Written by Stacey Metcalfe, Executive Director and CEO, Morven Park
When AOL opened its headquarters in Ashburn in 1996, it started a mad rush of competitors vying for real estate in Loudoun County. Just last month, the AOL building brought back employees to celebrate and share memories one last time before the building gets torn down to make room for a new data center.
Between 2000-2010, Loudoun’s population grew approximately 84%, partly due to the tech boom taking place in and around Ashburn. The great migration into Loudoun County brought with it a skilled workforce that required quality housing, excellent schools, a superior health system and a vibrant community filled with local eateries and attractions. To accommodate these workers, the county had to work swiftly and mindfully to preserve Loudoun’s open spaces while building enough infrastructure to sustain the workforce.
Fast forward to today. We know that only 38% of the workforce in Loudoun County actually lives in the County; that leaves 62% of workers who are spending their hard-earned income somewhere else. That means they don’t get to eat at our local restaurants, shop at our local stores or partake in our friendly farmer’s markets outside of business hours. It also means that your beloved teachers, dedicated health care workers, and police and fire department employees are driving miles outside of the county because they can’t find appropriate attainable housing nearby.
How do we keep our workforce from moving elsewhere? We provide a competitive advantage over our neighboring jurisdictions in the way of creative workforce housing. Housing that is close to major transportation hubs, housing that varies in sizes and shapes (condos, duplexes, triplexes) and housing that is priced appropriately for salaries below our average income.
The public agrees! According to a recent independent poll, 78% of Loudoun residents believe people work in Loudoun should be able to live in Loudoun and 67% believe Loudoun County would benefit from a wider range of housing options.
So how do we make this happen? First and foremost, we support less restrictive land-use policies. This does not mean that your favorite farm goes away, it means that developing in areas that are already supported by existing infrastructure are strongly considered. Secondly, we support economic development opportunities that bring quality businesses and jobs to the area. Thirdly, we support transportation initiatives that reduce the burden on roads so that we can all get to our jobs safely and efficiently.
Loudoun has come a long way since the internet started and AOL was the largest employer in the county. We still rank high in many of the ‘Top Places to Live’ charts, we still get to enjoy wineries and open space to the West plus dynamic town centers to the East. However, without our workforce firmly planted in our community, we cannot continue to grow together.
Stacey Metcalfe currently serves as the Executive Director and CEO of Morven Park, Loudoun’s 1000 acre backyard located in Leesburg, Virginia which is owned and operated by the Westmoreland Davis Memorial Foundation. She also serves as the Immediate Past Chair of the Loudoun Chamber and serves on EDAC. She moved to Loudoun County in 1998 while working for AOL.