As a professional economic developer, I’m often asked by my fellow Arlington residents and business owners about the importance of economic development.
After all, we have a thriving community with notable businesses, excellent schools, a highly educated workforce, an unemployment rate of 1.7% and beautiful parks and green spaces. What else do we need?
Well, the problem is that our commercial vacancy rates are too high and we need to continue to broaden the commercial tax base. Arlington’s 2018 4th quarter vacancy rate is at 17.2% (which is significantly better than the almost 21% in early 2015), and it could take up to 10 years or more before we can reach a baseline level of 10%.
Arlington County lost 34,000 jobs since 2001 due to the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC), corporations right-sizing and the increased mobility of their workforce. Even with Arlington Economic Developments efforts to strategically market the county to attract new businesses, retain our existing business base and encourage our businesses to grow and expand, it takes time to recover.
So why do vacancy rates matter? And most importantly, why does it matter to you? The majority of Arlington’s taxes comes from either the commercial or residential property taxes collected.
Those taxes are what funds the services that we all enjoy as Arlington residents. Historically, Arlington is unique because our tax base is derived from almost 50% residential and 50% commercial. In most other communities the residential tax base carries the weight — which means the people that live there pay higher taxes.
If our commercial office buildings are vacant with no occupied businesses (currently almost 1/5 of the 40 million square feet of office space is empty), then that means Arlington County is not collecting as much property and business taxes, which puts pressure on the general fund in providing the services we all enjoy.
Our schools, transportation systems, parks and human services struggle for limited funds. Luckily, the recruitment of Amazon will go a long way to help broaden the commercial tax base and increase tax revenues to fund these services.
So yes, economic development is important to you. As an Arlington resident, I want to continue to have top-notch public schools for my kids. I enjoy our beautiful and convenient parks and enjoy that my trash is picked every week.
As a result, we will continue to market Arlington to attract new companies. We will expand our engagement programs to retain our existing employers and help them expand and grow. We truly understand that our mission is to generate revenue for Arlington County, and every program, service and project is focused on that goal.
Every time you read in the paper that a new business has located to Arlington, be excited because that means their taxes are paying for your services.