October 14, 2011
By Tom Bellanca
Thank you for joining me today here in Middleburg, VA to discuss my campaigns plans for rural economic development. During the course of my campaign, I’ve only heard candidates besides myself discuss Loudoun County economic development in terms of commercial businesses in Eastern Loudoun and the need to attract new commercial development to Loudoun. While this issue remains important given the average 15 percent vacancy rates in the commercial office sector it is also important to recognize the need to preserve, protect and grow the rural economy. This is the topic of our conversation here today. The rural economy in Loudoun plays an important role in reducing traffic on our roads, moderating burdensome growth, and reducing overall property taxes on homeowners. My campaign supports continuing efforts to organize and advance the growth of the rural economy and the County Rural Economic Development Council’s current planning for a Rural Economic Development Strategy.
The rural economy is comprised of many different categories and is summarized generally into Commercial Horticulture, Crops Hay and Livestock, Wine and Grapes, Equine, Farmers’ Markets, and Agribusiness. Additionally, Banking & Finance, Real Estate, Conservation, Professional Services, Environmental Resources, Outdoor Recreation, Education, Direct Marketing, Bed & Breakfast/Rural Lodging Establishments and Historical Tourism Property also play a large role in the rural economy.
I’ve selected Middleburg, VA to hold my press conference today to discuss first and foremost the role of Virginia’s horse industry and it’s contributions to Loudoun’s overall economy. According to a study generated earlier this year by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, the equine industry in Loudoun County is growing larger, but is also under increased pressure in recent years from home development that is threatening the availability of land and pushing the industry Westward. The impact of this home development adds traffic to our roads and increases the already overburdened school system. Maintaining the rural area to lower housing densities is not only a part of the current citizen generated Comprehensive Plan, but it is essential to reducing and managing growth throughout the county and reducing the overall population growth in the schools. It is also part of an important element in keeping our property taxes down. Less children added to an already overburdened school system reduces the overall requirement for new schools. Keeping the rural economy strong is essential to the survival of these policies.
The horse industry in Loudoun County plays many different important roles in the economy. These include but are not limited boarding, recreation and trail riding, steeple chase racing, breeding and show competitions. Many in Eastern Loudoun are horse enthusiasts who own and board their horses in the Western part of the county. Others enjoy attending the many Steeplechase races that are held throughout the rural West and in the Transition Area. The boarding, recreation and trail riding portions of this economy are also supportive of the racing, breeding and show competitions which occur here and in surrounding areas. Additionally, there are a whole host of support services required for this economy including equine supplies, clothing, feed, etc. All of these activities are part of the county’s economy and contribute to the overall economic vitality of the County as well as generating tax revenue for the county.
While the Southern part of the county we are in is made up of many large horse farming businesses, there are many other contributors to the rural economy. Loudoun County has a strong and growing wine business that includes grape growers and wine producers. They are both substantial contributors to the economy in Loudoun. They also contribute to the tourism industry in the rural area which in turn feeds bed and breakfast facilities, support services such as gas stations and small retail stores spread throughout the many smaller towns and communities in the West. All of these aspects of the rural economy serve the residents of the Eastern part of the county in terms of recreation and tourism.
In addition to the horse farms, there is a substantial commercial horticulture business in the rural part of the county. 70 percent of the farms are under 50 acres in size and grow small fruits, vegetables, cut flowers and landscape production. These small farms are ideally suited to serve the growing populations in the East through sales at road side stands, farmers markets and community supported agriculture. Berry production in Loudoun County has almost doubled in the past ten years. Loudoun also tops the state for nut production with 10 farms producing walnuts, chestnuts and other types of nuts on 24 acres in the county. Finally, Christmas trees are also a large production of Western Loudoun with many choose and cut farms operating in the rural area.
Other important rural businesses help support the overall rural economy. These include crops, hay and livestock, agribusiness, travel and tourism, retail and transportation. Corn and soybean acreage increased in the rural area as a direct result of demand for grains for ethanol production. The increased demand for these crops had a direct impact on the availability for straw to be used for horse and livestock bedding. Loudoun County is still the largest hay producing county in Virginia. The livestock production and annual sales generate the largest animal receipts in the county which in turn requires high production of the hay. Loudoun is one of the largest producers of alpacas in the State. There are also many beef cattle, sheep and other livestock farms. The Blue Ridge Cattlemen’s Association and the Loudoun Valley Sheep Producers Association serve the livestock production community here. All of this production serves the population in the eastern portion of the county and retains an important role in the overall rural economy that must be protected.
The Rural Economic Development Commission is in the process of generating a strategy for each individual sector of the rural economy. They will complete their individual studies sometime in the next few months. Once these individual studies are complete, the Rural Strategy Committee will put together an action plan to continue to advance and grow the rural west’s economy. Economic development in Loudoun County doesn’t only equate to building additional commercial properties. Development of the economy in the rural west is also essential to the proper functioning of the County and cannot be forgotten or ignored.
In the beginning of my campaign, I spoke about the need for new leadership to balance the needs of the East with the needs of the West. The interaction of these economies are crucial to the proper functioning of the county. Preventing the development of the West into high density subdivisions will assist in keeping our taxes low by reducing the overall burden on our roads and schools. The challenges of growth have not disappeared. Loudoun County is still the fastest growing County in the State of Virginia. As a result, it’s essential to elect candidates that will continue to support growing the rural economy. I believe I will be the better candidate for Chairman of the Board that will continue to promote the growth in the rural economy and prevent residential subdivision growth from crossing the Rt. 15 line. I will also be the candidate that fights against a cross county parkway that will serve the purpose of opening the west up to high density development. This election is crucial to maintaining the character of Loudoun County and I will be the candidate who will Move Loudoun Forward in these areas. We cannot afford to return to the ways of bonus densities in the transition area and adding subdivisions to the west as we experienced under the previous Republican Board. Such results would destroy the high quality of life we have here in Loudoun.