Economic development chiefs largely optimistic, despite headwinds

Inter-jurisdictional cooperation is bolstering regional economic development efforts, but several challenges — including a dysfunctional Metrorail system and housing and worker shortages — still need to be overcome, region officials said May 17 at the Economic Forum. of the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce.

While coasting frequently, panelists said working together has improved the region’s prospects.

“We really believe in ‘What’s good for one of us is good for all of us,'” said Telly Tucker of Arlington Economic Development. “We call it ‘co-oper-a-tition.'”

David Kelley, director of national business investment for the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, agrees.

“We are stronger together than we are apart,” Kelley said.

Buddy Rizer, executive director of the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development, said regional relationships have been “tremendous.”

“Each of us brings something different to the table,” Rizer said.

Panelists shared how their jurisdictions handled the stress of the recent pandemic. Many employers in Arlington are federal agencies and contractors, and while these entities were able to adapt quickly to the pandemic’s changing work environment, the street businesses that catered to these workers have suffered, Tucker said.

Companies that have performed better during the crisis tend to have a strong online presence, he said, adding that e-commerce initiatives have “unlocked a whole new market of consumers and customers”.

Fairfax County has promoted business development in Reston, the Highway 1 corridor and Springfield and hosted “virtual” job fairs and a career fair with Fort Belvoir, a major employer, said Kelly.

Loudoun County began restructuring its economy 15 years ago during the 2007-08 recession, Rizer said. Seeking to no longer overly rely on residential property taxes, county officials focused on landing data centers. Loudoun and Prince William counties now have the world’s largest concentration of such facilities, he said.

Prince William has land available for industrial uses and is recruiting life science companies and e-commerce distributors as well as data centers, said Christina Winn, executive director of the Prince William County Department of Economic Development. .

“Our goal is really to become an economic powerhouse,” she said.

Now that home and workplace have become heavily intertwined in the pandemic, Prince William officials are cultivating more community spaces where the public can relax and socialize, Winn said.

Stephanie Landrum, president and CEO of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, said strong neighborhoods were a big part of the city’s economic resilience during the pandemic crisis. Amazon’s decision to place its second headquarters in Crystal City has also improved the region’s economic situation, she said.

But upward pressure on housing costs is the “biggest threat in this region” and needs to be mitigated, Landrum said.

Due to housing shortages and drastic changes in the office market during the work-from-home pandemic, several regional jurisdictions are exploring the possibility of converting vacant commercial buildings into housing.

“We have office buildings that frankly will never be used again,” Landrum said.

Fairfax County officials are among those seeking such conversions and the shuttered Sheraton Premiere Hotel in Tysons will likely be one of those sites, Kelley said.

Federal tax credits are available for commercial conversions to residences, said Tucker, who added that Arlington County recently approved a $150 million loan to preserve some affordable housing.

Dominion Energy’s Peggy Fox hosted the program, which took place at the Fairview Park Marriott in the Falls Church area.

Several panelists expressed exasperation with the continued problems with the Metrorail system and delayed the implementation of the second phase of the Silver Line between Reston and eastern Loudoun County.

“We hope the metro system can pull itself together, but we are all committed to it,” Landrum said.

Rizer was concerned about the ongoing economic turmoil, including high inflation, and said many companies were operating on thin margins, which made it difficult to adjust to higher costs and upward pressure on customers. wages.
“I have a lot of worries about the economy now,” he said.

Some sectors of the economy – such as the restaurant industry – have struggled to hire employees in recent years, but other areas are poised to take off in terms of jobs, panelists said.

Several large health care facilities, including a new Inova Alexandria Hospital on the site of the former Landmark Mall, will provide thousands of jobs, Landrum said. Residences for the elderly are also starting to appear everywhere, she added.

David Kelley (center) of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority makes a point during the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce Economic Forum on May 17, 2022, at the Fairview Park Marriott in the Falls Church area. He is flanked by Jason Hawkins (left) of George Mason University and Buddy Rizer (right) of Loudoun County Economic Development. (Photo by Brian Trumpeter)

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