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June 27, 2008

Business leader gives Austin vs. Aspen update

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20080621-GaryHenry On June 21, 2008 local businessman Gary Henry gave his “Austin vs. Aspen” development presentation to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Democratic Breakfast.

Henry, a Board member of the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council, is continuing his efforts to call attention to a fork in the road that he sees approaching for the area’s future; one branch leading to an economically and culturally diverse city with a healthy middle class (Austin), the other leading to a ritzy retirement and tourism community where only the wealthy can afford to live (Aspen).

Henry began his presentation by examining the current perception of Charlottesville, citing numerous national magazines that have awarded Charlottesville high marks in various “best place to live” rankings, but also referencing local articles that bemoan the economic struggles of the middle class in the area. Henry listed characteristics of Charlottesville that he said match those of Aspen, Colorado (environmental beauty, attractive to retirees) and Austin, Texas (large university, strong arts community).

According to Henry, if the region’s planners do not take action, greater Charlottesville will slowly drift towards the Aspen model, attracting more and more wealthy retirees until those providing services in Charlottesville will not be able to afford to live there. He advocates the pursuit of the Austin model, and his suggested method is the creation of a strong technology presence that would attract young, middle class workers to counterbalance the area’s aging population.

Henry told the audience that technology firms pay high wages, with a positive impact on the local economy. The ideal company would have upwards of 25 employees, size  that would fit neatly within the area’s current infrastructure.

“Sixty-five percent of the difference in economic success for regions is accounted for by the growth and presence of technology industries,” Henry said, citing study from the Milken Institute.

Henry closed by detailing the steps local governments could take in order to achieve his vision, and stressed the importance of cooperation between counties and cities in the region with each other and with businesses. Henry said that if the region didn’t take proactive steps in the near future, “then I fear we’re going to be on that default path which will look more and more and more like Aspen, Colorado, something I would not want to have happen to the area. I think we could be a lot more like Austin- a lot more diverse, and a lot more economically viable.”

Watch the video:

Ben Doernberg

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