Yesterday the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, with premier partner Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, and co-hosts Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, Loudoun Chamber of Commerce, Prince William Chamber of Commerce, and Northern Virginia Regional Commission, hosted the 8th Annual Northern Virginia Regional Elected Leaders Summit, sponsored by Dominion Energy.
More than 200 business, government, and community leaders from across the region gathered for the sold-out Summit at Marymount University – Ballston Center. The program began with a moderated discussion with Arlington County Board Vice-Chair Libby Garvey, Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair at-Large Ann B. Wheeler, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall, and City of Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson. NBC Washington’s News4 Today Anchor Jummy Olabanji moderated the program.
The regional elected officials discussed commercial office vacancy, affordable housing, Metro, child care, and economic and workforce development. President of Dominion Energy Virginia Ed Baine expressed how pleased he was for the elected leaders to have this conversation, noting in his opening remarks that “this forum is a great sign of regional cooperation.”
In discussing the future of office spaces in the wake of historically high vacancy rates, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson noted that “returning to the office isn’t about just returning to the physical office space. It’s more about collaboration. They are returning for meetings, for collaboration space. The future will be about spaces for people to come to work together.”
While discussing affordable housing, Prince William County Board of Supervisors At-Large Ann Wheeler stated that “local elected officials always have to be asking ourselves, ‘How do we make it easier to work and do business here?’ We have to make affordable housing a priority. Businesses won’t want to come here if people can’t afford to live here.”
On the subject of Metro funding, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall articulated that “the federal workforce in the region relies on Metro. Moving the federal government’s workforce means that Metro is important to U.S. public policy. And yet, Metro is still the only major transportation network that does not have a dedicated source of revenue. We need a dedicated source of revenue from Virginia, a dedicated source from other jurisdictions and a huge influx of funds from the Federal government.”
While discussing child care and attracting workers to the region, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay noted “there are 130,000 open jobs in the Commonwealth. Affordable housing is a major issue for attracting workers, but affordability overall is an issue. We need to look across the board. Affordability is an ecosystem, and affordability of child care is part of that ecosystem.” He added that “an investment in our kids is an investment in our economy.”
Shifting gears to workforce development and expanding on Chair McKay’s statistic, Arlington County Board Vice-Chair Libby Garvey said that “We have got to get everybody into this workforce. Nowadays we have to train young people for jobs that don’t exist yet, but we have the ability to do that, by training them to think, to be intelligent and adaptable.”
Following the Panel Discussion, U.S. Senator Mark Warner delivered the keynote address, discussing his efforts in the U.S. Senate to affect policy regarding home ownership, transportation, and investments into human capital.
He also took questions from Arlington Chamber President & CEO Kate Bates, and returned to the topics discussed by the local elected officials. On the subject of commercial office vacancy, he insisted that “We need to do more to give incentives to bring people back into the office,” while noting that the current economic conditions have been a “perfect storm” for moves toward hybrid work and high vacancy rates for commercial offices.
Senator Warner also praised the dialogue between the local elected officials, stating that “You rarely see this quality of local elected officials anywhere.”
This was the eighth in a series of summits started in 2016, as a collaboration between chambers of commerce from across Northern Virginia.