Wineries, other county attractions boost sector employment by 400 percent
Don’t look now Rappahannock County, but you’re experiencing explosive job growth of 400 percent in the tourism and hospitality sector.
In 2015, Rappahannock County supported 241 jobs in the hospitality and tourism industry. In 2000, the number stood at 60.
That according to employment data compiled by the U.S. Cluster Mapping Project, led by Harvard’s Business School’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness in partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Economic Development Administration.
The eye-opening findings for Rappahannock County, which since 2000 has enjoyed the largest employment growth in hospitality and tourism of any of the 22 counties in the 5th District of Virginia, were singled out in a new comprehensive economic development plan released by Democratic congressional hopeful Roger Dean “RD” Huffstetler.
“The region’s natural beauty and proximity to D.C. make hospitality and tourism a logical cluster to target for growth,” Huffstetler writes. “Rappahannock experienced the most dramatic growth, seeing a 400 percent increase in jobs in the cluster.”
He says that the new jobs are helped being driven by overnight “accomodations, tied closely to the area’s numerous vineyards, distilleries, and breweries.”
“Madison and Rappahannock have population densities among the lowest in the district,” Huffstetler notes, which generally means fewer employment opportunities. But as the tourist draws have increased here in Rappahannock — wineries, breweries and distilleries to restaurants, specialty shops and art galleries — so obviously have the hospitality jobs.
Last Saturday’s Yeaster festival in Sperryville, for example, drew several thousand people, many of them visitors from outside Rappahannock.
The candidate’s economic plan also points out that in contrast with the rest of Virginia, a “disproportionate” number of employees in Rappahannock work for small businesses, which isn’t surprising given the county’s rural makeup and strict zoning.
“In Rappahannock, for example, six of every ten employees work for a micro-business, close to four times the Virginia average,” says Huffstetler, one of four Democratic candidates seeking his party’s nomination to challenge incumbent Republican Rep. Tom Garrett in the fall. “I support tax reform that rewards small business owners who are willing to take risk and expand economic opportunity.
“We have to make sure that folks have the tools, skills, and resources to start or grow their business,” he states.
His plan suggests that Rappahannock and points south through Charlottesville should continue to promote hospitality and tourism, with forestry being a strong economic driver in Southside Virginia.
As for future economic prosperity in the county, Huffstetler says internet access and cell service are vital.
“Lack of high-speed broadband internet and mobile signal is the chief impediment to economic development in Madison, Rappahannock, and much of Fauquier,” he says. “Whether it’s to complete a research project for school, communicate with co-workers across the country, or process a credit card transaction, internet access is critical for folks to be able to participate in the modern economy.”
The candidate says he’s committed to expanding both broadband and mobile networks through federal assistance programs, including through the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Agriculture.
“I will coordinate with local entrepreneurs and businesses to ensure they are aware of the resources the federal government can provide them and engage with local educational institutions to learn about ways they can train workers with the skills they need to work in telecommunications,” he states .
As for one final intriguing fact, Huffstetler points out that “Rappahannock and Fauquier are the two most exurban counties in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Statistical Area.”
Exurban is defined as a region or settlement that lies outside a city and usually beyond its suburbs that is often inhabited by well-to-do families.