The economic well-being of our City is always of paramount importance, but never more than now, as we face the major challenge of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. While we have to deal with our recovery in the short-term, we cannot lose sight of long-term economic strategies.
Rather than focus economic development efforts heavily on real estate development, we need to shift our strongest efforts on recruiting businesses and tourism.
Many local employers look outside the City to hire talent, because it’s almost impossible to find qualified workers here. Similarly, employers locate their businesses where the talent pool exists, oftentimes outside the City. We must find new ways to attract employers to the City, which includes developing a local talent pool trained in a variety of trades and professions that pay a living wage.
A related issue: our school system ranks near the bottom state-wide in terms of high school graduation rates. Some students leave school out of necessity, taking low paying jobs to help support their families. Others may graduate, but without the tools or training required in a competitive job market.
Clearly, we must give our children the resources, training and education they will need to earn a living wage. At the same time, we must find new ways to attract employers to Fredericksburg.
To solve both challenges, I will advocate for the establishment of a workforce training institute, offering students the chance to graduate high school not just with a HS diploma, but an Associates Degree in a specialized career. Similarly, we need to focus on adult learning centers. These projects will require buy-in from local colleges and universities, paid internships provided through local employers, support from City Council and the School Board, and funding from a variety of public and private sources.
I am ready to help small businesses face their challenges, and work with City Staff and other Council members to create innovative short-term recovery and long-term economic development strategies. With bold action, a vision of the big picture and a sharp eye on the details, we can do this. It’s time.