Prince William leaders said the future of the region is ripe for economic growth, and that is also one that will continue to be hampered by traffic congestion.
Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman At-large Corey Stewart, Manassas Mayor Hal Parrish III, and Manassas Park Mayor Frank Jones took the stage at the annual "State of Prince William" luncheon in Manassas. The event is organized by the Prince William Chamber of Commerce.
Prince William Today publisher Bruce Potter asked questions of the three men covering the topics of economic development, education, and improving transportation infrastructure.
Parrish said Manassas cut back on economic development efforts during the 2008 recession. In recent years, the city hired Economic Development Director Patrick Small, who developed a new logo and branding for the city: "Historic Heart, Modern Beat."
"We, like other localities did during the recession, cut some services that had to be cut." said Parrish, who added 21,000 people commute to the city each day, while the number of those who leave the city for work has fallen to about 14,000.
It remains a tough go for commuters on Route 28 between Manassas Park and Interstate 66. Jones said thousands of commuters sit in jammed traffic on the road that bridges Prince William and Fairfax counties.
A state plan to widen I-66 won't help unless bridges that cross the Bull Run River are widened, said Jones.
"66 can be widened large enough to put a 747, I don't care, as long we sit behind the Bull Run bridges, we're not going to be able to get any better in improving quality of life and giving hours of life back to people," said Jones.
Stewart painted a picture of economic prosperity for Prince William County, which has seen its population rise to nearly 450,000 residents. Funding for the county school division - the 38th largest in the U.S. - has grown by $81 million over the past four years, said Stewart.
Many of the students who graduate from Prince William County Public Schools return home to find work and start businesses, said Stewart.
"The product of our school system has beocome the number one driver of ecomic development...We're on the edge of a gilded age in Prince William County, and I'm not kidding, this is one hell of a community. If you didn't hear abotu Prince William County 20 years ago, you're going to hear about us in the next 20 years," said Stewart.
tewart points to new biotech and technology businesses opening at
Stewart, a Republican, has served as on the Board of Supervisors since 2006 and is seeking reelection, running against Democrat Rick Smith.
Parrish, a Republican, has served as Manassas Mayor since 2008 and is seeking to replace Virginia State Senator Charles Colgan, who is retiring this year. Democrats are hoping to hold the seat and support Jeremy McPike for the position.
Voters will head to the polls November 3.