by Nicholas Minor, Director of Economic Development & Tourism

While the COVID-19 pandemic is on top of everyone’s mind, I would like to shed some light on the initiatives the economic development and tourism department are still working towards. We want to inform our county residents about how the economic development and tourism department is serving our small businesses during this tough time. Furthermore, highlight how our business community is continuing to give back even during this outbreak.

Prior to the Coronavirus outbreak in March, we were seeing strong economic activity. There were ten projects we were working, most of which were concentrated in the manufacturing sector. Our project breakdown was six manufacturing projects, three information technology projects and one energy project. With the majority all coming in January and February of 2020. For a county with a population of less than 30,000 that is good by most standards. These projects are generated by our state and regional partners whose job it is to recruit and attract businesses to the region. Projects have certain parameters that localities must have in order to compete. Once King George County qualifies for a project, then it becomes an elimination game. King George can be eliminated for multiple reasons, but it primarily comes down to location, site readiness and workforce availability. Site readiness may vary from state to state, but in Virginia we evaluate sites on a 5-tier system. Tier 1 is raw land with an interested seller, tier 2 is a site controlled and marketed for development. Tier 3 is a site zoned commercial or industrial with due diligence completed. Tier 4 is a site verified and certified infrastructure ready, infrastructure includes water and sewer, access to power, broadband, and natural gas if needed. Tier 5 is what we call “shovel ready” with everything previously listed, but with permits in place. Workforce availability is about diversity of population, diversity in education, skillset and demographics. The workforce component is also based in the type of industry the project is, for example, an aircraft manufacturer would not expand to our region of the state without a cluster of similar existing businesses.

Naval Support Facility Dahlgren is a massive contributor to our local economy and has tremendous potential with the intellectual property they control. Along with the Fredericksburg Regional Alliance and Technology Department of Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWC), we are working hard to stand up programs to capitalize on their patents. This initiative is called Technology Transfer, essentially this is the process of marketing intellectual property owned by the Navy to private businesses for commercialization. The most recent example of this was with a patented soap held by NSWC called Dahlgren Decon. Dahlgren Decon ended up being licensed by First-Line Technology, which in turn commercialized the product and is now being used by first responders to sanitize equipment against the opioid and fentanyl problem in America. First-Line Technology has since expanded and is now an active partner in our business community. What we hope to do is create several more projects like First-Line by streamlining the process by which we expose businesses and entrepreneurs to the types of exciting technology that NSWC is creating.

Capital does not attract workforce, but workforce attracts capital, which is why my department is working hard to get Rappahannock and Germanna Community Colleges to open a workforce center or standalone campus in King George County. King George has several job openings for Department of Defense related positions and its contracting supporters, most in information technology and cybersecurity. Many of these positions do not require four-year degrees but do require a two-year certification. This can be an easy fix, but demand has to be proven and the investment has to be worth it. Naval Support Facility Dahlgren puts hundreds of millions back into our local and regional economy and it is concerning that our residents must drive 45 minutes to an hour east or west to get trained for jobs in King George. Online training can be a solution, but job seekers have to know these occupations exists and that there are available jobs. We are still in the early stages of these conversations, but we feel confident that the Community Colleges want to expand in King George, it is all a matter of capital, cooperation and time.

Our local economy is getting hit hard by the Coronavirus outbreak. This is primarily due to the social distancing and closures of nonessential businesses mandated by the Governor’s executive orders. While these practices are critical to the public well-being, it’s hard not to feel empathy for the small business owners throughout King George. My department sent out a COVID-19 Business Impact survey and the responses were scary to say the least. 82% of respondents reported a loss of 10% or greater, the other 18% reported no change. 57% of respondents reported a change in operating capacity. 21% have reported either a reduction in hours or layoffs. 56% of respondents reported an interest in Small Business Administration (SBA) loan assistance. There are more data points we measured in this survey, but these are the most telling. It is important to state that no DoD contractors responded to this survey which is a significant amount of our small business community in King George. Small business defense contractors are relatively safe from an economic standpoint, due to the fact that most of their workforce can telework. However, teleworking causes a ripple effect to our local restaurants, retail, and hotel businesses that depend on the bases weekly draw. They are being severely hit and I urge our residents to order online, get carry-out, and support these businesses the best they can. My department will begin a marketing campaign in attempt to drive traffic to these businesses in the coming weeks.

This survey allowed my department to get the business owners that are being hit the hardest the kind of information and resources they need to stay afloat for the time being. We have been communicating frequently through the various channels we control. Whether it’s email, social media or the COVID-19 Community Resources page that is updated weekly on the economic development page on the County’s website. Thankfully, our partners at the Fredericksburg Regional Alliance, University of Mary Washington’s Small Business Development Center and various economic development departments throughout the region are constantly sharing information and resources that we can get out to our respected businesses. Virginia’s Small Business Development Center has been my trusted resource for all information pertaining to state and federal programs. They host free webinars on a weekly basis that include a breakdown of the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) process and what businesses will need to apply. Tips on how to manage your workforce while teleworking, financial planning during a crisis and many more. For a small department like ours these websites have been crucial.

Federal government support during this crisis is absolutely needed. The EIDL and the newly signed CARES Act could not come soon enough. There has been some confusion between the EIDL and Paycheck Protection Program (P3), but the primary difference is that the P3 is administered by an SBA approved lender and can be forgiven. The EIDL must be applied to through the SBA directly. They both require that borrowers use the capital for fixed debts like a mortgage, lease, taxes, and payroll, but there are significant differences in the amounts that can borrowed and how it’s ultimately applied. This is where our local and state Small Business Development Centers are at their best, they have expertise to walk our businesses through the process and explain the various differences between the two.

I think it is important to highlight some of the great things King George County businesses and organizations are doing during the COVID-19 pandemic. NSWC Dahlgren reached out to my department as well as other regional organizations to assist the community in response to the outbreak. We happily connected their team with our regional healthcare organizations, and they are collaborating on ways to help. Simventions, a local small business defense contractor with an office in Dahlgren has extended their software development skills to assist the community. Bloomia Flowers, located in King George County, did operation tulip drop where they delivered thousands of tulips to downtown Fredericksburg after delivery cancellations were made at grocery stores. These are just a couple of examples of King George County making an impact even in the toughest of times.

For business owners suffering from this sudden economic crisis we urge them to contact the economic development and tourism office. We are a bridge to the policy makers and a facilitator of information and resources. We can help answer questions about the newly signed CARES Act, the SBA EIDL program and employee benefits. If we do not have the answers to your questions, we can connect you to the people who do.

In closing, my department would like to thank our community partners for all their assistance these past weeks. We want to thank our Board of Supervisors, County Administrator, Sheriff’ and Fire and Rescue departments for their guidance and leadership. Stay safe and remember to shop local when you can. We have much to be proud of and more to look forward to in King George.