When the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce unveiled its first fall legislative agenda last year, the message was clear and singularly focused: move forward with the planned Potomac Yard Metro station.
City council voted unanimously in May to push ahead with planning efforts on the station and chose a location that would maximize commercial development. This year’s lobbying effort, unveiled last week at the chamber’s business competitiveness summit, takes a more holistic approach, instead of focusing on large-scale development projects.
The document laying out the local business community’s priorities still stresses the importance of major projects, but also highlights issues facing small businesses, including business tax reform, streamlining regulatory processes and better engagement with local entrepreneurs. It provides a good reminder to city officials and council candidates not to lose sight of that equally important sector of Alexandria’s economy.
With developments like the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, Potomac Yard and the Robinson terminals in the pipeline, it can be easy to lose sight of smaller but still pressing issues facing our many boutiques and entrepreneurs.
While pursuing large commercial tenants and reviewing site plans for large construction projects, the city also must continue to tackle issues like the ongoing business tax reform effort and look to streamline regulatory processes where possible. In essence, staff and city council simultaneously must walk and chew bubble gum.
In this fall’s election, incumbent city councilors and challengers alike would do well to follow the chamber’s lead. Successful diversified economies rely on a symbiotic relationship between large developments and the small businesses that locate themselves around them, so a successful candidate must know how to address the needs of both, on top of his or her duty to represent the needs of individual residents.
At this point, everyone knows that Alexandria needs to promote growth in the city’s commercial sector in order to bring the ratio of residential to commercial tax revenues closer to a 50/50 balance. But to do that successfully and in a way that is sustainable in the future, one must advocate for a variety of efforts affecting small and big businesses alike.
Council candidates should not expect to skate into office on just one or two initiatives. Arguing that the city’s revenue problems will be solved just by cutting business taxes and fees, only streamlining processes or focusing solely only on attracting large companies does not adequately address the issue.
The chamber’s legislative agenda provides a strong array of potential solutions to the city’s economic issues. To maximize effectiveness, officials should consider the entire package, not just cherry pick the ones they like.