Elected officials from Alexandria, Arlington, Loudoun, Fairfax, and Prince William gathered for the Northern Virginia Chamber’s Elected Leaders Summit this week.
The summit was held at George Mason University’s Arlington campus at Founder’s Hall, and provided business leaders from across Northern Virginia an opportunity to hear from elected officials serving in the region.
City of Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg, Arlington County Board of Supervisors Chair Jay Fisette, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall, Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart, and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova were on the panel, moderated by WUSA9 journalist Peggy Fox.
Hurricane Harvey and how the region handles other weather events was one of the first topics discussed.
According to Stewart, residents in Prince William and across Northern Virginia need to be prepared to sustain themselves for at least three days.
“We all cooperate – there is very good cooperation in Northern Virginia, among all of the localities…we instruct our residents to always be prepared for at least three days’ worth of food and water and other necessities,” said Stewart.
Another hot button topic was the future of Metro and how to fund it.
“Let’s face it – it’s the most significant issue facing the region today. And there is, in fact, great consensus of that fact…for the economic sustainability, the long term future viability and prosperity of this region, this has to be solved. We’ve been putting off this question of a dedicated, sustainable funding stream for Metro for a long, long time,” said Fisette.
Fisette highlighted that the pressure that the area’s Metro system under is a good thing, as it pushes individuals to discuss it’s long term future.
Fox spoke about a one cent sales tax that’s been proposed to handle the cost for funding the Metro, and while Fisette said that option has potential, Virginia needs to figure out how to pay on the state-level for the system, as localities bear the majority of the cost in the state currently. According to Fisette, Maryland pays for it on the state-level.
Metro is currently expanding into Loudoun County, and when asked, Randall offered her thoughts on Metro funding.
“How are we having a conversation about Metro and we haven’t said the words ‘federal government’…Metro moves the federal government’s workforce…if Metro stops moving, the federal government stops moving…I am so confused as to how the federal government pays what Fairfax County pays for Metro,” said Randall.
Stewart spoke about how Prince William has a large road network and that’s the county’s transportation focus.
Bulova spoke about how the General Assembly needs to identify a solution, which most of the panel agreed with.
Data centers have become an important part of the Northern Virginia economy, particularly in Prince William and Loudoun counties.
“The data market has kept us strong through the Great Recession and the data market will be what’s most key in helping us diversify…we don’t really go out for data centers anymore, they come to us,” said Randall.
According to Randall, Loudoun currently has 10 million square feet of data center space, and they could double that at full buildout.
Stewart was not directly asked about data centers in Prince William, but commented “I’m glad you didn’t ask me about data centers because I’ve got my Dominion fan club right here in front,” in relation to the 230-kilovolt transmission line being built in the county.
Stewart also spoke to the wet lab space in Prince William County, which provides startups with space to work on their bio-science projects in a setting with the tools they need.
“In Prince William County we started a 9,400 square foot wet lab incubator space – it’s been very successful…it’s been a great private, government, and academic partnership,” said Stewart.
According to Stewart, eight companies are currently in the wet lab space and six companies are on the waiting list.