Wednesday, October 4, 2023

On The Horizon: Williamsburg Economic Development Director Discusses Plans For 2022

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WILLIAMSBURG – As the City of Williamsburg enters the second year of its 2021-22 Biennial Goals, Initiatives and Outcomes plan, its acting director of economic development said research is important.

“We’re taking a strategic approach to business recruitment, looking at what are the gaps in our market, what is Williamsburg missing, what do we need, and going after those businesses,” said Yuri Adams, adding there are no specifics because that part of the plan still is in the developmental phase.

Adams has been in her current role since August 2021 but with the city for almost five years. She said the most exciting part of her job “is working with businesses that are interested in locating here and sharing all the great things about Williamsburg and why they should locate their business here.”

However, the focus isn’t just on new businesses.

 “I am certainly passionate about developing relationships with our existing business community,” she said, noting in her previous position as the Economic Development Specialist she concentrated on existing businesses. “Continuing to foster those relationships is certainly a priority.”

In today’s economic climate, she said local businesses need the community and assistance more than ever. As a result, she and her department will continue “to foster those relationships and make sure that our businesses know that we’re here to support them in any way that we can.”

To assist in that effort, she mentioned Williamsburg’s Economic Development Authority has a suite of grants available on a continuing basis. One of those is the Small Business Investment grant, which the city was able to adjust during covid. Adams said one of the changes encourages business owners, specifically restaurants and dining establishments, to enhance their outdoor dining.

“If a business spends $15,000 on pre-approved work, then they can get up to half of that back,” she said. “That allows for exterior improvements. Businesses can use it on signage, on landscaping, on hardscaping.”

The Blue Talon Bistro and Berret’s Seafood Restaurant and Taphouse Grill in downtown Williamsburg used it for outdoor dining areas, she said.

“That program is just one example of hearing what businesses are struggling with, hearing what could be the most helpful, and then utilizing EDA funds to create grant programs that target those issues and assist our business community,” Adams said.

She also mentioned a partnership with the York-James City-Williamsburg chapter of the NAACP. On the third Friday of each month, that chapter, plus officials from the three localities meet at a minority-owned business.

“We get together for a couple hours in the afternoon and we visit with minority business owners, whether they’re new businesses or they’ve been around for 15 or 20 years,” Adams said.

The gatherings sometimes honor a business, but the goal is to make those owners be seen, be heard, and foster relationships to help everyone involved, including the localities.

As other local economic development directors mentioned in previous stories in this series, the covid-19 pandemic will continue to pose challenges. However, Adams is taking a different approach to the pandemic.

“We are acknowledging that covid is part of the future, and we’re just sort of moving forward through that,” she said.

Communities across the Peninsula, and throughout the state and nation, have been affected by labor issues. Williamsburg is no different.

“Workforce is an issue, and it’s probably the number one thing that I’m hearing from businesses,” she said.

Even with the challenges, she’s excited about the possibilities.

“We’ve got great workforce partners,” Adams said.

And the business community is doing its part, also.

“I probably had more interaction and more engagement with our business community in the past two years than I have in the previous three years combined,” she said. “I don’t say this just to say it, it has been an honor to work with our business community.”

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of Peninsula Chronicle stories regarding local economic development forecasts for 2022.

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