Building Business and Community
A letter from Elizabeth Cromwell, President and CEO of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, published in albemarle magazine, April/May 2021.
One of the most significant contributors to our local economy is the defense/intelligence sector, and more than 2,500 federal workers are employed locally by the US Army National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC); the US Department of Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA); the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA); and the US Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) School. In addition, approximately 2,000 intelligence and defense contractors are employed in the private sector.
Together, these jobs represent an estimated annual payroll of $1 billion for our region. These generally well-paid employees live, work and play here and contribute significantly to our community’s tax base.
The purpose of the Defense Affairs Committee (DAC) of the Chamber is to foster economic vitality by strengthening the alliance of relationships among Chamber members, the regional defense and intelligence community and our municipalities. By working together to strengthen these relationships, the DAC solidifies this crucially important part of our economy.
According to Helen Cauthen, President of the Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development and Executive Director of Virginia Careerworks - Piedmont Region: “The shared investment in the DAC helps all of our organizations support our defense industry, one of the Partnership’s targeted industry sectors. We want to be sure we help our existing defense-related companies remain and grow here as well as keep a strong military presence at Rivanna Station.”
The City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and Greene County are all deeply engaged in the work of the DAC. According to Alan Yost, Director of Economic Development and Tourism for Greene County, “Greene County has been directly impacted by the work of the DAC in strengthening the collaborative efforts of the local military, defense businesses, veterans, and the localities.”
In 2018, Albemarle County’s Economic Development Strategic Plan, Project Enable, envisioned that the Chamber hire a professional to focus on the retention and expansion of the defense industry. Many other organizations agreed on that need. Accordingly, the DAC recently established its first full-time position in support of defense intelligence enterprise advocacy in the region with investment from the public and private partners.
In July of 2020, the Chamber engaged US Army Colonel Lettie J. Bien (Ret.) to become its first DAC Program Manager. Col. Bien has quickly worked with the DAC leadership team to build strategies, tactics and shared successes.
Among its many accomplishments, the DAC has recently:
- Established a welcome/reception center for incoming, existing and transitioning military personnel, local veterans and their families. This welcome center is housed at North Fork, home to a large community of federal contractors supporting the mission of NGIC/DIA/NGA at Rivanna Station, through the generosity of the UVA Foundation.
- Published resources lists to connect the business community with the defense community and our military veterans with local discounts, companies that give hiring preferences to veterans, and more.
- Significantly updated the Welcome Packet for new arrivals at NGIC with local community assets and useful information.
- Created several volunteer working groups to engage our business community with our military partners.
- Provided support to the Albemarle County JROTC.
The DAC has momentum, enthusiasm, and a shared vision for success. But beyond this committee’s mission and tasks, I’d like to highlight an important milestone. Through this endeavor, we are witnessing a confluence of goals for many organizations across the region that honestly have not always been 100% on the same page. Multiple cities, counties, regional economic development partners, academic partners and the private sector are not only in agreement that the Chamber’s vision for a vibrant economy is crucial — but they are investing in that vision.
By collaborating and building common goals and shared successes, the Chamber’s role as convener becomes obvious and natural. Shared investment for shared success is a plan worth replicating in other parts of our economy.