UVA President Ryan addresses Chamber of Commerce at State of the Community

It has now been a month since the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce held its first ever State of the Community to allow officials from Albemarle County and Charlottesville to present themselves to members of the business community. 

Ryan attended UVA’s School of Law and served on its faculty in 1998. He returned to Charlottesville as UVA President in 2018 after serving as Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

“Since he returned to returned to UVA in 2018 to serve as President, Jim has continued to emphasize the important of educational opportunity, especially for underrepresented students and first generation college students,” said Collette Sheehy, the senior vice president for operations and state government relations. 

Sheehy said one of Ryan’s central goals is to strengthen the relationship between the University, Albemarle and Charlottesville. He appeared at the Irving Theater in the CODE building via Zoom. 

“The relationship between UVA, Charlottesville, and Albemarle County is incredibly important, and although strong I thought there areas for improvement,” Ryan said. “And part of this is about being a University that is Great and Good and I think part of being a great university is taking seriously the obligations of an anchor institution in our community.”

President Jim Ryan (right) addresses business leaders via Zoom and took questions from Senior Vice President Colette Sheehy (center) (Credit: Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce)

Let’s take stock of some population numbers.

In the fall of 1991, the University of Virginia had an on-Grounds student enrollment of around 18,000, a figure that includes both graduate and undergraduate students. Thirty years later, the total on-Grounds enrollment increased to over 26,000. (UVA enrollment statistics)

In 1990, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 68,040 people in Albemarle and 40,341 in Charlottesville. Albemarle’s population has increased to 112,935 as measured in the 2020 Census, and Charlottesville’s official count increased to 46,553 that year. The Weldon Cooper Center at UVA believes that last figure is higher due to an undercount of college towns. Their 2021 estimate puts Charlottesville at 51,079. 

So that’s the total size of the community. When he got here, Ryan put together a working group of community leaders, staff, faculty, and students. He asked them to report back on what the biggest issues are facing the community. 

“One, jobs and wages,” Ryan said. “The second is affordable housing. Third is access to public health. And fourth, youth education.”

Since then, UVA raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour, including a requirement for contractors to do so. That working group became the President’s Council on UVA Community Partnerships

The pandemic put much of the process on hold but the working groups are back. There’s a recent report from the Pipelines and Pathways group which is intended to make jobs at UVA more accessible to people in the community. There’s a Local Economy group seeking ways to improve connections with area businesses. 

“Some of it is just about making that local businesses know about the opportunities to engage in business with UVA so that’s looking at everything from how we select vendors to how we advertise what we’re looking for and what requirements we have,” Ryan said. “But some of it is just making sure that local businesses understand the process and understand that we are very much interested in working with them.”

UVA has also pledged to build between a thousand and 1,500 affordable housing units over the next decade on properties owned by the University or the University of Virginia Foundation. Three sites have been selected and they are the North Fork Discovery Park in Albemarle County, property on Wertland Street in Charlottesville, and the Piedmont housing site off of Fontaine Avenue. 

“We have an obligation to contribute but it’s also in the interest of UVA just as its in the interest of Charlottesville and Albemarle County,” Ryan said. “If you want to attract and retain a talented workforce, you need to make sure that there are places where people can live affordably.”

Under this arrangement, UVA will supply the plan and a private developer will build the housing. Ryan said he would also like to see second-year students living on Grounds and there are plans to proceed, but it will take more construction.

“Right now we have housing for upper-class students but we don’t have enough housing to house all of the second years,” Ryan said. 

UVA’s economic impact

In 2016, University hired a firm to review its economic impact on Virgina and found that there had been $5.9 billion generated by activities across the Commonwealth and 51,653 jobs. President Ryan said it had been some time since that report but the numbers are believed to be holding up. (read the report)

“Visitors coming to UVA and students spend nearly $200 million annually and that in turn supports roughly 2,000 jobs locally,” Ryan said. “It’s not an insignificant contribution to the local economy. It’s obviously not the only thing and we’re not the only game in town but we are a pretty big economic actor in town.” 

From the 2016 report produced by Tripp Umbach (read the report)

The answer to this next question is worth hearing in full.

City Councilor Michael Payne has argued that the University of Virginia should directly pay the city of Charlottesville a form of taxes. Here he is at a budget work session in early February before Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers introduced his budget. 

“It’s longer term but it seems like a discussion we should engage the University on,” Payne said. “I know that’s something that the University of Michigan, Yale, Harvard, and many other institutions have done.”

Here’s the question:

“Will UVA consider payment in lieu of taxes to the city or the county?” Sheehy asked. 

“We’ll consider it,” Ryan said. “This came up just the other day. I think there are likely restrictions on our ability to do this because we are a state agency. So there are all sorts of restrictions on what we can with state funds. Because we are a state agency, when we receive money from Richmond it’s money that they are delegating to us and whether we can turn around and delegate that or allocate that to a locality seems unlikely to me.” 

Another change made during the Ryan administration has been the elimination of a public body known as the Planning and Coordination Council in favor of a closed-door body called the Land Use and Environmental Planning Committee. That group next meets on Friday. (agenda)

Watch the entire State of the Community event on the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s website.

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the March 17, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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