STRASBURG — Business and job creation were on the forefront of discussions at a second meeting of the town’s Community Advisory Board this week.
Of the more than 6,500 people who live in Strasburg, about 350 adults also work in town, said Ashley Shickle, strategic planner for the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission in Front Royal, who has been leading the meetings.
More people travel to Strasburg for work or else leave town for work, she said.
Committee members attending the meeting represented various organizations, businesses and government offices in and around town, and many showed surprise in learning how young Strasburg’s demographic is.
Strasburg’s median age is 35.5. By comparison, Shickle said, Virginia’s is 38.
“For the rest of Shenandoah County,” Shickle said, “you are about 9 years older than you are in Strasburg.”
What’s more, she said based on findings from Esri’s ArcGIS Analyst, 17% of the county’s prime age labor force of 25- to 54-year-olds lives in Strasburg.
Supplying jobs in town that would appeal to workers in that particular age range could greatly increase the number of people who stay in town for work, she said.
“We, I think, are in a unique position to create jobs organically through entrepreneurship and this creative community that you guys are establishing,” Shickle said.
“If we can create a space for them to continue to do what they love and [they] want to stay here, can we also remove barriers to them creating businesses and potentially jobs, things that occur organically in communities like this one?” she asked. “I think that there’s potential in that.”
Elaborating on the idea, Jenna French, the county’s director of tourism and business development, pointed out that creative jobs aren’t just jobs for artists or musicians.
“Creative community is just sort of this idea of us fostering growth,” she said.
It can also mean history, recreation, architecture, information technology and entrepreneurship, committee members noted.
Strasburg’s Economic Development & Marketing Manager Michelle Bixler said it would be prudent to consider the county’s agricultural routes in planning for what jobs or other services might bring value to the town — such as a community kitchen.
“We get a lot of requests for that,” she said.
Pastor John Haynes, of Strasburg Methodist Church, said that having an experimental farm close to town could attract jobs and make use of the county’s agricultural community.
He also pointed to social work as an industry that would benefit Strasburg, which he said has a great need to treat people with mental health concerns locally instead of asking them to travel elsewhere for care.
Though having more jobs in town could keep residents close to home, Shickle said this doesn’t need to be a focus point for the Community Advisory Board as its members decide how to approach the town’s economic development concerns.
She pointed to income-constrained families as a demographic of concern for a town she said has less purchasing power than the national average does, an issue made worse by having only one grocery store in town. Conceivably, she said, a store with a geographic monopoly could charge whatever it wants and people limited by transportation would have no other choice but to pay it.
The cost of groceries in Strasburg is 18.5 points higher than the national average, according to the website BestPlaces.net, which rates the national average at 100 percent. By comparison, Virginia as a whole is below the national average by 1.5 points.
However, Strasburg is lower than the Virginia average in housing costs — at only 2.3 points above the national average, versus the 35.1 points above the average that Virginia is.
French said it's interesting comparing Strasburg to the national average since it's more typical for locals to compare the town to Washington, D.C.
Though D.C. is indeed higher in average cost compared to Strasburg, BestPlaces rates D.C. as 5.3 points above the national average for cost of groceries (versus Strasburg's 18.5.)
“You guys are the experts,” Shickle told the committee. “You operate in this community daily, and being on the outside looking in, I feel so much more comfortable knowing that you’ve all had substantial input into the direction that we go next.”