Our Economic Recovery
This year has challenged everyone. From the impact of the global pandemic to the resulting economic shutdown and months of civil unrest, we have been confronted on all sides about our way of life. Many find themselves struggling to make ends meet, challenged by working remotely, or unemployed. Many small businesses have had to close their doors during the economic shut down or have been severely limited in their operations.
Our vision for recovery starts today. Money is available at historically low-interest rates, meaning that access to capital for businesses and investment is robust. We must position our city to be where investors are looking to put their money to work. The pathway out of the recession will be in what we build next. We have many opportunities before us as a city to capitalize on this moment, attract new private investment to build new developments, create more jobs while including affordability for our hard-working low- and middle-income residents. We must be intentional about what we want to be built, where we want to build first, and how we want it built. We need to make sure every dollar we attract to be spent in our city goes to local businesses and residents.
Strengthening our economy requires a strategic focus. I remain committed to establishing a Community Benefits Agreement for every new development.
Community Benefits Agreement Requirements: National example
- Local Hiring — we need to establish a workforce development pipeline that creates the skills and experience needed to build each development. This includes requiring training programs to be available to Richmond residents for electrical, plumbing, construction, and other skills. It’s not just about jobs, it’s about developing new marketable skills that can change peoples lives
- Living Wage & Benefits — we must require a living wage rate to be paid to employees to provide consistent incomes to support families. Jobs must also include benefits such as healthcare, retirement, and other needs. Building wealth is important for every employee.
- Affordability — we must ensure that at a minimum, 15% of each new mixed-use development includes apartments at 30/40/50% AMI (area median income) for one-, two-, and three-bedroom units. This will create more access for families to live, work, and play all across our city.
- Energy Efficiency & Sustainability — all new developments must include energy efficiencies and conservation requirements. Every new building needs to be as green, clean, and efficient as possible.
- Access to Public Transit, Grocery Stores, Job Centers, Parks & Schools — transit-oriented economic development will create new opportunities for families. Having access to these amenities will enrich their access to success which creates stronger, more vibrant communities.
City Council must set the expectation for how new developments must be built. By creating a Community Benefits Agreement, all projects will help us build a better future for Richmond that is inclusive, equitable, and diverse. I will lead the coordination to create a Community Benefits Agreement ordinance to support our future growth. We must also strengthen our Economic Development staff with the resources to achieve this vision.
Where we must build for our recovery
Richmond has many attractive locations to be developed: the Diamond location, Downtown, south of the James River, and around the Port of Richmond. These areas have either City-owned land or severely under-valued properties. These can create new job centers, new neighborhoods, and generate much-needed new revenues. These locations and the small area plans established in the Richmond 300 master plan create strategic development areas all across our city. Each of these areas needs to be prepared to achieve the City’s vision with forward-looking zoning and streamlined permitting. Richmond should align these areas strategically with pre-defined districts to capture new real estate revenues to invest in our biggest needs.
Richmond is juggling three $1 billion challenges: public and affordable housing, public school buildings, and our crumbling core infrastructure. As a City, we will never be able to tackle these problems with our current annual budget of $750 million. However, for every $85 million in new development value, the City receives $1 million in new revenue. We should invest these funds to transform each of these problems for every dollar of new revenue generated. With a Community Benefits Agreement in place, affordable housing, jobs, and other improvements are already required and in process. We should allocate a portion of every new dollar to invest in improving and modernizing our school buildings. This will be new funds and not competing with our current funding from residents. Better yet, we should create connections to investment in each area to neighborhood schools.
First District Example
Broad Street from the Powhite Parkway to Staples Mill is in the City of Richmond and the First District. This area is along the Pulse Corridor, is zoned for some of the best schools in the city, has access to job centers in Scott’s Addition and Willow Lawn, and has nearby grocery stores. If this area were to be strategically prepared for development, new revenues could be invested in modernizing Thomas Jefferson High School and Albert Hill Middle. Capitalizing on the outcomes of a Community Benefits Agreement, this new neighborhood would include affordable housing, create new jobs, and make more funding available for other schools. This model can be used in many areas of our city to transform our available funding from new future revenues to support school infrastructure needs.
Open for Business Plan
In February 2018, I wrote RVA’s 21st Century Business Strategy outlining key areas to improve for the city. While we have made progress, more is needed to implement each outlined priority. Many of the changes needed are not simple policies or funding initiatives but require establishing a vision, collaborating with the Administration, and defining the expectations of City Council for how the City will operate.
- Streamline Small Business Licensing & Permitting — opening, running, and growing a business in Richmond should be easy, simple, and painless. There should be an online portal that directs inquisitive entrepreneurs through the process of opening a business step-by-step with online forms and advice on permissible uses of potential spaces. Applying for and renewing a business license should be available online.
- Online Services & Payments — if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that working remotely and virtually is possible. The City of Richmond must embrace this technological push and (*albeit, finally) make all public facing operations and services available online. From submitting applications to requesting services to paying our taxes to even paying parking tickets, all citizens should have the option to pay online. We should make it as easy as possible for residents and businesses to pay the City for bills, taxes, and other payments.
- BPOL Reform (Business Taxes)— Richmond is not an easy place to open, run, or grow a business. It seems like City Hall is always in the way of running a successful business. Below is an example of the different tax structures for businesses in the region. Richmond is almost triple in most classifications. The global pandemic and economic recession have created an opportunity to make our city competitive. BPOL taxes generate approximately $38 million in annual revenue, however next year, they will generate considerably less. Let’s take this downturn and prepare for our future by matching Henrico and Chesterfield in their tax rates while our revenues are down so we can truly grow a competitive, sustainable, and attractive place to start, operate, and grow a business. Richmond could drastically increase our annual BPOL revenues if they are competitive in the region and the previous two items are addressed.
4. Invest in Technology— the City of Richmond must focus on how to invest in our future. The vacancy rate and turnover of jobs in City Hall is almost 25% combined, which means that at any given point, there are 1 in 4 jobs vacant or empty. The issue isn’t about hiring, it’s about training, developing, and investing in our operations. We must invest in technology, training programs, and skill development for our employees. We can tighten our staffing needs by offering competitive salaries, annual bonuses, and strong benefits. The previous points are possible by investing in technology and online services. For three years we refused the system upgrade for MUNIS, our Finance Department’s operating system. This upgrade is needed to support online tax payments and services along with other improvements. For too long we have seen investing in our operations and people as the second thing to do. We must invest in our employees’ futures and truly bring City Hall into the 21st century. This will make city services efficient, effective, and accessible.
Richmond’s Economic Recovery is not simply about the challenges of the global pandemic and recession, it is about how we respond. We need to be strategic and embrace the opportunity presented to us. One that is inclusive, diverse, and equitable. We must invest in technology to make city services more accessible and available. We must make investing in our city straight-forward and inviting. It will be the new private investments that will make this future possible. I commit to leading this conversation with the next City Council, Mayor, and Administration, to not simply talk about change, but to implement the changes needed for our future.