The city of Williamsburg’s unemployment rate dropped by almost 2 percent over the last six months of 2006, according to statistics released by the Virginia Employment Commission. In December 2006, the Williamsburg unemployment rate was about 5.1 percent, a statewide rate of 2.7 percent and 4.3 percent nationally.
p. The overall statistics, however, can be misleading. According to Art Batten, office manager of the Williamsburg Area Employment Commission, because of the relatively small workforce within Williamsburg City, the Employment Commission generally looks at James City County as a whole.
p. “Overall, our area, [James City County], remains right at the same unemployment level as Virginia and well below the national rate. Williamsburg is a pretty good place to be right now,” Batten said.
p. He explained that the Williamsburg area’s employment rate is largely driven by student and tourist impact.
p. “Over the past three years there has been a trend [in unemployment rates] that has been pretty regular. [The unemployment rate] will spike in January when seasonal employment ends. It drifts down in May when people get jobs at Busch Gardens and Water Country, then it will spike in June and drift back down after August when the students return,” Batten said.
p. The College is the city’s top employer, followed by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and the Foundation-owned Colonial Williamsburg Hotel. Sentara Health care and Aramark Campus, in charge of food supply and distribution for the College, round out the top five.
p. As a major employment force within the community, the College, with its 7,544 students and 763 faculty members, also contributes to the local economy through spending. According to a study by the Wessex Group posted on the Office of Economic Development’s website, the College and its partner, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, contributed $301 million to the Williamsburg area economy and generated 3,371 jobs within the area between 2004 and 2005. Students and visitors added over $41 million to the local economy.
p. “The community is looking at ways [to try] to bring the right mix of facilities to the campus area. For example, there are not many clothing stores that cater to the college crowd, so we are always looking for those types of stores for the area,” Batten said.
Additionally, the College is active in the economic development of the Williamsburg area. The Foundation for William and Mary is a partner in the construction of New Town, the mixed-use development off of Route 199 that incorporates shops, restaurants and housing into one location.
p. For the 2006 to 2007 school year, the College has also identified economic goals including increased student retail opportunities and a plan to place the School of Education on the old Sentara Hospital grounds.