Chamber of commerce unveils 2016 legislative agenda

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Chamber of commerce unveils 2016 legislative agenda
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By Chris Teale (File photo)

The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce unveiled its 2016 legislative agenda September 17 at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and outlined its top priorities for city council.

Chamber officials presented the document during their second annual business summit and expo, which welcomed business leaders from across the city to discuss the challenges and benefits of owning and operating a business in the Port City. Attendees also had the chance to hear the candidates for city council’s November 3 election state their case for how Alexandria can retain its competitiveness.

One of the primary goals laid out in the agenda is to help retain and attract small business and capitalize on the National Science Foundation and Transportation Security Administration’s relocation to

the Eisenhower Valley. They advocate refining the city’s tax policies, something candidates were in agreement with, particularly lowering the business professional and occupational license to one cent lower than neighboring jurisdictions.

“I think our city can be a better business-oriented environment,” said Republican Monique Miles, while Independent candidate Phil Cefaratti said the BPOL tax must be competitive to help in that

process.

“Small business in Alexandria is big business,” said Democratic City Councilor Paul Smedberg, to which Republican candidate Fernando Torrez agreed, adding that prohibitive taxes like BPOL can be overly burdensome on small businesses and play a role in them closing down.

Torrez said another way to encourage small business is to cut red tape and simplify the process for opening and operating a new business. He said the special use permit process must be streamlined, and a number of other candidates agreed.

“[We must] provide a welcoming start to hopefully a long stay in our city [for businesses],” said Democratic candidate Willie Bailey. Democratic City Councilor John Chapman referred to what he described as a “red tape gang” of city councilors who have worked to ease the process at City Hall, although he added there is still more work to be done.

“I think it’s time for us to come together once again to chart out a course for Alexandria’s future,” Chapman said, advocating for the reconvening of the mayor’s economic sustainability workgroup.

The chamber was optimistic on the issue of land use and development, as the Eisenhower Valley prepares to welcome the TSA and NSF in the coming years. The chamber said the city should look to leverage those developments to spur West End business growth and work even harder on the long-delayed Landmark Mall project.

City Councilor Del Pepper,  a Democrat, mentioned the various tax incentives the city put together to lure the NSF and TSA, and said that something similar may be needed to encourage tenants at Landmark, while Cefaratti repeated his refrain from previous candidate forums that the city should have better contact with the Howard Hughes Corporation, the property’s owners, and schedule regular meetings between the city and company representatives.

The Eisenhower Valley was heralded as a key component of economic development in the city, with Mayor Bill Euille saying it “is and will be the economic engine” of Alexandria. Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg added that the advent of the NSF could help Alexandria become a leader in medical technology.

The chamber also expressed a desire to see more transit-oriented development, not only on the West End but also in North Old Town and the Oakville Triangle. Democratic City Councilor Tim Lovain said the city must focus economic development around Metro stations, as 85 percent of new business in the region is located within a quarter-mile of one.

“It’s not just a quality of life issue, it’s imperative to our economic development,” he said, noting that the introduction of NSF, TSA and other big tenants encourages other businesses to open in the city and support their work, like contractors for the TSA and hotels for the NSF.

But the issue of the city’s commercial vacancy rate and the burden placed on residential taxpayers was one that reared its head, in keeping with the chamber’s desire to see greater revenue diversification. Republican Townsend “Van” Van Fleet said one way to remedy the problem and increase the commercial tax base is to encourage the likes of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Marriott to relocate their headquarters to the city.

Asked about how Alexandria can retain its regional competitiveness, City Councilor Justin Wilson, a Democrat, encouraged officials to be more selective of which big businesses they encourage to set up shop in the city.

“It’s not enough to hang our shingle and say we want any new business in this city,” he said.

“We will be judged by our actions, not by our promises,” added John Simms, speaking on behalf of Republican Bob Wood, who was unable to attend.

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