District 2 Supervisor




The New Economy


"In 1994 Virginia's economy expanded as government size was frozen and regulatory burdens eased.

In Shenandoah County the government grew and the economy froze."


What is the New Economy?

When most people compare northern Virginia to Shenandoah County, they contrast the successful 'Metroplex' economy to Shenandoah's beauty. In very simple terms, many people think of Fairfax as rich and ugly; and Shenandoah as poor and pretty.

Small wonder. It's generally true and there's a string of counties from Arlington to Shenandoah where wealth looks like a direct result of how built-up and crowded they are. People assumed these were the trade-offs; you either had prosperity or rural beauty, but not both.

It was true when it was based on industrial-age rule and regulations; when the economy was based on a "box" of regional transportation, markets, and labor. For better or worse the industrial age is falling behind us. The slammed doors of Shenandoah County's garment factories are proof, but the stale economic policies and outdated regulations hang on.

We're in a global economy with overnight delivery available from other countries, where products can be supplied cheaper from overseas than can be made locally. The "box" has become irrelevant.

The Lite Version

My factory's closed, the industrial park is still vacant, and there's hardly a decent job left in the county. My kid's learning zilch in school, my property taxes are always going up, and my pickup needs a new muffler. The politicians are out to lunch -- my hound-dog knows more than they do. I know things have to change, but they're going from bad to worse. We need people who understand what's going on. We need to follow Jim Patrick's advise.

  While the new economy has caused hardships like factory closings, it's also opened up new opportunities never possible before. Shenandoah County has the potential to keep its character, and beauty; and also achieve financial success…. if the government adjusts to allow it.

The flip side is that we also have the capability to become an economic backwater of low-grade sprawl. Continuing economic development failure, wasteful over-regulation, and obsolete zoning are pushing Shenandoah County in that direction.

The economy is changing, the stakes are high, and ten years with nothing to show for it but a shell building is a big disadvantage to overcome.

Shenandoah County needs leadership that can think outside the "box"; not use it to hide their heads in. Leaders who can think beyond liquid asphalt plants and sewer lines to nowhere. We need people who understand that robbing Peter to pay Paul is not "stimulating the economy", and that high-tech industry isn't attracted by the area's highest tax rates on high-tech equipment.
Even the old practice of bribing industry to move in doesn't work when the company thinks it will be treated like a cash-cow to be milked for all it's worth. The old industrial markets are going, going, gone. Shenandoah County must change its direction toward the new economy, or turn into a fossil depending on ever-rising taxes.

The clean, efficient, and fast-moving manufacturers of today need partnerships with a government that respects the advantages industry can bring: a wide range of salaries, advancement opportunities, secondary business creation, and educational partnerships. Even without their tax revenue, manufacturers can be a tremendous benefit to the economy and community.
The current policy has had its chance and completely failed to encourage business. Instead it produced a free-spending, oversized government eager to ignore its citizens except at tax time.

We need a change in direction: direction that's in tune with the current state of the market, understands how the new economy can fit into our natural environment, and promotes opportunity in Shenandoah County. Jim Patrick has analyzed our economic development problems and has a coherent plan to change it for the better. We need to follow it.

The Weighty Version

The 21st century is characterized by a globally integrated economy and rapid technological change: Capital, labor, information and technology are more mobile than at any time in human history. Market forces make borders irrelevant, and the factors vital to prosperity flow to areas in the world where they are treated most hospitably.

Shenandoah County faces grave challenges. Our system is based on serving the needs of an agricultural society. It's been updated to meet some demands of the industrial era, but it surely hasn't adapted to the requirements of fast-moving, digital technology in a globally competitive economy.

Unfortunately, our public discourse is still dominated by partisan rhetoric of the distant past, of Republicans vs. Democrats, liberals vs. conservatives. Structural flaws in the system --if understood at all-take a backseat to other interests.

It's time for Shenandoah County to commence a new discourse. We must examine how a global economy and digital technologies transform our county, our communities and our government. We must set new goals and higher standards. We must subject the actions and utterances of our political, civic and business leaders to a critical eye. Most importantly, we must transform our County to improve its prosperity. The stakes are too high to ignore.

Of all the Supervisors, only one has the slightest clue what the words above mean, much less that they are important to our future. We need to follow Jim Patrick's economic development platform.


This article is a light-hearted comment on differing views of the same problems. But it's also disturbingly serious that our current policy simply doesn't "get it" on how the entire world economy has changed the last couple of decades.

 Sincere appreciation to James A. Bacon Jr., former publisher and editor in chief of Virginia Business magazine, for the format and ideas. Mr. Bacon currently publishes Bacon's Rebellion (click), an online resource about Virginia's economy and policy.