Skip to Main Content

Our News

Community Conversations Visits Manassas

The Richmond Fed took its Community Conversations program to Manassas this month to learn how the city and surrounding localities have pivoted to meet business and community needs during the pandemic.

“Manassas is very much a part of Northern Virginia, but has its own identity and somewhat of a small-town feel,” said Renee Haltom, the Richmond Fed’s regional executive for Virginia. “The city has one of the largest Hispanic populations in the state, and we thought it would be useful to explore how that affects the success of its small business climate. The area surrounding Manassas also has the highest concentration of data centers in the world, and we wanted to understand this impact.”

Through Community Conversations, the Richmond Fed visits regions throughout the Fifth District to meet with small groups of stakeholders and learn more about the well-being of those towns and cities. The visits also provide an opportunity for Richmond Fed leadership to share and gather information about the economy. Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin visits the regions in person for socially distant and virtual meetings, while members of the Community Conversations planning team participate virtually.

During the March 2–3 stop in Manassas, the Community Conversations team connected with business leaders and community leaders from Manassas, Manassas Park and the adjacent parts of Prince William County.

Leaders of the nonprofit organization ACTS (Action in Community Through Service) shared their innovative efforts to reduce food insecurity, which include using the Food Rescue Hero app to mitigate grocery store and restaurant food waste by diverting the food to households and food pantries in need. More than 700 volunteers complete about 300 “food rescues” a week. Additionally, the number of food pantries ACTS has been able to assist has soared from four pantries to 75 during COVID, thanks to bulk food purchasing using CARES funding from Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park, as well as from the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program.

The Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, local Small Business Development Center and local authorities described for the Community Conversations team the challenges that small businesses and economic development efforts are facing, as well as the timely ways they are making a difference.

One example is the Hispanic supermarket Todos, which not only offers customers groceries, but also has become a trusted source of wraparound services and information, such as tax preparation and updates about the vaccine rollout and the latest protocols on staying healthy.

“The fact that Manassas has had such unique success among Hispanic businesses led us to host this roundtable,” said Peter M. Dolkart, Richmond Fed Community Development regional manager for Maryland and Greater Washington, D.C. “We wanted to hear from businesses that were on the frontlines and feeling the impact of COVID-19. Some of the businesses had to learn to adapt. One childcare facility, for example, made a decision to accept smaller groups of children. This is a policy they’ve decided to adopt going forward, even after the pandemic. We heard from a commercial real estate person who said that initially the market crashed, but now there is increasing demand for new space.”

Conversations with high tech manufacturers made clear that workforce development remains top of mind, with diligent efforts underway to hire both engineers and those skilled in trades, and to refine their production processes to meet social distance guidelines.

“They’ve found that mentoring new employees and getting them engaged in company culture is just as important as onboarding them — an additional challenge in a more remote environment,” Dolkart said.

A roundtable with members of the Data Center Coalition centered around how leaders in the industry are strategically collaborating to maintain northern Virginia’s status as a national and global leader in data centers.

“This is a job sector that has continued to boom in spite of COVID,” Haltom said. “There is really high demand for data center support and these jobs are mission critical roles. The coalition members pointed out that the internet was born in Northern Virginia, which is a region that has access to stable electrical power and is working to increase the availability of cost competitive renewable energy.”

During a webinar with the Prince William Chamber of Commerce, in which Tom provided an update on the economy, Chamber members shared their need for more trade employees and training programs to help workers left unemployed by COVID transition to open jobs. Manassas recently received an award for using federal CARES Act funding to design a training program called Elevate that offers eligible city residents up to $5,000 for program costs and wraparound services to help them secure retraining.

“We wanted to know what makes this community special and I think we achieved that,” Haltom said. “We heard firsthand why the residents feel passionate about the Manassas community, and we’ve developed relationships as a result of these conversations that have opened the door to ongoing learning and sharing.

Subscribe to News

Receive an email notification when News is posted online:

phone Contact Us

Jim Strader (804) 697-8956 (804) 332-0207 (mobile)