Leesburg, VA's Becoming a Hub for Entrepreneurs. Here's How.
The Town of Leesburg, nestled in Loudoun County, is known for its charming historic downtown. But a growing entrepreneurial community and a laundry list of current and proposed projects could dramatically change the sleepy bedroom community.
The 258-year-old town has seen an influx of tech startups, small government contractors, and new restaurants and retail shops in the last year, along with two large companies building new, expanded HQs and several mixed-use projects attracting more residents and businesses. The woman behind some of the changes is Leesburg Economic Development director Marantha Edwards, snapped yesterday in her downtown Leesburg office. Her goal is to make Leesburg as relevant and spirited as Loudoun County, which is going through its own transformation.
One challenge is expanding Leesburg from a service-based economy to one of innovation. Marantha considered it a huge win when K2M, a publicly traded medical device company, and EIT, an electronic manufacturing services provider, announced plans to build new HQs in Leesburg. Each will add about 100 higher-paying jobs. The Mason Enterprise Center, a downtown incubator for entrepreneurs, is home to 42 resident companies and 34 virtual companies. And the SBA HUBzone, established in downtown Leesburg, has attracted 30 new companies, with 200 jobs, in the last two years. Marantha says the HUBzone has been useful for small contractors, who get preferential access to government contracts. Downtown has also turned into a hub for independent restaurants and now Marantha’s working with like-minded organizations and artists to make downtown into an arts and culture center.
Makersmiths has also generated entrepreneurial activity by people interested in building their own products and prototypes. The 3k SF space, which opened this year, is full of high-tech equipment, mostly donated or on loan from members, for woodworking, sewing, 3D printing and engineering. Founder Pat Scannell says the space has attracted so many members that he may have to expand to larger space when the lease is up in six months. Tucked in an industrial park in Leesburg, Makersmiths has also hosted events for adults and children interested in technology and engineering.
One of the bigger projects coming to Leesburg is Lansdowne Development Group’s Crescent Place. The 12-acre project in downtown Leesburg will include 330 residential townhomes, stacked condo townhomes and live/work units, along with 32k SF of retail and commercial space. Delivery is slated for next summer. Other Leesburg developments include the former Eiffel Tower restaurant (above) being converted to an office building with residential units above. Outside of downtown will be a Lowe’s, which recently broke ground on a 103k SF store with an additional 90k SF of retail and restaurants. Leesburg South is in discussion with town officials for 400 single-family homes and retail over several acres, also outside of downtown.
The big question is how Leesburg can compete successfully with Loudoun and other nearby jurisdictions, says Paladin Real Estate principal broker Jim Sisley. New projects like One Loudoun in Ashburn are also eating into Leesburg’s retail and restaurant business, adds Jim. One answer is to add higher-density, single-family attached housing within walking distance to downtown, he says. Projects like Crescent Place deliver more Leesburg residents, which is necessary to create a more attractive and competitive retail offering in town, Jim adds. Marantha adds that continuing to add bigger companies is tough considering that the nearest Silver Line stop will be five miles away from Leesburg, and the town doesn’t have the infrastructure for big office users. But she remains optimistic about Leesburg’s momentum. And perhaps residents are happy with Leesburg's "soul."