Posted on 02/24/20 by Telly Tucker
Unless you’ve been vacationing on a remote island in the Coral Sea for the last 18 months, you know that Amazon is now in the process of bringing its coveted second headquarters (HQ2) to Arlington. The deal promises at least 25,000 jobs and filling more than four million square feet of office space here over the next decade. There’s been a lot of fanfare and quite frankly, an assumption that we as economic developers can now pat ourselves on the back and go home. Mission accomplished. But nothing could be further from the truth.
As I and my predecessors here at AED have maintained, Arlington County has been facing a serious problem when it comes to office vacancy. At its height, the vacancy rate teetered around 21%. What does that mean for the average Arlingtonian? Look at it this way: each percentage point of office vacancy represents roughly $3.4 million in County tax revenue. That’s revenue that goes to fund many of the County programs and amenities that Arlingtonians need and want to see more of – things like additional funds for even greater schools, excellent parks and infrastructure improvements. In the last few years, Arlington has had to tighten its collective belt a bit due to that office vacancy. We’re making progress. At last count the vacancy rate hovered right around 16%, and newer industries like Amazon and Nestlé ramp up their workforce, that will continue to improve, but we’ve only just begun.
Before BRAC, before modern workplace occurrences like teleworking or hoteling, and before expanded Metro service that provided greater accessibility to communities further out in Northern Virginia, Arlington’s office vacancy rate was relatively steady at around 10–12%. A lot has changed since then, both in the workplace and the way companies conduct business overall, and communities have struggled to keep filling spaces at an equal pace. Think of it this way. A modest growth rate of just 1% per year would add up to higher numbers than the entire Amazon deal. Does it help? Absolutely. Does it mean we can settle down and just enjoy the status quo? Definitely not.
Our team here at Arlington Economic Development is out there every day, working to highlight competitive advantages to doing business here and to make connections with new businesses at every level who’ve expressed interest in locating in Arlington. Some have learned about our business community through the Amazon announcement. Some are excited about the tech hub that’s growing here. Some want that proximity to the nation’s capital. We’re working with businesses of every size – something I believe is critical to the next phase of development for our economic diversity. Even more importantly, we’re getting out there to listen and partner with the businesses who are already here in Arlington and finding out what they need in order to continue to grow and succeed. It’s an exciting time, to be sure, and I’m honored to be at the helm. Above all, we want people to know – Arlington is still open for business.Topic: Economic Update, From the Director