City boards consider long-term opportunities for economic growth

Staff writer

North Carolina-based consultant Crystal Morphis presented a list of recommendations to bolster and diversify the city's economy to the Planning Commission and Economic Development Authority at a joint meeting Wednesday.

Morphis, founder and CEO of Creative Economic Development Consulting, was contracted by the city to develop an economic development strategic plan for the two city boards. The plan will be finalized, she said, and will be incorporated into the 2019 comprehensive plan being developed by the Planning Commission, which will serve as a policy guide for the city during the next five years.

The study was intended to meet several objectives set in the recently adopted Goals, Initiatives and Outcomes document, including retaining existing businesses in the city and fostering a diverse portfolio of economic drivers.

Over the five-year span of the draft plan, she suggested the city invest in friendlier resources to attract more small business owners to the city, work on retaining local college students to enter the city’s workforce post-graduation and support the city’s economic tent poles, which include tourism, hospitality, education and health care.

Morphis also suggested the city collaborate with the College of William and Mary and Thomas Nelson Community College to better connect students to local industries through job fairs and a “how to start an internship” program for employers.

“Where students intern, they are more likely to stay, so helping to support internship programs and helping businesses understand how best to start an internship will help connect students to the community,” Morphis said.

Planning Commission member Caleb Rogers agreed, saying the city can work with local employers and colleges to correct a common perception among William and Mary students that don’t see the city as a place to start a business.

“From a student perspective -- wrongly in my opinion -- Williamsburg is not seen as an entrepreneurial city, but I know that just one talk from a small company here in Williamsburg could quickly change that perspective and really get students considering working during the school year here and staying after graduation,” he said.

Morphis also said city offices should work to make the process of establishing a small business in Williamsburg more accessible for first-timers. One way to do this, she said, would be by creating a “small business concierge” position within the Economic Development Office that would consolidate the many documents and regulations that go into starting, expanding or relocating a business.

“When you have a small business liaison or concierge service at the city, it’s almost like a single point of contact to walk you through the problems you need to solve as a small businessperson,” she said.

Board members supported the idea of a concierge position that would make the prospect of a starting a new business less intimidating for first-time entrepreneurs.

“When you put a title like a business concierge that will help you locate here, that really sets a marvelous tone for the businesses that are thinking of relocating from a neighboring jurisdiction,” Planning Commission member Greg Granger said.

The economic development plan will be modified and brought back before Planning Commission for approval at a future comprehensive plan meeting.

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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