Social safety net, business environment top concerns at annual Chamber meeting

Social safety net, business environment top concerns at annual Chamber meeting

Panelists at the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce annual meeting made two things clear Monday morning: the citys social safety net has more holes in it than ever and Alexandria must have open arms when it comes to attracting businesses and nonprofit organizations.

I dont have to tell you folks, people are hurting across the region, said Bill Hanbury, United Way CEO for the National Capital Area. For all of [Alexandrias] bounty many citizens go hungry, children are without health care and people are without jobs.

Alexandria houses more than 400 nonprofit organizations but in a lackadaisical economy their effectiveness has curtailed while demand increases.

Panelists like Kathleen Rae King, senior vice president of relations for Catholic Charities USA, urged businesses to give more to local charities in exchange for a more formidable community in which to operate.

You really have to be prepared to up something to get something, King said.

Chamber President and CEO Tina Leone said she wanted to see her members tap into the nonprofit realm more often.

But at the heart of the citys state of business is the debate over whether to institute an extra tax on businesses, associations and some nonprofit organizations in order to fund much-needed transportation projects.

The tax would burden business owners, they say, but would fund projects to increase transit options. As Leone questioned its fairness, panelist and City Councilman Rob Krupicka defended the add-on tax.

Economic development is about attracting and maintaining [business], Krupicka said. If Alexandria were to do the fully-loaded tax rate allowed, wed still be comparably well-positioned vis–vis our regional neighbors.

Commercial tax rates in Arlington, Fairfax and Washington would still trump Alexandrias, he said.

The state legislature makes the rules on how localities like Alexandria pay for transportation projects; Richmond provides a toolbox of options, but its up to local officials to hammer out the details. A dearth of state transportation funding coupled with excessive traffic and lacking mass transit options have limited the city councils options, Krupicka said.

I dont think anyone on city council would agree its the ideal tool but its the tool [Richmond] gave us, Kurpicka said.