The Charlottesville City Council took up an important question at a work session on Thursday — what can local government do to encourage more employment to lift more people out of poverty?

“It requires a community to foster the infrastructure needed for job creation,” said Ridge Schuyler, the co-author of a 2011 study called the Orange Dot Project which reported that nearly one-third of Charlottesville households do not earn enough to make ends meet.

Charlottesville has an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent, but City Manager Maurice Jones said the city is committed to address the chronically unemployed and underemployed.
“We believe that tonight’s work session is an important step forward as we continue to address concerns about the future of job creation,” Jones said.
“The whole council is concerned with this general area and we are hoping to come up with steps today to get more good-paying jobs,” Mayor Satyendra Huja said. “A good job is the best economic development opportunity there is.”
The council was briefed on the Orange Dot report, as well as another study from the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development that identified specific industries appropriate for Charlottesville.
The average annual salary in Charlottesville is $49,964. Charlottesville has an average hourly wage of $20.61, whereas the state average is $21.32.
The target industry study found that in 2011 the business and financial services sector had 439 firms employing 5,297 people with an average annual salary of $66,890. The biomedical and health services sector had 3,129 people working at 84 firms with an average salary of $58,785.
In contrast, the arts, entertainment and recreation sector employed 2,115 people with an average salary of $27,719. The report also found that this is the fastest-growing industry in Charlottesville.
Several industries are growing but are not yet major categories. There were 100 people employed as caregivers for the elderly in 2006. That number had grown to 240 in 2011 with an average salary of $15,924.
“The targets are some of the greater chances for success and some of the greater opportunities to bolster the overall economy,” said Helen Cauthen, president of TJPED.
Chris Engel, the city’s economic development director, said one barrier to attracting light manufacturing to Charlottesville is a lack of available space. He said one major microbrewing company, which he did not identify, had expressed interest in locating a facility in Charlottesville to employ between 80 and 100 people.
“They really loved it here, but there was no site for them,” Engel said. “We have nine acres of vacant industrial land, but it’s in slivers and bits and pieces … we didn’t have anything close to what was needed.”
The meeting was also an opportunity for people involved in grassroots initiatives to explain their work to the council.
Joanie Freeman, the business mentor for the Vinegar Hill Canning Cooperative, said the community needs to promote entrepreneurship rather than lure large companies to provide jobs.
“What we’ve not done is given opportunities,” Freeman said. “The cooperative is a learning curve that these women are going through.” She said she is also working with a group of men to bring back a defunct music venue called the Blue Diamond Club.

Toan Nguyen

Toan Nguyen, the owner of C’Ville Coffee and one of the organizers of the Charlottesville Investment Collaborative, said he and others are considering forming a for-profit corporation.

“[This] for-profit corporation would transform the site of the Ix building and create incubators for textiles, mechanic’s shops and the canning cooperative,” Nguyen said. The group is writing a business plan and is expected to make a formal announcement later this month.
Nguyen said one initiative would be to build a commercial kitchen for the various catering companies that are being launched through the CIC.
Timothy Hulbert, president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, said efforts such as the chamber’s Minority Business Council, as well as the CIC, are steps in the right direction, but more time is needed to see them through.
“This circumstance wasn’t created overnight,” Hulbert said. “It was generations in the making and generations in the unmaking.”
Frank Friedman, the president of Piedmont Virginia Community College, said a revamp of the city’s public transit system is necessary so that city residents without cars could work at places like MicroAire in Albemarle County.
After the work session, Jones said he had heard a lot of good ideas and that staff will bring an action plan before the council later this year that will coordinate them with existing city initiatives.
“We’re doing a lot of the types of things to get the ball moving forward,” Jones said. “We’re conducting a major transit study. We’ve been having discussions with regional partners about how we can work together to develop plans for job creation and retain businesses.”