive in the environment we provide.
Critical to creating an environment that will entice businesses to Alexandria is enhancing our services, presenting a must-have live-work destination. Completion and implementation of the waterfront development plan, adding a Metro station at Potomac Yard, increasing density at Metro stations, revitalizing the West End through redevelopment of Landmark Mall and enhancing the public transportation systems both internally and regionally will make all of Alexandria attractive to new business. These plans need to be implemented in the near term not put on the shelf for some time in the future. Now is the right time.
Keep supporting small businesses and the Small Business Development Center. We have more than 9,000 businesses here and 90 percent of them have less than 20 employees. Our friends and neighbors own these businesses. The city needs to continue its efforts to simplify opening a business here and encourage further expansion and development. That means an easier permitting process, lower fees and SBDCs pro-active approach to helping businesses get started and stay in business.
We are still in difficult times but the signs show we have reason to be optimistic for the future. Virginia is still the top place for businesses and Alexandria in particular has out-performed other parts of the Washington area as well as most major cities. We are a top tourist destination in the area and our tourism revenues actually grew over the last year. This is due in large part to the work of the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association, whose purpose is to attract people here and spend their money.
We should celebrate that success and continue on the path weve started, encouraging people to visit and buy in Alexandria. That includes expanding the King Street trolley hours that were recently cut as well as implementing an additional north-south line along Union Street. Similar trolley service should be provided in Del Ray and the West End. These changes benefit both tourists and residents and will further allow people to leave their cars at home to use convenient, attractive public transportation.
For those who must drive, lets have clear off-street parking alternatives, featuring signage directing visitors to garages and an expanded program to entice office building owners to open their under-utilized parking garages to short-term paid parking patrons during evening and weekend hours. On the street, lets replace the antiquated meters (Who carries change anymore?) throughout Alexandria with computerized, credit card-friendly machines another initiative that would pay for itself and build the citys coffers.
Lets not lose sight of the ultimate goal. Lets stay on course to make Alexandria the example for economic sustainability.