Council Candidates on Local Economy

Brent Finnegan -- October 16th, 2008

This is part on the ongoing Q&A series with City Council candidates. We’ll be emailing candidates questions and posting answers periodically throughout the month of October. All responses are listed unedited, in the order in which they were received.

What industries and areas (if any) should Council devote time, resources and money to in order to grow our local economy? Why?

Dave Wiens: The area is rich in educational institutions. At the same time, we traditionally have not been able to provide jobs for our younger, educationed citizens unless they are involved in education. The industries I would look for would be ones that take advantage of this resource that now leaves the area.
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Roger Baker: If the City proceeeds with the planned capital projects the local economy would be helped. The economic development department should be consulted to determine the specific areas to help.
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Charles Chenault: I actually think we are focused in the right direction; i.e., clean industries (Rosetta Stone), tech and computer jobs, tourism (Farmers Market, Hardesty Higgins, downtown). We need to continue to focus on jobs that will allow our students to remain in the community and start their lives without suffering a decrease in their quality of life. I think we have done a remarkable job as a community in this regard over the past five years. I continue to favor growing our downtown through public expenditures. The return on this investment is beginning to show.

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Richard Baugh: Meaning no disrespect, this is the wrong question. It suggests that the key question before us is growth. I know that may sound odd coming from a candidate whose campaign has as a large part of its foundation growth issues. My point is that the key question before us is not growth per se, but our quality of life.

Harrisonburg’s goal needs to be to be a place that provides a quality small urban living option for people in the Shenandoah Valley. I know that may not sound like much. But I think if you study that sentence, virtually everything relevant ties into it. Everything. County and JMU relations. Growth and development policies. School quality. Transportation and other infrastructure. Everything.

So, Council needs to “devote time, resources, and money” into maintaining and improving the quality of life of its citizens. To the extent that ties into growth, I am strongly committed to a model that ties into our Comprehensive Plan (which by definition should reflect broad community consensus and input). Where that leads is up to us as a community, including the extent to which we wish to devote resources specifically toward promoting growth.

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Kai Degner: This is a great question, because it allows us to explore ways that we can stimulate the economy and create jobs without necessarily paving more roads and/or building new structures. That said, as city council does invest in capital improvement projects, the economy is generously stimulated.

I’m fully supportive of continuing to press for technology and knowledge-based industries. These include technology, research, internet-based, and educational industries. Incentivizing these businesses is a natural step after securing SRI’s presence in our area.

One interesting statistic I like to share to show how lesser-known industries can have a significant economic impact relates to the Arts Council estimated impact. Using an economic impact calculator from the Americans for the Arts, entering our information for general operating budget and attendance at our events, the Arts Council alone has an impact of over one million dollars. Consider the other nonprofits and private businesses that have creative and arts as a core competency for the product or service they provide, and we can quickly see a multi-million impact from our creative industry. It’s important to keep these types of industries in mind moving forward, as they not only have the hard impact but also provide the quality of life benefits that employers and employees in the aforementioned industries demand.
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We have not yet received responses to this question from Tracy Evans, Rodney Eagle, or J.M. Snell. We will add their responses as we receive them. A total of eight candidates (including two incumbents) are running for three available seats on City Council.

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