JAMES CITY – While the hospitality and tourism industry is the main economic driver for James City County, assistant county administrator Jason Purse said diversifying is the key in 2022.
“We have some big tourism draws in our area,” he said, mentioning Jamestown and Busch Gardens are among the biggest. “And then obviously, we have close relationships with the City of Williamsburg and York County, who have similar tourism draws.”
However, the hospitality and tourism industry has been among the hardest hit industries by the pandemic, leaving James City, Williamsburg, and York County all in similar situations.
“Like those other adjacent localities, we saw a downtick in our room night stays, both hotel/motel and the timeshares that we have here in James City County,” Purse said.
He noted “ancillary things, like the meal tax and the sales tax that we derive from tourism” also are down. The challenge is finding industries that can make up for those losses.
“We have a lot of push from our board of supervisors to make sure we have a diverse tax base, and that we’re hitting all of the different sectors of the economy to make sure we’re not overly reliant on one,” he said.
One area of concentration in the new year is light industrial.
He mentioned Anheuser-Busch, and all the companies it works with including Ball Metal Beverage Packing and Owens-Illinois as sources of high-quality jobs. Other sources of high-quality jobs are a number of industrial commerce centers. And opportunities are growing.
Purse said Navien, Inc., which makes parts for water heaters and boilers, is moving into the older Lumber Liquidators facility in the Stonehouse Commerce Park. The company is investing nearly $80 million, creating 180 jobs and tripling the size of the building. He also said Coresix Precision Glass is expanding its facility in the James River Commerce Center.
The phrase “industrial centers” often conjures up images of ugly buildings, large smokestacks, and unsightly developments. Purse said the county is mindful of keeping those out of sight.
“I think that’s one of the things that James City County does really well,” he said. “We really have done our best to bring in users that aren’t going to have those negative impacts on the community, and we hide them away so it’s not the first thing you see.”
He admits, as with most places, beautiful vistas and trees should be the focus, but that doesn’t mean industrial centers don’t have a place.
“I think we’ve just done a good job of keeping them away from residential areas,” Purse said.
Attracting new industries and businesses are important, but Purse said the county also puts a heavy emphasis on supporting current businesses.
“We really have been trying to figure out what we can do from a local government perspective to support …. our businesses in general, whether or not it’s retail-users at prime outlets or even some of the local accounting firms and legal offices,” he said.
One way Purse’s office offers help is by searching for grants, including the Community Development Block Grant program, which was part of state funds at the beginning of the pandemic. He added the city just received more than 800 rapid covid tests for small businesses.
“I think you’re seeing a real local focus on what we can do right now, because everybody’s going through some difficult things,” he said.
Diversifying the tax base doesn’t mean less of an emphasis on tourism. In fact, James City County has joined Williamsburg and York County on the Historic Triangle Recreational Facilities Authority, which will look into the feasibility of a regional sports complex.
“I think you’re probably going to see more about that here in the coming year,” Purse said.
With all it has going on, James City is positioned for success in 2022 with a well-rounded portfolio. The latest census numbers, according to Purse, show an area on the rise, providing even more reason for optimism.
“We’re located in a place that is growing in terms of the state and in the region,” he said. “I think we’re pretty positive about being able to attract businesses and attract people here.”