Sean Connaughton, the new chairman of the Board of County Supervisors, says he's pro-business--all business, and is looking forward to marketing Prince William County so people he meets in airports will know what he means when he says he is from here.
Connaughton, a Republican who beat longtime Democratic Chairman Kathleen K. Seefeldt in the November election, said he plans to take a very proactive role in marketing the county and critically study the processes already in place.
One of these processes that he intends to look at closely and change is the often-cumbersome permitting system.
"That process is the point-of-entry for any business," he said last week in an address to the Prince William-66 Partnership. "And when it's gotten to the point that we're using the fast-track process as a selling point, that means the system is broken."
The fast-track process allows certain companies--mostly those in the targeted industry of high technology--to move through the permitting system much faster than more traditional companies are able to. The county also has allowed companies such as America Online Inc. to pay less in permits and taxes, in addition to fast-tracking them in order to tempt them to settle in Prince William.
"If a company like AOL said that moving here would cost too much, take too long, then how many [other companies] did we lose because of that?" Connaughton said.
Connaughton has asked county officials to walk him through the permitting process in addition to just looking at the paperwork involved. "I want to understand why there are delays," he said.
He also said that he completely understands that part of the hinderance is because of the private sector but that he wants to "shoot for a 30-day process for everyone. We're losing a potentially good deal of businesses" because of the permitting process.
"I don't like the concept of targeted industries," said Connaughton. "I like high-tech, I want high-tech, but we should recognize the success of anyone who comes here."
Such companies include Deck America, which relocated its headquarters from Lorton to Woodbridge earlier this year. The company has about 200 employees and received incentives to move into the county but was not greeted with the same sort of fanfare as were technology companies--such as AOL and Covad Communications Inc.
Carl Sell, president of the 66 Partnership, a nonprofit organization that promotes business growth on the eastern side of the county, said he does not know much about Deck America. "We're looking for more major corporate entities . . . office users," he said.
Connaughton said companies such as Deck America are a "great asset."
Sell said he is looking forward to working with Connaughton on business growth in the area.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to work with him because I think he's going to continue to bring new life to the effort in the eastern portion of the county," Sell said. "A lot of things are happening [in the western end of the county], and we are hoping that will start on the east."
Connaughton said both the eastern and western ends should market to their strengths. The western end, he said, has much "virgin land" just waiting to be commercially developed. The eastern end, among other things, has attractions such as Potomac Mills Mall and Occoquan that draw tourists, which, Connaughton said, "is something the county has to focus on much more."
Small businesses that already exist in the county should also be a major focus for both officials and the business community, Connaughton said. He said government officials can help small businesses by focusing on lowering fees and taxes, giving them breaks as necessary.
"Small businesses [often] have more effect" on the community, Connaughton said. "They are the backbone of Prince William County and honestly, the ones most involved.
"Microsoft began with three or four guys. We might be keeping down or driving out the next Microsoft," Connaughton said. "We need to clear the ground so companies can land and take off. [Tax issues and ordinances] put in burdens so the companies can't take off."
Prince William's recent economic development effort has been very good, Connaughton said, at bringing companies in from the outside, and he wants to have a direct hand in doing the same thing.
"When I travel, I want to have meetings to introduce myself and the county to companies and tell them what we have," Connaughton said. He has started doing that and already has referred two businesses interested in locating here to Martin J. Briley, executive director of the Prince William County Economic Development Department.
"I'm very excited about Sean coming on board," Briley said. "He's speaking the economic developer's language."
CAPTION: Sean Connaughton said he plans to take a very proactive role in marketing Prince William County.