Expanding Economic Opportunity for Everyone
Arlington is a great place to live. Our unemployment rate is 2.2%, our residents are among the most educated in the country and our median household income ranks 5th in the nation. Our economy reaps the benefits of regional assets and services that put us in a good position for years to come.
But despite these solid economic indicators, we also face challenges. Our commercial vacancy rate has hovered between 17 and 20-percent for the past 5 years and we continue to face the challenge of attracting businesses as neighboring jurisdictions become increasingly competitive. More broadly, the economy is also shifting away from office buildings and empowering highly skilled employees to work from home. And this is just one way the workplaces of the 21st century will change the calculus for localities, such as Arlington, that rely heavily on commercial tax revenue.
Our Economic Foundation
Despite challenges, are are still fortunate to enjoy a nearly even split between commercial and residential property tax revenue, reducing the tax burden on our neighbors. Our strong commercial tax base in particular has been vital to maintaining our core county services and providing economic opportunity for residents. We can also count the undergrounding of the Orange Line as a contributor to strong commercial investment in Arlington and an example of beneficial long term planning that we should keep in mind. And with higher property values in Arlington, these factors have allowed us to have residential property tax rates below those of our neighbors in Fairfax and Alexandria.
Embracing Innovation and the 21st Century Economy
Arlington must realize that teleworking is not a temporary trend, but a long term shift that will transform our economy. 20-percent of Arlingtonians currently work from home at least one day per week and this figure will only continue to increase. As Arlington Economic Development works to bring businesses into the county, we must explore innovative ways to leverage our high quality of life to retain investment right here.
We should embrace the green-tech economy and innovative sectors such as software companies, building on our educated workforce, university consortium and proximity to federal agencies, which will continue to be major players in green technology over the medium to long term.
Opportunity for Small Business
The County Board should take a proactive role in reducing office vacancies and encouraging small businesses to drive economic growth for residents. We should do so with a clear analysis of the costs and benefits for the county in each decision that we make. Financial incentives are just one tool at the Board’s disposal and are only appropriate if the benefits outweigh the costs.More often, communicating with businesses to find bottlenecks that hinder investment and working to find constructive solutions will be the best approach. We must take a holistic approach that considers the needs of businesses, barriers to further investment and quantifying the community benefits of investment of growth.
My work as a city attorney for cities in Texas and California provided economic development experience. In Virginia, Leadership Arlington and the Sorenson Institute have equipped me with the tools to implement economic development policies that are based in good judgement and informed by a well rounded consideration of community needs. I look forward to discussing other aspects of economic opportunity, such as:
– Enacting regulatory reform and streamlining business processes;
– Addressing office vacancy rates;
– Balancing community needs with corporate incentives