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Peter’s Take: Arlington Economic Development Director Speaks Out

by Peter Rousselot August 6, 2015 at 12:15 pm 1,317 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’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.

In a recent interview (“Arlington Needs to be Innovative Again”), Victor Hoskins–the new Director of Arlington Economic Development (AED)–answered some questions. Based on the partial transcript published last week by the Washington Post, Hoskins offers both promising and questionable approaches to address Arlington’s many daunting economic challenges.

On the promising side, Hoskins recognized that Arlington cannot rest nostalgically on its reputation for having planned well in the past. Dramatic change is needed:

Everything is changing, and we have to change with it or we go down. We’re going down because we haven’t changed. … I loved my BlackBerry. I didn’t want to give up my BlackBerry. But where is BlackBerry now? The competitive landscape has changed so dramatically, conditions have changed. We haven’t dramatically changed.

Hoskins also helpfully provided examples of ways in which excessive micro-management hampers the nimbleness Arlington needs:

  • There was a retail permit in D.C. that used to take four months to get. Now it takes four days. That’s our competition.
  • Do not tell developers what color the grout has to be. Don’t tell them who the tenants should be.

But, there also were telling weaknesses in Hoskins’ presentation. He placed far too much responsibility on County residents for delays in project approval rather than where that responsibility primarily belongs: on County staff. Look no further than County staff’s persistent advocacy for the micro-management philosophy embedded in fatally-flawed proposals like the Retail Plan.

County Board leaders must help Hoskins by making it crystal clear to County staff that in our new, highly competitive environment, Arlington will no longer tolerate the rigid central planning theologies to which too many County staff members cling.

Board leaders also must help Hoskins by clarifying local government policies regarding millennials (those in their 20s and 30s). Hoskins admits “we don’t have a clear vision of where that’s moving.” Arlington has twisted itself into a pretzel by spending millions to attract and retain millennials as residents. Certainly, we want to continue attracting millennials to our community and including them at all levels of our civic life. But focusing excessively on millennials (and their entertainment) at the expense of everyone else is a big mistake.

Workers ages 45-54 generate the highest number of new start-ups, according to the Kauffman Report. The theory that millennials drive the “Creative Class“–a class ostensibly key to urban “vibrancy”–has been discredited.

Conclusion

Hoskins’ fresh perspectives are welcome. The County Board can help Hoskins best by urging him to refine those perspectives into reality-driven policies and streamlined procedures that will encourage businesses and residents of all ages to invest in Arlington.

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