The Falls Church Economic Development Authority (EDA) agreed at its meeting this Tuesday to send a letter to the Falls Church City Hall requesting a major boost above the currently recommended allotment of federal Covid relief funds to go to businesses in the City.
It was noted that of the sum of $18 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds coming to the City, City Hall has preliminarily recommended that only $500,000 to $700,000 go to aiding local businesses who’ve suffered under and need relief from the 18-month Covid-19 pandemic.
Tuesday night the EDA board determined that it would request $2.5 million instead.
“It’s time the City government puts its money where its mouth is,” argued EDA board chair Bob Young, a local developer. He made an impassioned plea noting that the City has “done very little” for the business community here in the last decade, even as it has approved a series of large scale mixed use projects that are the dominion of major regional developers.
He and board member Jim Coyle noted that the urgent needs for businesses, especially retailers and restaurants, include the loss of employees during the pandemic who have not come back. Overall, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nationally, data shows that four million persons exited the labor force in July 2020 alone following a peak reached in April, all despite the fact that effective vaccines are now available.
The terms, “The Great Resignation” and “The Big Quit,” have been coined to describe the loss of manpower that is bedeviling retailers and restaurants nationwide since this April, including in Falls Church, where one prominent restaurant blames its inability to open for lunch except on weekends on a lack of staffing, and the same goes for the big new Harris Teeter in downtown Falls Church which, as part of the chain’s national policy, has gone from being open 24 hours a day to closing nightly at 11 p.m, and now 9 p.m.
There are lots of other cases and the causes nationally have included having to deal with a global pandemic, major supply chain disruptions, emergency orders closing all but nonessential workplaces, transforming businesses to remote work and addressing the medical and mental health needs of employees.
It is expected, but not guaranteed, that these issues will be addressed to bring the workforce back completely. But someone should be monitoring the growth of one-person lemonade stands popping up around the Caribbean.
In addition to the concerns for more high-profile local businesses, Young suggested, the City “also needs to pay attention to the needs of small businesses that are not on the ground floor around town.”
Factors such as adequate day care centers need to be examined to get more workers back in the labor force, too, Young pointed out. “We need to do things that will help keep businesses alive that will have long-term impacts.”
Businesses who would qualify for ARPA funds, the board suggested, would be those with a minimum of $50,000 in annual gross receipts who experienced a 20 to 80 percent drop in revenue during the pandemic. There would be a random lottery and applications would be made online to eliminate undo manpower burdens at City Hall.
Becky Witsman, of the City’s economic development office, said, however, that there’s been some “push back” on this request, based on doubts around whether or not businesses “really need the money.”
F.C. Councilman Letty Hardi, who was present at the virtual meeting Tuesday, expressed her support for doing more for the local businesses. She and her Council colleagues will begin making decisions on the allocation of the federal relief funds at their next business meeting next Tuesday.
Also at the EDA meeting Tuesday, Mill Creek’s Joe Muffler reiterated specifics of plans for the Founders Row 2 project that won a narrow 4-3 preliminary approval last week.
The plan was much better received by the EDA, which rebuffed the concern of some on the Council that there is not enough commercial in the project that 280 apartments are planned, 12 percent of which would be affordable.
The value of voluntary concessions to the City would be $41,000 per residential unit, Muffler noted, and net annual tax revenues to the City could range from $433,000 to $660,000 and even potentially higher.
Ed Salzburg of the EDA noted that in these times, higher commercial components actually result in lower net revenues to a jurisdiction and Hardi, who voted for the preliminary approval, cited that it is not the quantity, but the quality of the commercial component that matters most.