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Progressive Voice: Moving Forward with Progressive Development

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Sally J. Duran

Arlington is a dynamic place and a lot of economic development happens within our small borders.

Our economy is fortunate to be powered by technology and innovation companies, federal government agencies, higher education institutions, small businesses like neighborhood coffee shops and big newcomers like Nestle.

However, maintaining a robust and diversified local economy doesn’t just happen; it requires a progressive development strategy that holistically considers many aspects of our community. How does Arlington stay resilient and attractive through all kinds of challenges? How do we ensure both large and small businesses stay competitive – and viable – for the future? What does it truly mean to have “progressive development” in a local economy?

It’s something Arlington has faced many times over the years, and it’s something we at the Economic Development Commission (EDC), a citizen advisory commission set up to monitor Arlington’s economy and make policy recommendations to the County Board, often consider when planning for the future.

Arlington has a growing technology sector and diversified corporate community along with the federal government, commercial business, non-profit and international communities. It’s no surprise that Arlington has access to one of the most educated and sought after workforces in the nation.

Our balanced and stable fiscal base allows for highly competitive tax rates that in turn provide world-class services and amenities to Arlington residents, businesses and visitors. The high incomes and low unemployment rates of our residents enable us to attract quality cultural events, excellent restaurants and varied retail establishments.

We have a long tradition of welcoming those from around the globe, and Arlington is supportive of varied lifestyles.

Our attractive economic landscape hasn’t just happened; it’s the result of careful planning, community engagement and aggressively addressing challenges such as those that arose in the past decade.

In 2008, the EDC created an economic development strategic plan to address the significant impact to the county’s commercial vacancy rate that resulted from the federal government’s decision to relocate federal tenants out of leased space in Arlington.

What we didn’t realize at the time was that subsequent federal government budget reductions would further erode the federal presence in Arlington. Equally significant changes were happening in the private sector. New ways of working — teleworking, 3rd spaces, hoteling, etc. — would shrink the per worker footprint in our office buildings across all markets and transform the definition of “workplace.” Clearly, we faced challenges that were neither fully anticipated nor understood a decade ago.

Nonetheless, Arlington’s economic development strategy has evolved thoughtfully in response to these changing dynamics. As a result of careful planning, we’ve maintained Arlington’s triple-AAA bond rating and balanced fiscal base with an approximate 50/50 commercial/residential split in property taxes — which is what’s key to Arlington’s economic prosperity.

The 50 percent commercial/residential split is unique to Arlington and means the taxes paid by commercial property owners play a major role in funding the varied parks, excellent schools, well-maintained bike trails and other amenities we are fortunate enough to enjoy.

And it really demonstrates why strategic, progressive development that continues bringing businesses of all sizes to Arlington is so important for our local economy. After all, each percentage of commercial office space that stays vacant represents a $3.4 million annual loss to our tax revenues.

With the current office vacancy around 19 percent, this annual tax loss is having an impact and is starting to affect our County coffers, as evidenced by the County Manager’s Proposed FY 2019 Budget.

We’re now moving forward by advancing a dynamic economic strategy to utilize our market forces in creative ways. As outlined in the EDC’s recent strategy report, our plan will help Arlington prosper in an economy that emphasizes entrepreneurship and innovation by taking advantage of our business infrastructure, location and unique neighborhoods, as well as our existing talent, companies and universities.

The plan will seek to bring in new establishments, retain existing businesses and expand our marketing globally.

We want to continue helping our small businesses grow and thrive and attract larger companies to fill those critical office vacancies. Most importantly, we want to be sure our economic strategy reflects our community values and retains Arlington’s small town charm and big city amenities.

Sally J. Duran is the chair of the Arlington Economic Development Commission.

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