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Peter’s Take: Encouraging a Civic-Minded Business Community

by Peter Rousselot April 9, 2015 at 11:45 am 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotIn a recent Progressive Voice column, the author observed:

“If we want to move forward with new school construction, family-friendly parks, a properly staffed police department, and a safety net for those less fortunate, we must continue to encourage the presence of a strong and civic-minded business community.”

I agree. Recognizing the substantial regional economic headwinds that are beyond the control of county government, there are some concrete steps that our government can take to encourage the presence of a strong and civic-minded business community.

Arlington Economic Development

This past December, the county hired Victor Hoskins as the new Director of Arlington Economic Development (AED). He has an impressive résumé. He could bring a much-needed fresh perspective to enable Arlington to attract and retain businesses.

However, Mr. Hoskins has joined a county staff whose past practices and budget priorities raise a whole host of questions, including:

  • Does Arlington do any sort of exit interviews when it learns of businesses leaving Arlington? If so, what are the most common comments and lessons learned?
  • Starbucks is planning to open soon on Columbia Pike at Penrose Square. Chipotle also is close to signing a lease for a Pike location. What is AED planning to do to capitalize on these developments? What specific Columbia Pike business development initiatives does AED plan in FY 2016?
  • A recent Washington Post story highlighted Monday Properties’ empty Rosslyn office building at 1812 N. Moore Street. The story quoted a company spokesman as saying “he has not considered lowering the rents he’s asking.”  “Pricing has not been an issue,” he claimed. Say what? How can we ask county taxpayers to contribute millions more in public funding for AED’s economic development efforts when private developers are unwilling to respond to market forces by reducing their rents?

County Staff’s Business Unfriendly Retail Plan

Earlier this year, only the vigilance of a small number of citizen activists, combined with the strong opposition of the Arlington Civic Federation, prevented the adoption of a County-staff-proposed “Arlington County Retail Plan.”

The staff plan contained overly-prescriptive, business unfriendly provisions, including:

  • Allowing only a limited number of options for street-level retail (such as preferring restaurants while banning personal services) from prime locations;
  • Using detailed maps specifying a small set of retail uses supposedly appropriate for each indicated spot on the map, while offering no discernable demographic or economic analysis to support the designations.

Conclusion

The County Board must help AED director Hoskins by adopting new policies that

  • root out existing County staff practices and procedures that discourage business, and
  • encourage private developers and other businesses to participate fairly in addressing the challenges facing Arlington

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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