‘Things Are Looking Up’
Construction Could Lead Local Economy’s Rebound, Development Leaders Say
Posted: February 8, 2013
Brian Shull, Harrisonburg economic development director, predicts gains in construction activity to a gathering of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce on Thursday. (Photos by Nikki Fox / DN-R)
Billy Vaughn (left), Rockingham County development director, addresses a Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce audience on Thursday as his Harrisonburg counterpart, Brian Shull, looks on.
Barry DuVal, president of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, speaks at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Chamber of Commerce’s economic outlook gathering on Thursday morning.
Jane Kusiak, executive director of the Council of Virginia’s Future, says, “I can’t emphasize enough how important regional economic development is.”
Economic development leaders for the city and county said Thursday that construction is poised for an increase of nearly 13 percent in 2013, based on estimates from a Richmond-based research firm.
Billy Vaughn, director of community development for Rockingham County, and Harrisonburg Economic Development Director Brian Shull presented the projection by Chmura Economics and Analytics at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce’s annual economic outlook.
More than 160 people attended the morning meeting at James Madison University’s Festival Conference and Student Center, including Barry DuVal, president of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, and Jane Kusiak, executive director of the Council on Virginia’s Future.
Residential construction data shows Chmura’s projection could, at the very least, be on the right track.
The number of residential building permits issued in the city and county dropped in 2009, 2010 and 2011, but started to pick up in 2012, reaching about 75 percent of the 10-year average, according to Shull and Vaughn’s presentation.
“Things are looking up,” Vaughn said.
Chmura also projects the employment picture to further improve in the metro area, which includes the city and county.
The metro area’s unemployment rate is already among the lowest in the state at 5.1 percent in December.
Chmura also projects retail sales to increase by 2.9 percent.
Another potential economic highlight this year for the area involves a high-tech facility on the north end of Harrisonburg.
Harris Corp.’s facility on Tyco Street, which the Florida-based information technology company shuttered last February, could soon have a new owner.
Shull said “good news” could be coming this year.
“That is on the market, and there’s a lot of activity,” he said.
Harris Corp. invested about $200 million in the 140,000-square-foot building. It opened for business in May 2011 but closed less than a year later after the company’s bet on demand for cloud computing turned out to be a bust.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, DuVal and Kusiak presented information about state and regional economic development efforts.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important regional economic development is,” Kusiak said.
The Council on Virginia’s Future is gathering information that could be useful, but business leaders and groups must put it to use, Kusiak said.
“Data is just a starting point,” she said. “Data is not going to tell you where to go. You’ve got to think about for yourself [where you want to go].”
DuVal said a statewide economic development program called Blueprint Virginia is just getting under way.
It aims to provide long-term strategic development in a state hamstrung because the governor can serve only one consecutive term, DuVal said.
“There’s no accountability,” he said “and a lack of continuity.”
Blueprint Virginia’s goal, he said, is to present a unified proposal from the business community to the governor-elect following the November election.
Contact Jeremy Hunt at 574-6273 or firstname.lastname@example.org