Loudoun County has recently been ranked among the wealthiest, happiest and best places to live in the country. But there is one list it is unlikely to make: places with the best nightlife. And that makes local business leaders unhappy.
The perception that there is little to do in Loudoun when the workday ends is making it hard for businesses to attract and keep qualified young workers, said Tony Howard, chief executive of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce.
“We need to be able to attract a talented and accomplished workforce — particularly of the millennials — in order to be able to grow our economy here in Loudoun County in a sustainable fashion,” Howard said. “We’ve got to find better places for them to live, better places for them to work and places for them to play.”
For the past year, Howard has co-chaired an ad hoc committee created by the Loudoun Economic Development Advisory Commission to look at ways of stimulating Loudoun’s nighttime economy. The 16-member committee has been researching a wide range of county issues in areas such as land development regulations, transportation, housing and public safety.
The committee is developing a list of recommendations that the Economic Development Advisory Commission intends to present to the Board of Supervisors in the spring, Howard said.
The committee co-chairman, Todd Pearson, vice president of the commercial real estate company B. F. Saul, said he dislikes the term “nighttime economy” because it makes people think of bars and restaurants.
“It’s something that you can do after work,” Pearson said. “It could be a bar, it could be cultural, it could be some kind of community event, but it’s something where it doesn’t end at five o’clock and you’re commuting home.
“In my view, it’s economic development at its core,” he said.
Howard said that young workers are attracted to urban environments — places where they can live and walk to jobs, stores, restaurants and entertainment. And those are the places that attract the most business investment, he said.
“If you want to attract commercial investment, then you have to understand the best place to leverage this phenomenon,” Howard said. “These urban, walkable environments are attracting commercial investment in far greater proportions than other areas are.”
Loudoun has only a few such environments, including the historic downtowns of Leesburg, Middleburg and Purcellville, and newer developments such as One Loudoun, the Village at Leesburg and Brambleton, Pearson said.
“Housing is a huge component of this,” Pearson said. “Loudoun doesn’t have a whole lot of apartments [or condos]. I think that does hurt us a little bit. So adding some of this, where it’s mixed in with the business and retail right there, would be helpful.”
That will require a shift in thinking about the desirability of residential growth, Howard said. Housing for single millennials and “empty nester” baby boomers — two demographic groups drawn to walkable environments — can have a positive effect on the county’s finances, because those groups have money to spend and demand little in the way of county services, he said.
“Residential growth can be a good thing when done correctly, especially when it’s combined or aligned with a larger strategic purpose centered around this nighttime economy initiative,” Howard said.
Loudoun has open space where it could create walkable neighborhoods in areas that are well suited for development, such as the land near the three planned Metro stations, Howard said.
“We have blank canvas to work with,” he said.
The committee has scheduled a public input session Feb. 9 from 6 to 8 p.m. at BLVD Loudoun Station, 43805 Central Station Dr., Ashburn.
Barnes is a freelance writer.