Prince William chairman hails county's economic progress

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 14, 2011; 12:18 AM

Despite facing the lingering effects of one of the longest and deepest economic recessions in the nation's history and a housing market that went from "boom to bust," Prince William County prospered last year, Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart said Tuesday.

During his annual state of the county address, Stewart looked back at the county's triumphs and the strides officials made to help Prince William weather the economic downturn.

"My fellow citizens, history continues to test our nation. . . . A nation which borrows so heavily against its future cannot long endure," Stewart (R-At Large) said. "But we in Prince William are a model. We have shown that a government can reduce and through reform can persevere."

The board turned its focus to economic development and worked to build the legal framework and infrastructure needed for businesses to thrive, Stewart said, adding that the Economic Development Task Force was created to advise supervisors on how they can make it easier for businesses to establish themselves and grow.

In 2010, companies invested more than $412 million in Prince William - the highest announced investment by the county's Department of Economic Development in seven years - and created nearly 650 jobs, Stewart said. CNN and Money magazine recently rated Prince William No. 1 in job growth in the Washington region, No. 1 in the state and No. 2 on the East Coast.

One of the contributors to economic development t last year was the Hylton Performing Arts Center. The nine-story, $46 million center opened in May and includes a 1,140-seat hall along with other smaller studios.

Although it has drawn some scrutiny, Stewart also praised the National Museum of Americans in Wartime - a $50 million project for which supervisors approved rezoning in October. The museum, scheduled to open in 2014, will cover conflict from World War I to the present and is set to include tanks and outdoor activities. Neighbors of the museum site in Dale City have been concerned about the potential noise, traffic and impact on their property values.

Stewart said supervisors also voted to keep taxes low last year by continuing to streamline government. Although the cuts were "deep and often painful," they helped minimize the tax burden on residents, he said. The average tax bills in Prince William were 34 percent lower than in Fairfax County and 30 percent lower than in Loudoun County, he said.

"While other localities across the country increased taxes to make up for the shortfalls, this board committed to reducing, refocusing and reforming government and restoring it to its proper limited scope and its limited role in our lives," Stewart said.

Stewart also spoke about the upcoming sesquicentennial of the Civil War. All eyes were on Prince William and Manassas 150 years ago and will be so again in July, when the localities commemorate the First Battle of Manassas, he said. County and city officials will host events all year, with the largest on July 23 and 24. Between 12,000 and 14,000 reenactors are scheduled to descend on the county that weekend to reenact the battle.

"This year, we will commemorate that battle," Stewart said. "We will give thanks that the war ended the scourge of slavery and preserved our nation. The war was not so long ago, and we may meet living children of those who fought. And, perhaps most importantly, we will come to understand our own place in history."

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