Living in Harrisonburg

Thanh -- August 29th, 2007

I saw this advertisement today, “Harrisonburg attracts high-quality, high-paying employers.” [pdf] I am assuming that it was created by Harrisonburg Department of Economic Development for publishing in Virginia Business Magazine. I think that the ad is pretty neat. It describes some of the new technology-related companies that are either here or will be coming here shortly and the economic and natural resources we have here in the Valley, in an effort to attract good businesses to the area.

I do like how the bottom of the ad mentions building partnerships between business, government, and universities. I have experienced a few of those partnerhips myself, having been a former JMU ISAT student and now working for the City of Harrisonburg, and I’ve seen a lot of good things, both big and small, come out of them. There are a great many resources out there and we all should take advantage of the help, resources, and information others have to offer.

Upon further internet searching, I found this article “Shenandoah offers a thriving economy without urban headaches.” It had some positive things to say about the Valley:

“What we saw was a healthy regional economy. This area has a lot of natural advantages: a good location, many natural resources, a diverse group of employers, easy access to Interstate 81 and a strong work ethic. “

However, it did briefly touch on an issue that I have heard from other residents in this area.

“However, the valley has its own transportation challenges. Increasingly congested I-81 badly needs improvement.”

I know that its not just a problem on I-81, that some residents are frustrated with the amount of time it takes to commute across town. However, I must admit that, having lived in Arlington, VA, the “traffic” here in Harrisonburg is wonderful.

I know residents who have been in Harrisonburg for many years, who fear the “Fairfax-ation” of the Valley. I think that this is a legitimate concern. However, I do believe that by learning from other localities’ “mistakes” (if you wish to call it that), by identifying our  “wants” and “don’t wants” (keeping in mind that the shopping center we want to shop at will certainly bring more cars and pavement), finding appropriate balances, and with careful planning with participation from a variety of many individuals in the community, we can keep Harrisonburg and the Valley a beautiful and comfortable place to live in.

Your thoughts?

29 Responses to “Living in Harrisonburg”

  1. Emmy says:

    What is should say is “Harrisonburg attracts high-quality, high-paying employers who will hire their staff from northern Virginia who will, in turn, cause the housing prices to rise even more.”

    Not as effective?

  2. Emmy says:

    Sorry, guess that came off as a bit grouchy. I do think these new businesses are good for the area.

  3. BMB says:

    Growth needs balance. If you live in a nice place, other people want to come. While it’s great to talk about our community’s agricultural heritage, the fact remains that most of the jobs it creates are relatively low paying. People taking these jobs may consume greater municipal resources than their taxes pay for. Meanwhile, the high paying poultry and other agribusiness management jobs, profits(and tax revenues) end up elsewhere. Our community ends up effectively subsidizing large corporations when we have to provide for schools, etc. If this is to remain a vibrant area and a good place to raise a family, something has to give. So if a bunch of well-paid high-tech workers move here, they probably will help the population as a whole with higher tax revenues, higher expectations from their children’s schools, and certainly less impact on the traffic and environment than another poultry plant.

  4. Business Owner says:

    The problem for the new businesses is that the climate that brought us here (low cost of living, VA being a “business friendly” state) is often ofset by the low quality of the workforce. We often have to go through 10 new employees just to find one who is willing to work, or has the capacity to problem solve.

  5. David Troyer says:

    But I’m guessing you would also balk at the idea of unionized labor. virginia has also done a “good” job at keeping that out.

  6. JGFitzgerald says:

    Emmy,

    How about: Come for the unspoiled ridgelines, and build houses on them.

    Bring Yankees — in a big yellow taxi.

  7. Emmy says:

    That’s better than mine Joe. You are much more creative…and sadly, right on the money.

  8. Business Owner says:

    Personally I’m a huge supporter of unionized labor. Contrary to what the big Corporations would have you believe, unions have been vital to the growth of this country. I hope one day that Wal-Mart will stop undermining efforts to unionize. Unfortunately in today’s American business world “Business friendly” also means “employee/taxpayer unfriendly.”

  9. Howard says:

    too bad Hburg is one ugly community, that is from a development stand point……and the SRI jobs, they are great, but what will be the net incentive from government sources for the creation of each job? Somthing like 50K? Not really sure…is it really economic development when you take millions of dollars of public funds to “create” new jobs, or is it simply redistribution of my tax dollars so we can have a nice ribbon cutting ceremony?

  10. Marty says:

    Housing prices in Harrisonburg are definitely not overpriced. For what it takes to buy a townhouse in NoVa, you can buy a nice house on a good parcel of land in Harrisonburg. That’s just reality.

    Business development in Harrisonburg will only help the area, and as long as city leaders have the foresight to properly control growth, in which case it’s a win-win situation for everyone.

    It’s inevitable, with more tech-based businesses moving into the area, the growth of JMU and the migration of government offices away from DC that Harrisonburg is going to rapidly change; hopefully not into the “Fairfax-ation” the author mentioned, but IMO it probably will.

  11. Karl Magenhofer says:

    Why can’t people compare apples to apples? Harrisonburg housing prices need to be compared to…wait for it…Harrisonburg housing prices. Doing the whole townhouse in NoVa vs. H’burg house is rediculous. It was rediculous before the housing boom and equally so now. Virginia housing numbers are available through the Virginia Association of Realtors, they’ll show you why there’s a perception that homes are too expensive in Harrisonburg (they’ve increased significantly in the past several years).

    Harrisonburg is taking its lumps for its fantastic unemployment rate. Basic economics say that strong employment generally leads to inflation. One of the problems is that the inflation has not been met with coinciding salary hikes. Ultimately, those that could afford a home in the past still can, just less of one. Those that used to be just outside the ability to buy are now further away and staring down a market that is setting up to be immune to any housing market corrections that may occur.

  12. Marty says:

    @Karl

    I work in NoVa and own a house in Harrisonburg; hence my personal opinion.

    And the point of the submitted article was the fact that “…Harrisonburg attracts high-quality, high-paying employers…” So, I’m guessing, you are cool with that? Better companies will hopefully lead to increased wages, I would think. Because the second paragraph of your reply pretty much generalizes most parts of the entire country, not just Harrisonburg.

  13. Del Marvel says:

    http://how-to-spell-ridiculous.com/

    Sorry, Joe made me do it :)

  14. Karl Magenhofer says:

    It’s rediculous because it’s communist

  15. David Miller says:

    JMU population increase having no effect upon either the supply or the demand, or both:)

  16. JGFitzgerald says:

    Del,

    I have previously suggested that if one is to question the humanity, ancestry, intelligence or good will of a fellow blogger, one should not celebrate one’s own ignorance of the Queen’s vernacular in doing so, because just as blogging anonymously does not make one John Jay, so does ignoring capitalization and punctuation not make one e e cummings, ferchrissakes. One misspelling does not cast Karl into the First Circle of language Hell. That would be loodachris.

  17. Del Marvel says:

    Ouch! Touché.

  18. Rumblog says:

    I think Karl is on the money suggesting that Hburg real estate is overspeculated and perhaps overhyped (witness the din of hypesters from Thanh to the purveyors of Kline and May or Coldwell-Banker/Funkhouser). As the market gurus tell us, over time, many of us shall reap the fruits of Hburg gentrification and eventual progress.
    My problem here is the larger system and its attendant ideological apparatus. IMHO, this whole hype of Hburg real estate prosperity is linked to a well-rehearsed local discourse that espounds the infinitely magical wonders of the market and it’s neverending miracle of economic growth. But as we live out our everyday lives, here and now, while Hburg grows in unpredictable and often whimsical ways, I think it’s apparent to many that its main traffic arteries and other public facilities are bursting at the seams.
    And as this situation gets worse every year, the discursive mantra that unequivocally claims that growth always equals progress continues to speak louder.
    Which brings me to Thanh’s purportedly magical exercise of free-market sophistry, where he offers up the rhetorical equivalent of an ‘olive branch’ to the Hburg working class. Growth, we are told again and again, means progress. It shall cure all ills (including a real estate market that is hurting b/c of a glut of new-townhome inventory on the market).
    Meanwhile, the fundamental factor that would induce people to come here–QUALITY OF LIFE-seems to be systematicallya t odds with the larger forces of the market.
    Thanh, as i sit in unnecessary traffic , day by day, please expound upon ‘partnership’ actually means?
    As sub-minimum wages continue to predominate locally, and property values rise, and rents rise accordingly, pray tell, just what are the base terms of this partnership.? And please, could someone tell me just how many public tax dollars were required to secure these high tech employers?
    As for the so-called “Planning Commission,” just what is the city’s ‘plan’ for managing local growth when populations? The ugly truth is that there is not-nor was there ever an informed or properly anticipated ‘plan’ for managing growth. As far as I can tell, the purported ‘plan’ was to whore out the commercial and infrastructural future of eastern Hburg. The suitor: none other than the lowest of all Corporate Johns (e.g. ‘Dub-Mart’).

  19. Deb SF says:

    Harrisonburg does plan, as required by law. I was on the planning commission for awhile, going through the certification course by the Virginia Citizens Planning Association, serving a bit less than 2 years (kicked off for the crime of marrying the mayor during my term; Joe, the sacrifices I’ve made for you ;-> )

    In 2004, Harrisonburg did a major update (as required by law) of its comprehensive plan. I was on the committee as a PC member. http://www.harrisonburgva.gov/index.php?id=896
    Another update is coming soon.

    It was hard to get people to come out to those comprehensive plan meetings and give input; one reason we heard over and over again was, “Why should we bother? Developers will just ask for a rezoning, and council will give it to them.”

    And they were, in part, right; Community Development and the Planning Commission can develop terrific plans through processes that involve the citizens at every level, but politics plays a huge part. Developers can be turned down more than once, but some are patient enough to bide their time and wait for the right mix on council; a recent example is the strip mall across from the lake entrance to JMU. IIRC, third time turned out to be the charm for that one, with Starbucks, Jimmy Johns and the rest coming to the area as a result.

    It’d be interesting to go back and look at the data for the last 20 years to analyze the characteristics of the rezonings that took place under various councils. E.g., Rodney Eagle’s era(s), the CHANGE era, Walter Green, etc. Sometimes, the main criteria for a rezoning seems to be the “right” of property owners to make a profit from their land, regardless of the intended land use set out in the comprehensive plan. Other times, not so much, with bigger, more long-run predominant (like how many more schools will we need to build if we allow this development?).

    Anyone got a free month?

  20. JGFitzgerald says:

    Deb pretty much sums it up as far as planning. I could personally thank the people who showed up for the Comp Plan sessions, because I remember who most of them were. City Council has the responsibility to enforce the Comp Plan but there’s no penalty if they don’t. Citizens have to show up.

    There were perhaps a dozen citizens besides the Comp Plan committee present when the council passed the final version of the plan. That’s not enough.

    As to the meeting where my short-sighted, vengeful colleagues sat splay-legged on their high horses and threw Deb off the Planning Commission, I was out of the room at the time (as a matter of principle, though not of law), and so was everybody else. That was the beginning of the end of the Planning Commission’s finest season. Maybe one day we can have another such springtime.

  21. Thanh says:

    I feel somewhat attacked by Rumblog’s post above, but I can’t identify why he/she would consider me a “hypster” or thinks that I gave a “purportedly magical exercise of free-market sophistry, where [I] offer[ed] up the rhetorical equivalent of an ‘olive branch’ to the Hburg working class.” I’m not even sure I understand what all of that means. One thing I do know is that I wasn’t trying to hype anything in the post, nor was I trying to support or defend anything – all I was doing was sharing with hburgnews readers something interesting that I had found – an advertisement that is trying to attract businesses to Harrisonburg – and I was interested to hear what people’s thoughts were.

    I do believe, like most other communities I’ve lived in or observed, that Harrisonburg could have been planned differently and that more attention should be given to Harrisonburg’s future planning and development. Which is why I stated in the post:

    “I do believe that by learning from other localities’ “mistakes” (if you wish to call it that), by identifying our “wants” and “don’t wants” (keeping in mind that the shopping center we want to shop at will certainly bring more cars and pavement), finding appropriate balances, and with careful planning with participation from a variety of many individuals in the community, we can keep Harrisonburg and the Valley a beautiful and comfortable place to live in.”

    However, I hope to believe that, many of the people responsible for planning and development in the past really thought they were doing the best thing for the community at that time. And sometimes people think that their one cause is more important than others, and fail to look at the entire picture – i.e. what stresses or pressures does economic development put on existing infrastructure?

    I also recognize that for the most part, what’s done is done. The crazy shopping centers aren’t going to go away anytime soon. So, with that, the next logical step for me is, if you don’t like the direction things are going, get involved and let your voice be heard. I don’t mean by protests or anything like that. I just really wish that people would write more letters to or ask to meet with Councilmembers and City staff to let them know – “I didn’t like this because… and I wish for you to consider that in the future…” OR “I have an idea, you should consider doing this next time…”

    Deb SF is right, that “politics plays a huge part.” Just as much as a developer can put political pressure on the “City,” I believe that citizens in numbers, or better yet in organized groups, can also put an equal if not greater political pressure back. (Sometimes I think developers, in Harrisonburg and other places, “win” because there aren’t any other voices out there, at least not until its too late. Often reactive, not proactive.)

    Just from hburgnews alone – if all of those who have commented through various posts about their discontent with the direction of the City’s development patterns, wrote a letter or asked to meet with Councilmembers, I think things could change. But, too often, I find that people don’t take a step beyond talking with other likeminded individuals (some of us are guilty of doing this on hburgnews, we write/post here, and that’s it). Many people don’t reach out to explore. Perhaps these individuals feel overwhelmed and/or feel that what they could say wouldn’t make a difference. Maybe I’m too idealistic, but I don’t see the harm in trying. I only see potential benefits in trying.

    I’m not anti-growth or development. I am pro good and responsible development. However, I admit that I’m not always sure what “good and responsible development” is. I’m working on identifying that, and its probably the case that, what’s good here, isn’t good for there. Blanket rules aren’t always effective.

    I think that most people who read this blog know that I work for the City as an Environmental Specialist and that I live here in town. Not to get pity or anything, but the environmental field is weird – most people agree that the environment is important and they enjoy the resources it has to offer, but too often the environment gets put on the backburner because other needs appear more important – we are a society that lives for here and now. Protecting the environment now is an effort for later generations to enjoy. I see many programs and things that could be improved, as do many other colleagues of mine, but sometimes we need the support and the help of the citizens we work for – whether it is support for more time, more pressure for priority, for more funding, or for citizens to do some homework and either understand why we did what we did, or to do homework to help brainstorm new ideas and solutions. I know that I am fortunate that sometimes the responsibilities and projects that land in my lap at work fit well with my personal interests, i.e. improving the health of Blacks Run or putting in more sidewalks in my community. And I also I realize that many of my neighbors have other jobs and responsibilities that don’t lend them too much time to express their personal interests. But if it really matters, I think that a little bit of time could be found.

    I think that a great example of citizen involvement is the pedestrian and bicycle committees. These citizens gave up their time to work with each other and with City staff to prioritize needs for new bicycle and pedestrian facilities. Two wonderful planning documents came out in 2005 from these meetings, and the Transportation Planner and planners from Community Development regularly refer to the Bicycle Plan and Pedestrian Plan to identify new projects. Unfortunately, like many other efforts and programs, funding is limited (other City priorities need to be met first; there’s only so much money for schools, the fire dept, maintaining roads, and the other needs our City has), so oftentimes the planners must find other funding sources. They spend a good amount of their time identifying state, federal, and private funding opportunities and applying for them (grant applications aren’t always easy to complete either). Spinning off of the bicycle and pedestrian committees are the bicycle clubs who worked with the Parks and Recreation Department to build the awesome trails at Hillandale Park, and the Safe Routes to School Task Force (made up of citizens, school officials, many moms and dads), who worked with the Public Works Department to apply for federal and VDOT funds to pay for new sidewalks, pedestrian signals, and bike lanes for children to walk to and from their homes and Kiester Elementary School (we are still awaiting notification from VDOT whether we got the grant or not). A number of people who are members of the bike clubs and who are on the SRTS Task Force are also participants of the bicycle and pedestrian committees. They helped to identify needs (in the plans), and then partnered with other citizens and City staff to devise a plan and funding mechanisms to make things happen. And I thank them all for their hard work.

    You might be asking, what does Thanh do? I like to think that I do quite a bit. I see a need, and I want to make a change, or I want to help and support someone else in their efforts to make a change. But between full-time work, part-time school, and all the other personal things in between, I am still but one individual and I can only do so much. So, I find others to partner with. Some things I work on related to this post are: I provide support to the Transportation Planner. I provide support for new road way and stormwater infrastructure maintenance projects coming to and out of the Public Works Department. I’ve been working with the SRTS Task Force on the grant to VDOT for new sidewalks and bicycle lanes. I work closely with the Stream Health Coordinator and the Parks & Rec Department on projects to improve the health of Blacks Run – the City’s SHC is the person responsible or provides assistance for many of the stream restoration (at Liberty Park, behind the Fire House on Maryland Ave, and more to come) and a few other projects you might have seen. I receive a lot of assistance and support from the Public Information Officer on public education campaigns on environmental health and water quality issues (ex. http://www.cleanstream.org). I am working with the SHENAIR Institute (JMU) on an emissions and energy usage inventory of City municipal vehicles, buildings, and operations, in hopes that we can identify ways to reduce our impact. I am currently working with City staff and a regional Stormwater Advisory Committee, led by the Valley Conservation Council, with participants from other local governments to find better ways to address Stormwater Management (water quantity/flooding issues, and water quality/pollution) issues that happen as a result of increased urban development. Most of these efforts were started by the people I’m working with, not by me, or was their original idea, and they sought out additional help and support. One group that I help support that is very appropriate to this discussion on growth and development is the Healthy Community Council, a citizen group, who’s one of three priorities identified this year (and for the next 5 years) is “Planned Growth and Green Infrastructure.” This subgroup, dubbed “The Green Team” is still in planning infancy; we’re currently working on defining our plan to help the community address growth (as well as creating walkable/bikable communities, and encouraging local foods) – I suppose the first step for how to address growth and development might be to conduct surveys to identify what the community wants and doesn’t want, so that we are sure we are pushing for the right changes. Maybe create a written document summarizing our findings to share with City and County staff – what should this document contain? Maybe do workshops for developers and engineers on principals of “better site design”, “smart growth”, “healthy community design”? Are workshops really effective or is there something else we should do? Do YOU have any ideas, because if you do please share them with us. You can email me at thanhd [at] ci [dot] harrisonburg [dot] va [dot] us.

    [I hope the last bit I wrote there doesn’t sound like I am “tooting my own horn” because I don’t wish for it to sound that way. I only thought it might be nice to post some of the projects I’m working on/with in our area so that if you’re interested in participating too, I can help put you in touch with the right people. I also saw a good opportunity to solicit ideas and suggestions for improvement from you, so please share. :)
    Also, for all the suggestions I provided, they are ideas that I think everyone should take more into consideration, myself included. I’m not perfect and I’ve been plenty guilty for letting things pass by because 1) at the time I didn’t feel that it was worth my time, the “so what?” or “who cares?” attitude, or 2) I had other matters more important to me to pursue.]

  22. Thanh says:

    Just to clarify a statement I made above: I said I’m not anti development, and I’d like to add that I’m not pro development either. What I am is, if development is going to happen, I am pro good and responsible development; here in Harrisonburg and everyone else. I also don’t believe that growth equates to progress. Sometimes not well-planned, or not planned at all growth can have bad consequences on many factors of life. One reason why I think individuals need to become involved in some part of their community (hopefully involved in something that is very dear and passionate to them), whether it be in planning growth and development or volunteering with an organization like Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Through involvement and knowledge, I hope we can be proactive instead of reactive, when it might become too late. (There’s the possibly idealist in me again.) Also, I now realize that the examples I gave in my previous posts of partnerships and community involvement are of people and their efforts to “add” something to the community (because that’s what I more commonly see, perhaps because its easier). I think its alright, and good, for citizens to also rally against adding something to the communtiy, i.e. rally against a specific development (as opposed to just the idea of development, which is hard to get a good hold of).

  23. finnegan says:

    I can’t identify why he/she would consider me a “hypster” or thinks that I gave a “purportedly magical exercise of free-market sophistry, where [I] offer[ed] up the rhetorical equivalent of an ‘olive branch’ to the Hburg working class.”

    I don’t get it either, Thanh.

    Also, I had no idea you were a guy.

    ;)

  24. Benjamin says:

    Development will happen. With JMU announcing every six months that it’s going to buy another funeral home, high school, or hospital and will be adding 5,000 students whether we like it or not, you can be pretty sure that the city will be growing to make room for the extra bodies. We just have to figure out as a community how to deal with it. Personally, I’m happy about the continued growth downtown. That is where the heart of the community will stay.

  25. David Troyer says:

    Hipster

    (Not Hypster)

    Sorry. Had to.

  26. finnegan says:

    Actually, I read it “hIpe-ster” and understood it to mean “someone who hypes something.”

  27. David Troyer says:

    hmm, new terminology to me…. I find it intriguing that the urban dictionary entry for hypster has one entry and one thumb up on said entry while the urban dictionary entry for hipster has 57 entries…

    touché ;-)

  28. finnegan says:

    New words have to start somewhere, man.

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