In her annual State of the County presentation, Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) described Loudoun as strong, thriving and “standing on the cusp of an exciting future.”
A standing-room-only crowd that included business leaders and public officials from across the region packed the Board of Supervisors’ meeting room Wednesday, as Randall recapped the county’s successes of the past year. She also pointed out some of the challenges associated with Loudoun’s high cost of living, including the lack of workforce housing and an inadequate pay scale for public safety workers.
Loudoun’s economic development push has resulted in more than $3 billion in commercial investment from more than 80 companies, the addition or retention of 2,500 jobs, and an unemployment rate of just 3.2 percent, Randall said.
“Although the news regarding Loudoun’s economy is strong, I and others are aware that the lack of workforce housing in Loudoun County and . . . in the region could have a negative impact on what is otherwise a positive economic outlook,” she said, adding that the county will have a housing summit this year to try to find solutions to the problem.
Randall said fewer than 30 percent of Loudoun’s career fire and rescue workers live in the county, which she said is evidence that the pay scale is not competitive in the region. Many are transferring to other jurisdictions, which is wasting the county’s investment in recruiting and training them, she said.
“Our career fire and rescue staff can neither pay their mortgage nor feed their families solely on our prayers and appreciation,” Randall said. “We must offer them a pay structure that is competitive in the national capital region.”
Randall recognized several individuals to emphasize the importance of businesses and nonprofit, faith-based and grass-roots organizations in helping to meet community needs.
She introduced Marquel Forbes, Anthony McKenzie and Brian Steorts, who have started small businesses. She also mentioned Derek Summers, who responded to the death of a friend by forming an organization that sponsored “It Takes Our Village Community Awareness Day” to call attention to domestic violence.
“The event represented a remarkable example of what a single Loudoun County community can do when faced with a crisis,” she said.
Randall concluded her presentation by looking to the future — including the arrival of Metrorail in 2019 and Envision Loudoun, the 18-month process of creating a new comprehensive plan for the county.
She said the transit system is vitally important to people who rely on it to get to work, school, shopping destinations and houses of worship.
Randall said the new comprehensive plan is needed to address issues such as land use, housing, environmental protection, economic development, employment and cultural preservation as the county’s population continues to grow.
“One of the many things that makes Loudoun a unique and special place to live is that we can boast having suburban, transition and rural policy areas,” she said. “The arrival of Metro will also offer an urban living environment where residents will enjoy walkable communities where one can live, work, play and learn all within their neighborhood.”
The crowd gave Randall standing ovations before and after her 36-minute speech. Among the officials present were District Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D), state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun), and mayors and council members from several Loudoun towns.
Wexton said she was glad Randall brought up the need for workforce housing.
“Our workforce often can’t afford to live here, and that makes it harder for us to attract the kind of businesses that we need to continue to grow and prosper,” she said in an interview.
Bowser said she attended to “hear what was going on in the county and be supportive of [Randall’s] efforts.
“We believe a region is strong when all of its parts are working together,” Bowser added in an interview, saying she was pleased to hear that Randall “wants to ready the county for Metro’s arrival.”
“I think that’s important, and I think it’s important for everybody in the room to get ready, too,” Bowser said.