Chamber of commerce 2017 legislative agenda set

Chamber of commerce 2017 legislative agenda set

By Chris Teale (File photo)

The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce released its 2017 legislative agenda last week, advocating for policies that emphasize innovation and keeping city businesses competitive in a crowded marketplace.

Put together by the chamber’s government relations committee, the agenda prioritizes policies it wishes to see city council pursue, in addition to regional and statewide bodies like the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and the Virginia General Assembly.

“For the Alexandria chamber, a 21st century Alexandria is a thriving, successful municipality, embracing its unique character, attracting people to live, work, build businesses, volunteer and contribute significantly to our community and our economy,” the agenda’s introduction reads.

The issues of innovation and business competitiveness come hot on the heels of a period of business turnover on King Street and elsewhere in the city, while Alexandria faces competition from numerous neighboring jurisdictions for new businesses and customers.

To try and stay ahead of the competition, the chamber urges city council to vigorously continue pursuing its broadband Internet initiative. After soliciting information from private companies last year, officials hope to build a fiber optic network for city facilities that can be rented to network carriers, who then would pro- vide service to residential and commercial users.

The chamber also supports efforts to explore the establishment of an Old Town business improvement district, which
it argues “would increase Alexandria’s competitiveness as a destination for business and tourism.” Having been recommended by the city’s waterfront commission for Old Town and the redeveloping area along the Potomac River, an exploratory committee is examining various aspects of such a proposal.

Officials said it is key to ensure that any potential special tax districts are tailored to the areas they service and tax only businesses, not residential properties. BIDs can take on a variety of roles, including helping with marketing, beautification, parking and attraction of new business among others.

“The agenda comes out of a diverse set of businesses who are part of the chamber and are specifically interested in policy issues and advocacy,” said Laurie MacNamara, chairwoman of the chamber’s government relations committee. “A lot of the traditional areas that group has focused on are represented here, but it was very clear in our discussion that the city really is in a position to help businesses be more competitive in an increasingly competitive area.

“A number of our members are concerned, for example, about some of the small businesses on King Street.”

In keeping with previous legislative agendas, the chamber emphasizes the construction of the Potomac Yard Metro station and the development of the surrounding area as another way to keep Alexandria competitive. It argues the project must be one of the city’s top priorities, and that new funding opportunities must be continually pursued.

Earlier this year, city council approved the design concept and land-use changes for the station and the nearby Potomac Yard and Potomac Greens parks. It is expected to cost $268.1 million, and would be funded by a patchwork of sources including a Tier II Special Tax District on nearby residences, a loan from the Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank and a grant from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

Elsewhere in the chamber’s agenda, which includes sections dealing with priorities for finance, land use and small business, are several issues the chamber wishes to see discussed at the state and regional levels.

In particular, the chamber wishes to see cross-jurisdictional transportation funding pursued through the NVTA. One example it gives is for Alexandria to work with Fairfax County to secure 70 percent of the funding needed for capacity solutions along the Van Dorn Street/Eisenhower Avenue corridor that runs through both jurisdictions.

The chamber also said it wishes to see modernization of Virginia’s alcohol regulations, especially the mandatory ratio of food sales to spirit sales that businesses must maintain. Officials said since Alexandria must compete with neighboring jurisdictions with less stringent ABC laws, there must be adaptation.

MacNamara said the renewed emphasis on issues that stretch beyond Alexandria’s borders means engaging earlier with the city’s delegation in the General Assembly and using their experience, as well as that of city lobbyist Bernie Caton.

“It’s really just understanding the process better and getting organized to be more effective,” MacNamara said.“We’ve learned from fellow chambers. The Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce does a fabulous job with this. They have a lot more issues that they are concerned about in Richmond. But that being said, we’ve learned a lot from how they go about en- gaging with their General Assembly delegation. That’s been very helpful to us.”

The city stands on the cusp of welcoming another federal government agency next year, as the National Science Foundation will open its doors at the Hoffman Town Center, just west of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Carlyle. At the agenda’s unveiling, attendees agreed the NSF represents an opportunity for the city to continue to build an innovation economy and help new businesses grow.

“To say we’re excited to see the National Science Foundation join the Patent and Trade- mark Office would be a devastating understatement,” said 2016 chamber board chairman Robert Shea.