Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Many parts of our region have experienced a renaissance since I moved here six years ago. Neighborhoods once viewed as stagnant and neglected are being reimagined and revitalized. We see new destinations for employers and employees — around new transit stops or in areas where land is cheaper and road networks available.
New “it” places to work, live, meet friends and even to start families are coming onto the scene each year. Shaw, the D.C. neighborhood where I used to live, is but one of many examples. Young adults living in these neighborhoods are becoming engaged in their communities and putting down roots.
Will Arlington be able to keep pace? We have depended on a strong commercial sector to create great schools, fund popular services, build a safety net for those in need, and balance corridor growth with desirable neighborhoods.
I love Arlington, chose to live here, and have become a true advocate. Yet my enthusiasm for our diverse, enjoyable and convenient way of life is increasingly met with skepticism by colleagues who choose to remain downtown. And young adults who want to move outside of the District are increasingly looking beyond Arlington.
They will meet my enthusiasm for Arlington with remarks like “You’re just trying to rationalize” or “Why would I want to live there when there are so many other cool options?”
Whether we like them or not, these opinions matter. These are young people who are starting businesses, buying homes, energizing community organizations, and spending money at local shops, restaurants, and bars. They are the human capital upon which a county’s success is dependent.
Even as Arlington has attracted millennials over the past decade, we are now at risk of losing out to increasing successes of our surrounding jurisdictions. We’re surrounded by aggressive competition on all sides for business and employees — not just the hip D.C. scene but also Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince George’s County. Tysons Corner alone will expand dramatically over the next few decades with a vibrant, livable downtown based on transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly development.
Similarly, our neighbors in Alexandria just secured a $50 million loan from the Commonwealth to build a new Potomac Yard Metro station that will support up to 26,000 new jobs within a quarter-mile of the station.
What drives the growth in each of these places is vibrant economic development that meets the needs of growing new companies and a workforce that places greater emphasis on mobility, flexibility, social responsibility, connectivity, and convenience.
These economic and social drivers motivate people of all ages and backgrounds to build communities that celebrate inclusion, opportunity, innovation and diverse interests.
In these changing times, we can no longer bank on our location near the District, lower rents, and reliability of federal and government contractor jobs as the keys to success. With reduced federal spending leading to commercial vacancies, we must be more creative in diversifying our economy, much as Gov. Terry McAuliffe is doing at the state level.
Our county leaders recognized this new economic reality in their January statements. We need them to take this problem very seriously and to tackle it aggressively.
This is why I’m excited about the appointment of Victor Hoskins as Arlington’s new economic development director. Hoskins has worked on economic development as both Deputy Mayor of Washington, D.C., and as the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Prince George’s County. He has shown an ability to get things done in the region. He also has a solid understanding of how our neighboring communities–and competitors–plan and position themselves for success.
As Director Hoskins gets to work, he’ll undoubtedly understand that Arlington must work quickly and effectively to attract new businesses, entrepreneurs and workers, especially to our transit corridors. Success will require us to move beyond political gridlock, but strong economic development can play a role in helping put solutions above politics.
I hear often a mantra that Arlington should retrench and retreat, focusing instead on narrowly defined core services of government. Maybe some believe that we can enjoy growth while retrenching. I disagree. Arlington needs to update what it has done before to develop a thriving economy — prudent investments, innovative economic development, educational opportunity, and transit infrastructure. And we need to recommit to the values that made us a leader but are now being adopted by our competing jurisdictions.
I do not want to retrench and narrow our focus. I want to work hard and build a community. I want to make sure that Arlington stays in the game.
Dakotah Smith is the Arlington Young Democrats’ Party Representative and active with the Long Branch Creek Civic Association. He is also a volunteer firefighter / EMT in Prince George’s County and President of The University of Texas alumni DC chapter.