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Posted December 10, 2008 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Economic development could suffer

Some local offices in line for less funding

By James Heffernan -- Daily Staff Writer

Local economic development offices will have to make do with the same or, in some cases, less funding for fiscal year 2010 as jurisdictions struggle to meet their obligations.

At the request of Frederick County, the Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission will submit three separate spending plans -- with 5, 10 and 15 percent reductions -- for approval.

The county provides about 85 percent of the commission's funding, with Winchester contributing the rest. Frederick's contribution to the EDC for the current fiscal year totaled $397,421.

According to Executive Director Patrick Barker, the proposed cuts are based on operating costs only; they do not include personnel expenses such as salary and benefits.

Most of the cuts are in marketing and advertising, he said, including printed publications, trade shows and the EDC's Stop the Commute Campaign, which encourages Northern Virginia and Washington commuters to take jobs closer to home.

The reductions, if any, would be temporary, he said, with the money likely restored next year or the year after.

The EDC kept funding for helping existing businesses largely intact, since that sector accounts for most of the economic growth in the area, Barker said.

The organization will maintain some level of proactive marketing, he said, including its Web site, and will focus on proven projects and activities.

"Investment in the EDC is critical now more than ever to maintain our short-term and long-term economic health," Barker told EDC members on Friday, pointing out that the commission acts as a revenue producer, helping area businesses grow and adding to the tax base.

Shenandoah County Economic Development Director Susie Hill said her office is in the process of drafting a budget proposal for fiscal year 2010 for review by the county.

"I've been advised to prepare for next [fiscal] year based on this year's [appropriation]" of $139,000, she said.

Hill said she is confident that her office can continue to operate with the same level of funding, in part because of the county's stake in the Shenandoah Valley Partnership, a regional economic development group based in Harrisonburg.

The partnership, which Shenandoah County joined in July 2007, allows it to leverage funds for marketing, site inventory and research assistance, Hill said. And the group recently joined forces with similar partnerships in the Roanoke and New River valleys to form the I-81 Corridor Coalition, which she said is the largest regional economic development group of its kind in Virginia.

Shenandoah County's own economic development budget includes about $30,000 for marketing and advertising, she said.

Meanwhile, the Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center in Middletown is hoping for a comparable level of funding next year from the eight jurisdictions it serves, according to director Bill Sirbaugh.

About half of the center's funding comes from the counties, he said.

"As I sit now, I have not been told that any of them are budgeting us for a decrease," Sirbaugh said.

The SBDC also receives matching funds from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The Winchester-Frederick County EDC will maintain its $28,000 contribution to the center next year, Sirbaugh said, but gifts from other member jurisdictions are uncertain.

For the current fiscal year, the SBDC received $12,000 through the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority; the Shenandoah County Tourism and Economic Development office pitched in $7,000; and a combined $5,500 came from Clarke County and its Industrial Development Authority.

The SBDC also serves Fauquier, Rappahannock, Culpeper and Madison counties.

Sirbaugh, one of only two staff members, said his budget has remained fairly flat over the years.

"We're one of those programs that returns more than we consume," he said.

For every dollar invested in the center, he said, the small businesses it nurtures return anywhere from $7 to $12 to their communities in the form of employment and tax revenue, he said.

* Contact James Heffernan at jheffernan@nvdaily.com

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