Building A Modern Rural Economy

For decades, shopping malls and retail centers had an important economic advantage over Main Street. It wasn’t parking—the first thing that comes to mind. Nor was it the cheaper prices that come with buying in huge volume, although that certainly is an advantage.

It’s marketing and business recruitment. When space becomes available in a commercial center, it’s someone’s job to fill it with a business whose style and scale is compatible with the overall vision of the place.

For many years, counterparts in the public sector were less common. When a small industrial space or retail store closed or moved, a building sat until either an energetic realtor helped find a replacement, a new local business opened, or, by happenstance, a business looking to move found its way to the street.

As any salesperson will tell you, nothing sells itself. If a shopping mall can invest in a person to market a brand and build relationships to benefit the bottom line, it seems sensible for local government to do the same.

After all, maintaining a stable local tax base and promoting a vibrant quality of life—which, in turn, attracts more business—is one of the jobs of local government. But, it’s no secret to Clarke County business owners that for years one strategy for preserving Clarke’s rural character was to shun a lot of business growth.

It’s understandable. Those were urgent times. Change was occurring so rapidly that putting a rural conservation infrastructure was top priority. Leaders and residents had to work together, knock heads a bit, and agree on a rural future—not grasp despairingly for a rural past.

Now, say county leaders, it’s time to welcome businesses that embrace who we are. Enter Len Capelli, appointed as the new economic development and tourism chief by a joint committee representing the Town of Berryville and Clarke County.

Capelli brings 40 years of experience to the job, working with local governments and as manager of the Commonwealth’s business development effort. “There are ways to attract businesses, the right businesses, without changing the character of the county,” Capelli told the Observer.

Tourism is clearly part of that equation. Choosing which segments of the tourism market to focus on, facilitating collaboration among business to reach them, and making sure the county has some basic infrastructure to accommodate them are essential. For example, if bicycle tourism is a compatible market segment, what do we need to serve those tourists? Bike racks seem like a starting point.

Having economic growth that’s compatible with a place rarely comes by accident. It takes a lot of work facilitating among all the parties with a stake to stick with the vision, knowing that good things can come when we do.

Having a professional of Capelli’s experience on board is the right place to start. Read more on page 5.