By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce released its 2020 legislative agenda on Sept. 19, laying out the issues the organization will advocate for throughout the next calendar year.
With the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus coming to Potomac Yard, the chamber is focused, more so than in past years, on what the future holds for Alexandria’s business community.
“We’re really excited about this 2020 agenda because Alexandria is at a really exciting time with the attention we are getting nationally for the win of getting Amazon and Virginia Tech and the innovation that that will bring to the city,” Maria Ciarocchi, chief operating officer at the chamber, said.
Every year, the chamber of commerce’s government relations committee – which is made up of around 33 chamber members representing a range of businesses – debates, discusses and, eventually, drafts an annual legislative agenda, Ciarocchi said.
The document then goes to the chamber board, also composed of around 30 board members, for final changes and approval.
Although the chamber of commerce has close to 800 members, Ciarocchi said the four month-long process and makeup of the committees results in a document that represents the interests of Alexandria’s diverse range of businesses.
“When we released that document … we’ve had about 60 plus members of the chamber give their stamp and comment on it, so that we really do feel that it is a document that is by the chamber, for the chamber members and the business community at large in Alexandria,” Ciarocchi said.
The stage is set for 2020 to be an exciting year in Alexandria. Amazon and Virginia Tech are planning their new campus designs, and the chamber also advocates for breaking ground on the Potomac Yard Metro station, continued to work on combined sewer outfall remediation and implemention of smart city infrastructure like 5G technology.
In order to address these items, the chamber advocates at both the local and state levels. The agenda announcement reception on Sept. 19 was a starting point for conversations that could have political impact in 2020.
“We use the [reception] to have one on one – or one on us – meetings or interactions with the elected officials, to have a conversation,” Dave Millard, chamber chair of government relations, said.
At the state level, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, like all chambers, lobbies in Richmond. At the beginning of the year, every chamber of commerce across the state goes to Richmond to lobby the general assembly. But Alexandria’s chamber strikes out on its own.
“In January or February, we have historically decided not to go with the other chambers just because that provides us with more face time with elected officials,” Ciarocchi said.
The Virginia Tech Innovation Campus is set for completion in 2024, but the effects of such a major presence in the region will start hitting long before then.
According to the agenda, the chamber will work to leverage development and educational partnerships with the university and help throughout the process as much as it can.
“As the plans for the innovation campus solidify and their location is locked and set, then it becomes [about] whatever we can do to assist the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership in attracting their tenants to that area,” Ciarocchi said.
The chamber will continue to invest in partnering with Alexandria City Public Schools and the area’s private schools as well, according to the agenda. Expanding college preparatory classes and internship opportunities with local businesses are both on the agenda for 2020.
Investing in Alexandria’s schools is important for attracting members of the workforce, something the chamber also hopes to do by advocating for more workforce housing, Millard said.
“There are a variety of unmet housing needs, and I think we’re supportive of trying to address and be realistic about that problem because we need to solve it,” Millard said. “We don’t want folks that work in our businesses having to travel long distances every day, by automobile especially, to get to work in Alexandria.”
The chamber is placing increased emphasis on public-private partnerships in order to find creative space and use solutions, according to the agenda. The city has already funded, but not yet hired, a public-private partnership facilitator, Millard said.
The chamber isn’t just focused on improving what the city already has, according to the agenda. With the arrival of two tech-focused entities on the horizon, the chamber will continue advocating for “smart city” infrastructure changes in the city, according to the agenda. This includes advocating for increased broadband access, improved online and digital services for licensing permits and special use permits, additional wayfinding for parking and bringing 5G coverage to Alexandria.
“If your employees can’t get access to the internet as fast as they need it or it goes down a lot … then why would someone want to locate in our city when they could go to another juris- diction three to five miles up the road that can provide them with that technology?” Ciarocchi asked.
During its Feb. 26 legislative meeting, city council heard a plan to potentially place small cell facilities across the city in order to expand wireless coverage. In the future, these could be used to support a 5G network.
According to the agenda, the chamber will also continue its focus on improving the economic sustainability and diversity of the local business community in 2020.
By advocating for the modernization of Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage Control laws, which are more restrictive compared to those in Maryland or D.C., the chamber hopes to provide visitors and residents with more “experiences,” not just services, Ciarocchi said.
Diversity and inclusion are two of the city’s biggest priorities, and the chamber aims to support policies that attract more diverse voices to the business community, according to the agenda. One board member has already started leading minority business roundtables, which will provide ideas for how the chamber can improve in 2020, Ciarocchi said.
The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 legislative agenda is full of issues old and new, achievable and aspirational. But despite some sizable ambitions, Millard said the intent is not to let the agenda become a dusty, ambiguous mission statement.
“The biggest challenge is trying to make sure that it is not a document that just sits on a shelf, that it’s a living, breathing, working document,” Millard said.
Both Millard and Ciarocchi said they feel confident the chamber will be able to tackle all these issues and make meaningful progress in improving Alexandria’s business community.
“It is a nice mix of things, pieces of it that we can start making some real headway in the next 12 months but then also things that are really focused on laying groundwork and starting to chip away at things that we really hope are go- ing to happen in the next two, five, 10 years down the road,” Ciarocchi said.
“It’s an exciting challenge,” Millard said.