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Peter’s Take: Startup Arlington a Worthwhile Experiment to Address Office Vacancies

by Peter Rousselot — August 18, 2016 at 12:15 pm 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.

The Virginia Association of Counties recently granted an achievement award to Arlington County’s Startup Arlington program.

Discussion

Startup Arlington is an innovative program. It has generated valuable information about factors that might motivate tech startups to move to Arlington or launch here.

Arlington must continue to bring down its 20.2 percent office vacancy rate. Each one percent in that vacancy rate translates into $3.4 million in lost tax revenue. A continued vacancy rate in the 20 percent range threatens to shift about $800 a year in property taxes onto the average Arlington homeowner.

Startup Arlington Concept

When it began in 2015, Startup Arlington was a competition organized by Arlington Economic Development (AED) to “encourage startups or potential startups on the cusp of finding their first office space to consider Arlington for that first office.” A local extended stay hotel agreed to provide the competition winner with complimentary hotel space for three months, and a local co-working space agreed to provide office accommodations. A local law practice agreed to offer ten hours of legal counseling for the winner, and transportation partners provided access to public transit.

The only costs for the County were those on taxes paid on the hotel lodging and nominal advertising fees, approximately $3,500. The entire value of the program was estimated at $15,450.

Publicity

The existence of the program was publicized via a variety of media, including social media channels estimated to reach more than 180,000 users. A total of 78 companies from 14 states and 13 different technology industries submitted completed applications. Applicants were judged based on criteria ranging from how the company would benefit from locating in Arlington to growth potential and business plans.

To be eligible, applicants had to be (1) from outside the greater DC metropolitan area (thereby avoiding poaching regional companies) and (2) a founder and/or CEO of a technology-based company.

Winning Applicant

The program produced one winning applicant. That winner was Montana-based Oppleo. This company offers a cloud-based software called Sikernes that helps defend against cyber-attacks. Oppleo’s founders relocated to Arlington in November 2015. The company still remains in the area.

Lessons Learned

Various real estate companies and residential complexes have contacted AED seeking more details regarding how AED marketed the program to potential applicants. They expressed an interest in marketing their properties/area to the same entrepreneurial audience Startup Arlington reached.

AED’s business development group cultivated several leads regarding companies that are being tracked to understand when they grow to the point of needing commercial space. AED sees Startup Arlington as an ongoing program providing ways to reach out to company founders who previously may have been unaware of Arlington’s resources and opportunities.  The program also can serve as a catalyst to form new collaborations with Arlington’s existing business and hospitality communities.

Conclusion

An important report by the 2030 Group identified seven private sector clusters (including cybersecurity) that are the most likely to generate the most significant future regional economic growth, and therefore be most likely to generate new demand for office space.

AED can help Arlington showcase its strengths in this highly competitive regional economy by continuing to analyze, publicize and exchange information obtained from worthwhile experiments like Startup Arlington. Repeating the Startup Arlington competition should remain an option.

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