Grant policies for economic development in Albemarle County were approved Tuesday.
The county’s Board of Supervisors and Economic Development Authority held a joint meeting to discuss and vote on policies surrounding four grants — a local capital investment grant, called an ENABLE grant, and three state grants: the Virginia Jobs Investment Program, the Commonwealth Development Opportunity Fund and the Agriculture Forestry Industries Development Fund.
County staff had prioritized policy development for these particular state grants because they are already being utilized by the county without a local policy.
The local ENABLE grant has two categories — classic projects, which are new investments and relocation-expansion of a primary business, and pinnacle projects, which involve “catalytic” mixed-use development or have the potential to transform districts through placemaking, mixed-use or redevelopment opportunities. The projects would receive a portion of their taxes rebated.
The grant has a “but for” provision, which requires that the project would not be feasible “but for” the incentives amount requested or that the project would be significantly different without public participation.
“I love that,” Supervisor Liz Palmer said of the provision.
During separate work sessions with the board and EDA, members had discussed whether the policy should include a minimum wage level. Economic Development Director Roger Johnson said that wages would be a consideration when determining a project’s value but that there was not a wage requirement.
Johnson said there had been a lack of consensus on wage requirements for the policies, so staff invited Ridge Schuyler, dean of Community Self-Sufficiency Programs at Piedmont Virginia Community College, to speak.
“We felt Ridge was well-positioned to inform this board about the impacts, in his professional opinion, so that you could make a well-informed decision as you move forward on these next policies,” Johnson said.
Schuyler spoke about the minimum salary needed to survive in Albemarle as a single household with two children, which was $30,603. With added working family expenses for transportation and child care, the salary was $45,184.
“The price of rent during the time from 2011 to today has gone up 42%,” he said. “So if you wonder why there is such talk throughout the community about affordable housing, it’s because of that.”
Through the VJIP program, the state provides services and grant funding to eligible companies that are creating new jobs or experiencing technological change.
Under the approved county policy, the county would automatically match the first $400 for each job created or retained after a company has been awarded a cash grant under the VJIP program, capped at $10,000 per year, per company. The county or the EDA could choose to match up to the full amount awarded by the state, and six factors would be considered.
According to staff, VJIP cash grants to Albemarle companies from 2014 to 2018 totaled between $710-$1,000 per job.
J.T. Newberry, county economic development coordinator, said staff members were recommending that a minimum wage level not be something used for initial disqualification of applicants because wages and benefits are already included in the policy as a significant evaluation factor.
“Because this doesn’t require a match, both of these bodies will always have the opportunity to say, ‘no, thank you,’ but if we put in the minimum wage level, there could be opportunities that come into our community — we just have no opportunities to bring forward to you,” he said.
Both Palmer and EDA member David Shreve voted against the VJIP policy because there was no minimum wage level.
The Commonwealth’s Development Opportunity Fund is a performance-based incentive program. Under the COF program, the state provides “deal-closing” cash grants to secure a company location or expansion in Virginia.
The AFID Fund offers incentives for projects that support agriculture and forestry, and it offers planning grants and facilities grants.
Local matches are required to receive COF grants and AFID grants. When considering if a local match is appropriate, county staff would consider consistency with the county's economic development strategic plan Project Enable, the county’s Comprehensive Plan and the county’s strategic plan.
When deciding the amount of the local match, county staff would look at a number of factors, including quality job creation and career employment opportunities, increased tax base and support for other target industries.
The county’s economic development office will next focus on technology zones, tourism zones and the memorandum of understanding between the Board of Supervisors and the EDA.
Palmer asked EDA members if they considered taking public comment at meetings.
EDA member Rod Gentry said they talked about it but chose not to do it currently. Johnson said the EDA members have gotten email addresses.
Gentry said the EDA is “engaged in a specific process — to further economic development in Albemarle.”
“It serves very little purpose for our body to sit and take up a lot of time hearing people complain about what we’re supposed to be doing,” he said. “It doesn’t further our work, it wastes time and we are free to talk to anybody one-on-one if they want to.”
Supervisor Diantha McKeel pointed out that the county has been talking about raising its minimum wage for employees to $15. It will likely come up during fiscal year 2021 budget discussions.