Chamber official details defense sector’s 1.2 billion impact on community

A new study has quantified the economic impact the military and defense sector plays in the region.

“We’re not manufacturing tanks, we’re not doing weapons systems,” said Lettie Bien, the program manager for the Defense Affairs Committee of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We’re not doing weapons systems. This is mostly intelligence, research and development.” 

Bien’s position is funded in part by Albemarle County as part of the Project ENABLE economic development strategy. 

The Chamber commissioned the Weldon Cooper Center to study the impact of the sector. (read the study)

“It was critical I felt that we needed to know exactly what the defense community adds to the bottom line of the county, the county’s economic vitality,” Bien said. “If you don’t know what you have, you don’t know what you can lose and you don’t know how it will impact you unless you have the metrics. I am happy to say that we now do have the metrics.” 

The study was also produced in collaboration with the City of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia Foundation and covers the city, Albemarle, and Greene County. 

“We did include Greene County,” Bien said. “They don’t account for a significant amount but they are growing in the defense arena as well, particularly because they have a defense production zone that their entire county falls into.”

Among other things, that means that the county reduces business license and machine/tools tax as well as regulatory flexibility. 

Defense assets in Albemarle include Rivanna Station, several contractors, and the Judicial Advocate General School at the University of Virginia. Other UVA activity is accounted for as well. 

“Grants, the contracts, the start-ups,” Bien said. “We found all of these bunch of patents that the [Department of Defense] funded that UVA now has. We included veterans, Reserve and National Guard and then there are some other entities that were small but we got as best the information as we possibly could.” 

In all, Bien said there are just under 4,000 direct jobs in the defense industry in the region with over 1,350 indirect jobs. There are another 2,000 “induced” jobs which means those generated by spending by workers in the defense sector. 

One example of a large company in the sector is Northrop Grumman. 

“They have 480 employees and do no work with Rivanna Station,” Bien said. “They work for the Navy and the Coast Guard and the navigational systems that go into ships. About 25 percent of their workforce are veterans.” 

All of this together adds up to $1.2 billion a year but Bien said that number is likely an undercount as more information has come in since the study was completed. It also doesn’t cover spouses of those in the sector. 

Bien said many companies would like to expand but there is concern about whether there is enough space. She said the study will be used to help educate officials about steps can be taken to keep Rivanna Station here should there ever be another round of military base relocation.

“There is a location in the midwest that has already offered [the Department of Defense] a hundred free acres for Rivanna Station to move,” Bien claimed.

Supervisor Ned Gallaway was on the board when the county adopted Project ENABLE. That was a milestone in a county that for many years resisted economic development. 

“This report is an excellent example for folks who want to understand why economic development needs to be a top priority for this Board and our county because it explains wonderfully how when you have an employment sector like this when it goes into the direct, the indirect, and the induced ways that those dollars come into your community,” Gallaway said. “That’s something that we need to understand.” 

Project ENABLE built off a 2012 study that looked at target industries for Albemarle and defense was part of one of the four recommendations for what the county should focus on: 

  • Bioscience and Medical Devices 
  • Business & Financial Services 
  • Information Technology and Defense & Security 
  • Agribusiness and Food Processing

What’s next for economic development? Albemarle County is about to embark on an update of Project ENABLE. Supervisor Donna Price thanked Bien and the Chamber for their work. 

“This is critical information for us to take as we look at the broader economic development of the county here,” Price said.

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 May 10, 2023 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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