The Right Note: Special Favors?

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

According to the Washington Post report on emails released under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Washington Business Journal, Arlington County officials created a “cozy” working relationship with Amazon and developer JBG Smith.

“We tend to go to great lengths to find areas of cooperation.” Those were Christian Dorsey’s words describing his approach to attracting Amazon.

The emails and text messages showed that Arlington officials provided Amazon representatives with a copy of questions they planned to ask at a public hearing on the deal. Board member Erik Gutshall provided all of his questions.

The Post story went on to report that “Arlington officials helped tailor communications, delay a request for an expansion of a higher-tax business improvement district, and arrange hearings in front of friendly civic and business audiences.”

The existence of such emails and a friendly reception by county officials should not come as a surprise. It was no secret that Arlington was making a significant push to land the retail giant.

It does give Arlingtonians a look into the kind of relationship the county created with Amazon. You can then compare it with any experiences you had with county officials when trying to discuss an issue in your neighborhood, get a permit, or work within (or around) confusing county rules and regulations. Did county officials “go to great lengths to find areas of cooperation” with you?

Newest Board member Matthew de Ferranti seemed to suggest this may be a signal that the county was taking a new tone toward business saying, “For a long, long time, Arlington was alleged to be too oppositional with business.”

If the county is aggressively seeking to clear unnecessary hurdles to running a business here, it is good for Arlington. If it is merely a shift in attitude toward new, big employers, then the county still has work to do. Arlington should be known as a place that serves its current employers well, not just as a place working to attract new ones.

Maybe the Arlington Chamber of Commerce could anonymously survey its members to see if existing businesses are seeing positive changes?

Amazon’s presence is likely to help bring down the commercial vacancy rate by attracting related employers. For example, the University of Maryland may be looking to bring a hub to Crystal City according to a Washington Business Journal story this week. However, Arlington officials must work to create a more competitive business climate overall.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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