Interim Agricultural Development Officer
This past month I had the privilege of meeting with more than 30 Loudoun-based rural businesses and community partners that support the rural part of Loudoun’s economy. It has been one of the great experiences of my professional career to throw myself headfirst into this important business sector, meeting the great people who are so passionate about what they do and working to better understand our role in supporting them.
After three weeks of meetings, my head was spinning with new vocabulary, new acronyms, and lots of new ideas. But more than anything, I ended my visits with a heart filled with admiration for the entrepreneurs that grow our local vegetables, raise happy cows, and provide us the seed-to-sip experience at our farm wineries and limited breweries.
While much of the work has been completed on the rural strategy recommendations adopted in 2012, there is lots of work ahead. Our entire department is looking to the future and new initiatives that support the creation, retention and growth of businesses that produce, process or use agricultural products. We see great opportunity in enhancing our marketing efforts, not only highlighting our county as a business location, but promoting the many varied and valuable products that are produced in Loudoun.
We look forward to creating a robust business retention and expansion program focused on our rural businesses. It is a core belief in our department that our existing businesses are the major driver of our economy. We are going to be focused on expanding our support to these existing enterprises.
We look forward to partnering with other agencies, such as Loudoun Cooperative Extension and Visit Loudoun, to provide enhanced educational and promotional opportunities, and we are excited to partner with our strategic initiatives team and our county grants program coordinator to investigate new funding sources to support our rural businesses.
And, as an extension of my passion for supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses, we will be increasing our programming and expanding our innovative customer service to support all of the small businesses in Western Loudoun. We will collaborate with our stakeholders, resource organizations and local businesses to incorporate best practices and new ideas into the next rural strategy.
These will enhance the economic vitality and sustainability of agriculture in Loudoun.
All good strategies are backed by the right information. There are several ongoing projects to collect data from our production farms and value-added processors in Loudoun County. The analysis of this information, coupled with the feedback we receive from our businesses and stakeholders, will help arm our team with the information needed to make informed decisions on the policies, programs and assistance that new, expanding and existing farms need from the county.
If you are a rural business owner and have not participated in the survey from the Loudoun Rural Economic Development Council, please take 10 minutes to complete the confidential survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RuralBizSurvey
While our department works with partners to collect and analyze data that will help us make informed decisions, Economic Development has been busy with other rural initiatives. Below is a brief recap of what Loudoun Economic Development has been working on during this harvest season:
- The annual Fall Farm Tour (October 20 – 21, 2018) survey has some impressive numbers to share! Over 75 percent of the farms that responded had at least a 25 percent increase in sales as a result of participating in the tour. In addition, there was 100 percent participation from Economic Development staff visiting farms and promoting the “Loudoun, VA Made | Loudoun, VA Grown” program.
- Last week the recommendations for Virginia Agri-tourism and Building Code were shared with the REDC. The report states: “at this time, it appears to be premature to legislate the application of existing building codes or to develop legislation for any specialized building codes.” This report will be shared with the Virginia House and Senate General Laws Committees in the upcoming session. Loudoun Economic Development will continue to monitor this discussion and will report out to the REDC as appropriate.
- On November 15, Economic Development will welcome full-time Business Development Manager John Magistro to our staff to help new and expanding opportunities in the agriculture sector.
- November 23 is the kick-off date for the “2018 Holidays in Loudoun Valley.” This annual program promotes Loudoun tree growers while shining a spotlight on the family businesses in western Loudoun County that also sell unique gifts hand-crafted by local artists, as well as Loudoun-made, Loudoun-grown products like wreaths, poinsettias, and craft food and beverages.
- In collaboration with the permitting departments in Loudoun, a new guide for rural business uses is being created and will be shared with potential and expanding related businesses. This will be similar to the existing “Bed and Breakfast” guide, but with information for some of our growing business uses, such as a limited brewery.
While the dust on my tires and boots is settling from the visits made in the fall, I look to our local businesses to continue sharing their ideas for rural business growth.
To set up a meeting to share your ideas on how Economic Development can support and promote agriculture in Loudoun County, send me a note at Vanessa.Wagner@loudoun.gov. I look forward to greeting you on a pasture in Loudoun soon!Take Our Confidential Rural Business Survey