Albemarle EDA will assist Afton Scientific with expansion, briefed on 2021 real estate assessments
The Albemarle County Economic Development Authority has entered into a job creation agreement with Afton Scientific for that company’s expansion.
Afton Scientific manufactures pharmaceuticals that are sterile and digestible and has around 60 employees. Their products include therapies for cystic fibrosis, immune diseases, and breast cancer. Tom Thorp, the firm’s CEO, told the EDA about a probiotic for infants that Afton Scientific is working on.
“That will get rolled out nationwide, and it’s very exciting,” Thorp said. “A lot of major companies are going to be backing that and we’ll be making that at our third facility. What we do is we take the ingredients and we mix it up and we sterilize it and put in these vials and cap and crimp it and give it back to the customer.”
The company is in the midst of a $500,000 expansion that will add 20 new jobs with an average wage of $48,500. Afton Scientific recently received a Virginia Jobs Investment Program grant that will provide the company with a bonus of $750 per job. Albemarle is adding an additional $10,000, or $500 per job, with that funding coming through the EDA. The members voted unanimously to approve the deal with one member abstaining due to a conflict of interest.
Next, the EDA got an update on the county’s real estate assessments for 2021. Commercial properties declined an average of 5.5 percent in Albemarle, according to assessor Peter Lynch.
“Hotels were kind of the properties that were affected the worse in their valuation because of the pandemic with shopping centers only slightly behind them,” Lynch said. “We have found that so far medical office and office buildings are adversely affected but really the long term effect on that is still to be seen.”
After Lynch’s presentation, county economist Steve Allshouse gave a look at the county’s economic future, though he cautioned forecasts are difficult in this time period.
“Everything is being driven by the pandemic and typically when economists do forecasting they like to look at historical data,” Allshouse said. “Well, the problem is we don’t have a lot of historical data dealing with the economy in pandemics and in fact you have to go back to 1918 to the Spanish Flu pandemic to find any data that might be instructive.”
Allshouse said the local economy has bright spots, including a relatively low unemployment rate as well as data that shows the total number of jobs in the county appears to have increased after an initial loss of ten percent of jobs in the early days of the pandemic.
“What I’m thinking currently, for the quarter that ended in December, is that we most likely gained back about 40 percent, maybe a little more,” Allshouse said.
Allshouse said the recovery will likely be slow especially as the path forward with the pandemic remains unclear. Part of this relates to consumer confidence in the economy but part of it relates to uncertainty in many households.
“There are still people hurting in this recession and its aftermath so when I talk about consumer confidence going up, I just want people to be aware that I’m aware that not everybody is feeling confident,” Allshouse said.
Allshouse said the savings rates are up on aggregate, but this does not capture the experience of all Americans.
“A lot of people are saving and also their property values to get back to Peter’s point locally have gone up and also with recent increases in the last several quarters in the U.S. equities market, a lot of people’s net worth has gone up,” Allshouse said. “But again I have to heavily caveat these statements by saying not everyone own’s stocks, not everyone has a 401K savings plan, not everybody owns a house, so again, there are large swaths of the population that have not seen their household net worth go up.”
Another factor to consider is the migration of people to this community from elsewhere who bring their jobs with them during a time of remote work.
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