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Peter’s Take: Improving Arlington’s Business Environment

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 RousselotHow can Arlington improve its business environment?

In a recent column, I highlighted steps the Arlington County government should take to encourage a civic minded business community. That column explained why Arlington needs to improve its business environment in order to meet its public facilities challenges.

This column continues that discussion. It is based on input from a business owner who moved a business from Arlington to Fairfax. Among this owner’s key observations are these:

  • How does a business benefit from locating in Arlington, or remaining in Arlington? My checks were quickly cashed, but I never received a message of appreciation for remaining in Arlington nor congratulations for growing a business year-after-year. What can the County offer businesses? Perhaps appreciation is the most affordable thing. How about a pleasant phone call from time to time, an email that connects them with a county business liaison if they have questions, an offer to discuss business futures with them, or inviting them to seminars and gatherings?  It’s a conversation worth having.
  • The County knows how much in gross receipts taxes and BPOL taxes every firm pays. They can easily tell which ones are increasingly paying more in taxes. They could then connect and engage. Applications for occupancy permits for new office space could provide yet another opportunity to make meaningful contact with businesses that are growing and staying in the County.
  • When I called the Arlington Economic Development office to ask for help finding new office space for my growing company, I was told to contact a local commercial real estate agent. When I left a year later, no one ever called me about the motivations for my decision. So market retention is at least equally important to economic development because you don’t have to fill empty office space if the business stays in Arlington. The County needs to implement changes based on what they’ve learned from exit surveys — if they actually do them systematically (or even retroactively).
  • If more than 50 percent of all new businesses in Virginia are woman-owned, perhaps understanding the psychology of women business owners would make a difference in how the county does business with them. This is an opportunity for the county to offer customized help to small, woman and minority owned businesses.
  • It’s widely acknowledged that small businesses are the backbone of the economy, and yet in Arlington it seems that only large businesses and federal leases get the attention.  While we’ve listened to the sad story and witnessed the very real impacts of BRAC relocations, small businesses are being ignored.  Small businesses pay their share of taxes, too.  Why don’t they get meaningful attention or assistance?

Arlington: are you listening?

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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