Many small businesses in Arlington are hurting amid the pandemic, and that’s on top of some of the unique issues faced by Black and female business owners.
That was the topic of a pair of discussions held by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) in Arlington on Friday (Feb. 4)
Over heaping plates of Doro Wat and injera, Warner met with local Black business owners at Dama Restaurant on Columbia Pike to discuss ongoing challenges they face and how the government can help them with better access to capital.
In attendance at the lunch were business owners from across Arlington and Northern Virginia, including the owners of Greens N Teff on Columbia Pike, Elliot DeBose from Sol Brothers Candles, Idido Coffee House owner Sofonias Gebretsadick, and Lauren A. Harris of Little Ambassadors’ Academy on Langston Blvd.
Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey and Arlington Economic Development Director Telly Tucker were also there.
The 45 minute conversation ranged from Covid-related federal loan programs, the need for mentorships, how to simplify access to capital, and discrimination towards Black-owned businesses.
Prior to the discussion, Warner talked about how he failed twice as an entrepreneur prior to hitting it big in telecommunications. He said he understands what it takes to be a business owner, but only from his own perspective.
“I am very aware that if I had not been a white man with appropriate education, I might not have had three chances to be an entrepreneur,” he said to the crowd of about 20 business owners. “Or two chances to be an entrepreneur. Or maybe even a first chance.”
One of the biggest challenges that kept coming up was not the availability of federal dollars, like Paycheck Protection Program loans, but easier access to it. That means simplified applications and improved messaging and communication, to make sure minority-owned small businesses are aware the dollars are out there.
Harris, owner of the nearly decade-old Little Ambassadors’ Academy preschool, said her biggest criticism is confusion about how to access capital. With her being very focused on the day-to-day of her business, Harris said it’s difficult to navigate all the paperwork and to know where exactly she needs to turn for help.
“I think as a small business owner it is very hard sometimes to figure out where the support comes from,” she said.
Questions like what’s forgivable for loans, which funds have the longest lead time, and which business over 50 employees can apply are often on Harris’ mind, but clarity of answers can be lacking.
At one point in the conversation, a recommendation of creating a “one stop shop” type of website where all available grants, loans, and programs are listed was mentioned, in which Warner agreed needs to happen.
Beakal Melaku, co-owner of Greens N Teff, said the restaurant’s experience as a brand new business points to the need for additional help marketing and reaching customers. Money to do that would go a long way, he says, but he’s unsure where to turn for that.
The question of child care came up often at both the the business roundtable at Dama and at the AWE Women in Business Summit that was also attended by Warner on Friday.
Local Home Sales, Prices Up — “The average price of a detached, single-family house that sold in Arlington County, Virginia, in December was $1,258,648. That is 17% more than the average price a year earlier, according to the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors.” [WTOP]
Crystal City Office Tower Sells for $188M — “The building at 1400 Crystal Drive, totaling 308,000 square feet, was sold in late December by affiliates of Lincoln Property Co. for $188.5 million, or $612 per square foot, to Starwood Capital Group, according to Arlington County property records.” [Washington Business Journal]
Metro GM/CEO Retires — General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul J. Wiedefeld will retire from Metro in six months, after more than six years running the regional transit agency. [WMATA]
More Water Main Breaks — From Arlington DES: “An unusually intense winter has triggered an above-average number of water main breaks, often during the cold, dark early morning when most people are asleep. Saluting the folks who respond. They’re not in it for the glamour. #TheOtherFirstResponders.” [Twitter]
Larry Finch Plaque Likely Coming to Zachary Taylor Park — “The proposal emanated from the Donaldson Run Civic Association to honor Finch (1933-2020), who lived in Arlington from 1966 and 2013 and was active in civic affairs – especially in the parks and ecological arena – for much of that lengthy period.” [Sun Gazette]
Gas Leak Closes Street — A natural gas leak in Crystal City closed S Eads Street for over an hour Tuesday morning as Arlington County Fire Department waited for utility crews to assess the situation. Buildings were checked and no gas was detected. [Patch, Twitter]
Small Business Program Launches — From Arlington Chamber of Commerce: “We are proud to launch our Small Business Accelerator Program, presented by Amazon. As the Presenting Sponsor of this program, Amazon will sponsor half of the membership dues to verified Small, Women and Minority-owned (SWaM) businesses located in Virginia joining the Chamber for their first year of membership.” [Twitter]
It’s Wednesday — Today will be mostly sunny, with a high near 47. South wind 9 to 11 mph, with gusts as high as 23 mph. Sunrise at 7:23 a.m. and sunset at 5:15 p.m. Tomorrow we’ll see rain and snow before 1 p.m., then a slight chance of snow. High near 38. North wind 10 to 13 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible. [Weather.gov]
Longtime Local Business Leader Dies — “Longtime Arlington Chamber of Commerce president and civic leader Rich Doud passed away Dec. 9 at Virginia Hospital Center, the chamber announced Friday. Doud served as president of the Chamber for 23 years before retiring in May 2014. Among his many accomplishments were the creation of the Arlington Business Hall of Fame — to which he was enshrined in 2017 — and the Community Action Committee, and the establishment of Leadership Arlington, now known as Leadership Center for Excellence.” [InsideNova, Sun Gazette]
Televised Tree Lighting in Rosslyn — “The Rosslyn tree lighting was live on 7News Thursday evening with live music. Rosslyn Cheer 2021 includes the tree lighting, a holiday market at Central Place Plaza, raffles, and other giveaways.” [WJLA]
Former County Board Member Dies — “[Roye] Lowry, who served a four-year term on the Arlington County Board in the early 1960s (chairing it for a year) and later was active in a host of civic affairs, died Dec. 4, Goodwin House officials confirmed to the Sun Gazette. He was 103 years old – probably the longest lived of any person who has served on the County Board since it was established in the early 1930s.” [Sun Gazette]
Top Brunch Spots in Arlington — “Everyone knows that weekends are better with brunch, and in our area, it’s easy to find a spread to suit just about any taste or budget. Check this list of local brunch spots in Arlington to satisfy that midday hankering for dishes ranging from corned beef hash to waffles stuffed with apples, plus coffee, cocktails and other requisite hangover cures.” [Arlington Magazine]
It’s Monday — Today will be clear throughout the day, with a low of 38 and a high of 54. Sunrise at 7:18 a.m., sunset at 4:46 p.m. Tuesday will be mostly cloudy, with a low of 38 and a high of 55.
Flickr pool photo by Cyrus.W
‘Tis the season for charity, as year-end giving campaigns and holiday donation drives ramp up.
This year, with Thanksgiving and Christmas on the horizon, two dozen local nonprofits have listed what they need to serve their clients this holiday season.
Contribution opportunities include providing essentials to people in affordable housing, transitional housing and recovery programs, supporting the arts, feeding people and animals and helping nonprofits provide STEM programming and assist job-seeking clients.
- Assemble holiday gift bags filled with fun items such as fuzzy socks, craft supplies and a gift card for teens and senior citizens in AHC’s programs.
- Donate education tools for AHC’s youth. Purchase gifts from AmazonSmile through AHC Inc.’s Wish List.
Animal Welfare League of Arlington
- Donate food and supplies from our Chewy Wish list so pets and their families get the resources they deserve to stay together.
- Donate items from our Amazon Wish list to give shelter animals the care they need or even a special surprise this holiday season.
Arlington Arts Center
- Donate two foldable wheelchairs for visitors who may need assistance during their visit.
- Donate painting supplies for gallery walls (roller covers, painters tape and drop cloths).
Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC)
- Register online to organize a food drive to help AFAC collect food for Arlington families struggling against hunger. AFAC will provide boxes and will pick up the donated food.
Arlington Free Clinic
- Donate a $25 Target gift card so that patients who are parents can buy holiday presents.
- Donate lotion and hand cream for patients who visit during the cold, dry months.
Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing
- Donate household supplies, such as toiletries, for our Household Essential Pantry.
- Donate winter clothing accessories for Holiday Seasonal Drive, such as children’s face masks, gloves, scarves and hats.
- Empower and celebrate an Arlington case manager or social worker by donating a gift — such as a gift card, office supplies, an experience or an accessory — for their holiday surprise care package.
Aspire! Afterschool Learning
- Donate an Amazon gift card in any amount for student program needs and family support.
- Donate an item from Aspire!’s Amazon Wish list.
Bridges to Independence
- Donate towels for families in need of shower supplies.
- Donate pots and frying pans to families in need of kitchen supplies.
- Donate used laptop or desktop computers for us to refurbish and give at no-cost to our low-income adult job-seeking clients.
- Donate computer mice and external cameras for recipients to participate in Zoom meetings.
- Donate cloth face masks and personal hygiene products for seniors in our assisted living residence.
- Support Culpepper Garden’s Daffodil Bulb Drive by ordering a reusable bag of 25 select daffodil bulbs to keep or donate back to Culpepper Garden.
ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia
- Assist our move from the Courthouse area to National Landing in January 2022.
- Donate a SmartBoard interactive display to use in our new accessible meeting room at our new location.
Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation (JBLF)
- Check out JBLF’s Amazon Wish list and help elevate the lives of low-income moms this holiday season.
National Capital Treatment & Recovery (formerly Phoenix House Mid-Atlantic)
- Donate socks or winter gloves to an adult struggling with substance use disorder.
- Donate travel-size items for hygiene kits (such as toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant and shampoo) for an adult struggling with substance use disorder.
New Hope Housing (NHH)
- View NHH’s Amazon Wish list at for items to donate which can serve our guests at the Residential Program Center (RPC).
- Donate gift cards from Giant, Safeway, Walmart or Target in $25 increments. These make great welcome home gifts for our guests who move out of RPC and into their own place.
Operation Renewed Hope Foundation
- Donate new bath towel sets: one large towel, one hand towel and one or two washcloths.
- Donate a bagless vacuum cleaner.
- Donate a new twin-size bed bundle, such as sheets and a blanket, to an adult seeking warmth this winter at our Homeless Services Center.
- Donate Glucerna Protein Shakes to an adult managing their health and wellness in our Medical Program.
Restoration Immigration Legal Aid
- Donate Walmart gift cards for asylum seekers and vulnerable immigrant children to buy food and holiday gifts for their families.
- Donate essential hygiene items for the most vulnerable immigrants in our area.
- Donate a space where Rosie Riveters can hold paid and free after-school and weekend STEM programs.
RPSVA’s Arlington Peers Helping Peers in Recovery
- Donate winter gear (such as hats, heavy socks, gloves, blankets and sleeping bags) for homeless adults.
- Donate snacks and bottled water for homeless adults.
The Clothesline for Arlington Kids
- Prepare a student for winter weather. Donate new winter coats or lightly used coats in excellent condition. Particular need for adult sizes for teens.
- Put a smile on a kid’s face. Donate new sneakers.
Wreaths Across America
- Sponsor a veteran’s wreath to be placed on the headstone of an American hero laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery this National Wreaths Across America Day (Saturday, Dec. 18). Each $15 handmade, live balsam wreath is placed by a volunteer and sponsored by an individual.
Another APS Sexual Harassment Incident — “The most recent case of sexual harassment being discussed on social media happened at Swanson Middle School. Students told their parents two weeks ago cheerleaders were being called sexual names and having their body parts touched inappropriately during the school day. The Swanson Middle School principal sent out a letter alerting families… Some say that was only revealed after the community caught wind of the incident which makes them now question — how many situations are not brought to light?” [Fox 5]
Two Libraries Reopening on Sundays — “The slow resumption of Arlington library hours continues on Oct. 31, when Central Library and the Columbia Pike branch will resume Sunday service for the first time since the onset of the pandemic. Those two libraries will be open 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays.” [Sun Gazette]
Tree Falls Near Wakefield HS — “First tree down across a road that we’ve heard during [Tuesday’s] windy weather… This is reportedly at 25th Street S. and S. Dinwiddie Street, a couple of blocks from Wakefield High School.” [Twitter]
Activists Decry Tree Loss from New Homes — “Arlington County Board members say they will take under advisement concerns that a quirk – critics call it a loophole – in the local zoning ordinance encourages developers to clear-cut certain lots to maximize the footprint of new construction out of proportion to surrounding homes. The matter was raised by activist Anne Bodine at the Oct. 16 County Board meeting.” [Sun Gazette]
More Trees to Be Removed from Water Park — “The board voted 5-0 on Oct. 19 to approve modifications to the plan for the waterpark (located at 1601 Crystal Drive and now being rebranded as National Landing Water Park) that will see seven additional trees removed from the site, while one tree that previously had been slated for removal will be retained… Removing these trees ‘is not ideal,’ acknowledged Olivia Sontag of the county government’s Department of Planning, Housing and Community Development, but staff concluded it represents a fair tradeoff for a package that includes the planting of 11 additional buffer trees.” [Sun Gazette]
Chamber to Help Teach Financial Skills — ” The Arlington Chamber of Commerce is proud to announce the launch of a new program to support early childhood education providers in partnership with 20 Degrees. The Early Childhood Financial Resiliency Accelerator focuses on teaching child care providers the business and financial technical skills necessary to maintain and to grow their businesses and on building a community of practice among child care providers. The program will be available at no cost to the participants thanks to support from Presenting Sponsor Amazon as well as the PNC Foundation.” [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]
TV Station Broadcasts from Outdoor Lab — “The Phoebe Hall Knipling Outdoor Laboratory is a 225-acre facility in Fauquier County that provides a natural classroom for Arlington Public School students. The Arlington Outdoor Lab is designed to give Arlington students an opportunity to learn science, outdoor skills, arts, and humanities in a natural setting. Brian van de Graaf takes us to Broad Run, VA for a look.” [WJLA]
It’s Wednesday — 🍃 Today will be breezy, but less so than yesterday. It will start mostly cloudy, then gradually become sunny, with a high near 67. Northwest wind 13 to 16 mph, with gusts as high as 26 mph. Sunrise at 7:30 a.m. and sunset at 6:13 p.m. Tomorrow, it will be partly sunny, with a high near 63.
Arlington County says it will explore ways to make it easier for restaurants to establish or expand outdoor dining after the pandemic ends, according to a county report.
During the pandemic, the Arlington County Board approved a temporary way for restaurants to circumvent the normally lengthy county process for getting an outdoor dining permit. Many restaurants debuted outdoor seating over the last year to make up for the indoor space lost to social distancing requirements and give guests a safer dining experience.
Since then, the County Board has amended the outdoor dining ordinance to expand it and mold it to changing circumstances.
In December, the Board granted restaurant and bar owners the ability to set up temporary outdoor seating areas (TOSAs) in common areas, such as plazas. When capacity restrictions were lifted this spring, the County Board gave restaurants a way to request temporary certificates of occupancy (TCOs) for their TOSAs so they could operate the seating areas while operating at full capacity indoors.
The county report said staff will be looking to see if some aspects of the program could be worked into the regular outdoor seating approval process. It did not include a timeline for this inquiry.
“Specifically, staff will be working to commence a strategic exploration of whether certain flexibilities provided as part of the TOSA program initiated in response to the COVID-19 emergency should be incorporated into established regulatory provisions for outdoor dining,” it said. “This future process will have a robust engagement element and would also include public hearings prior to the County Board’s consideration of any recommended policy or regulatory changes that might result from the study,”
All this is being considered in the background of a technical change that will give restaurateurs a little leeway in phasing out the outdoor seating when the local pandemic emergency is declared over.
When the county passed a continuity of governance emergency ordinance last spring to keep government and business operations afloat, it said any flexibility allowed by the ordinance, such as TOSAs, would expire six months after the declared end of the emergency. But in reality, the document’s section on TOSAs said they expire with the declared end of the emergency.
On Saturday, the County Board is slated to consider advertising a public hearing to amend the ordinance so it’s clear that eateries also have six months to phase out the seating.
“In addition to providing consistency with the Ordinance and continued support of Arlington’s businesses, this proposed amendment will also ensure that food establishments are not required, immediately at the end of the emergency, to make significant changes to their operations and allows time for business planning,” the county report said.
Kate Bates, President and CEO of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber supports this change but urged the county to get cracking on the study of permanent options.
“Given the time it will take for Arlington County to set the rules for permanent, expanded outdoor dining, and the further time it will take for restaurants to adapt to new rules, the Chamber encourages Arlington County to advance its work on making the TOSA program permanent,” she said. “While the 2022 outdoor dining season feels far off as the summer of 2021 winds down, restaurants will need to start making investments soon to be prepared in the spring.”
As part of the upcoming request to advertise, staff said they will do outreach to see how locals feel about TOSAs. Staff report fielding a range of comments, questions and opinions on them, from support from the business community to concern that outdoor dining makes it harder for pedestrians and cyclists to get around. The report said neighbors near TOSAs tolerate the noise associated with them provided that TOSAs would end along with the emergency.
Bates said making the provisions permanent will allow restaurants to invest in their spaces in ways that could mitigate these concerns.
“We expect that there will be some refinements to the outdoor dining rules as they are made permanent, but we encourage Arlington County not to risk the success of outdoor dining by over-regulating to ameliorate any possible complaint,” she said.
Pentagon Metro Station Reopening — “Metro will reopen the Pentagon Station and Pentagon Transit Center to customers beginning with the start of bus and rail service Thursday morning. The station and transit center has been closed since early Tuesday, due to the law enforcement response and investigation following a fatal incident that occurred in the bus bays.” [WMATA]
Chamber Supports Langston Blvd Plan — “The Arlington Chamber of Commerce broadly supports the Plan Lee Highway Scenario Analysis, providing for additional commercial and residential density in an established, aging, yet vibrant and critical transit corridor. Moreover, the Chamber encourages creating flexible land use policies and regulations so as to attract investment to the Langston Boulevard corridor.” [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]
ACPD Celebrates ‘National Night Out’ — “Across the nation and throughout the region, neighbors and police mingled Tuesday night in the National Night Out — an annual effort to fight crime by building relationships between communities and police. In Drew Park, nestled in Arlington County, Virginia’s historic Green Valley neighborhood, a DJ played music and children petted a yellow Lab K-9, while their parents huddled together with police officers including Chief Charles ‘Andy’ Penn.” [WTOP]
New Community Center Profiled — “This is a story about a building, but it’s also a story about a park, which flows into the building, driving the structure’s design to an unusually high degree. Located in Arlington, Virginia’s Lubber Run Park–a public recreation area with walking trails and a gentle stream winding through a forest–the Lubber Run Community Center replaces an outdated building from the 1950s that was torn down in 2018.” [Metropolis]
Mini Earthquake Shook Area Yesterday — “A small earthquake shook parts of Central Maryland in the overnight hours of Wednesday morning. The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 2.1 earthquake was centered in Clarksville, Maryland, at 2:11 a.m. with a depth of about 1.8 miles.” [WTOP]
Arlington Agenda is a listing of interesting events for the week ahead in Arlington County. If you’d like your event considered, fill out the event submission form to submit it to our event calendar.
Tuesday, Aug. 3
Coffee Breaks at Summer House
National Landing’s Gateway Green (101 12th Street S.)
Time: 8:30-10:30 a.m.
Local coffee shops are serving brews every Tuesday morning at Gateway Green in Crystal City. Parking is available at 201 12th Street S.
Thursday, Aug. 5
Arlington Chamber of Commerce (2009 14th Street N., Ste 100)
Time: 4-5:15 p.m.
The Chamber is hosting a free networking seminar for both old and new members. The seminar will teach attendees about what the chamber does and different ways members can take advantage of their membership.
Friday, Aug. 6
Magic of the Ordinary — National Juried Exhibition at Gallery Underground in August
Gallery Underground (2100 Crystal Drive)
Time: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Magic of the Ordinary is a gallery of artwork juried by watercolor artist Lois Wolford. The art focuses on everyday items and scenes that are often overlooked.
During the annual State of the County address, the chair said Arlington County is well on the road to economic recovery but it has a ways to go before it enters into a period of renewal. The event was hosted virtually yesterday morning (Tuesday) by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, with a Q&A moderated by ARLnow founder Scott Brodbeck.
“We’re growing, but not as fast as at the start of 2020, before the pandemic, when our prospects seemed truly bright,” he said. “If we’re honest, recovery is not all we’re looking for at this moment. The state that we have not reached — that we must create — is renewal.”
Reaching renewal will mean supporting small businesses, working to eliminate inequities and increasing housing options, he said.
Recent data show the health of Arlington County residents has stabilized, with a 0.6% COVID-19 test positivity rate and about one case per day over the last two weeks. Unemployment is down, as well, from 7.2% this time last year to 3% today, he said. As vaccination rates rise, tourism is recovering, with hotel occupancy rates up to 40% from a low of 20%.
The county has also retained organizations with an Arlington footprint, including the State Department, while attracting new companies, from Microsoft to shipping company ZeBox‘s startup incubator. All along, Amazon continues to meet its occupancy and hiring goals while supporting businesses, he said, and will present its second phase of its HQ2 to the Board later this year.
Plus, new development is continuing.
“The County Board has approved numerous office and residential projects that will drive economic growth… and strengthen our economy in Arlington,” de Ferranti said. “We’re hearing from commercial real estate brokers that there is significant pent-up demand from [office] tenants who delayed real estate decisions in the pandemic. We expect to see these deals come forward in the fall of this year.”
Still, the office vacancy rate is a lingering concern for de Ferranti, who noted that it was 18.7% in the first quarter, up 2.1% from the same time last year.
“Part of the reason I sought this office was to bring down the vacancy rate so that we could invest in schools, housing, transit, transportation and the things that make Arlington a great place to live,” he said. “Our economic development projects show promise, our pipeline is strong, so I’m confident we can bring down the rate over the coming years.”
“We saw before Amazon that there was a time when we got a touch complacent working on our office vacancy rate,” he said. “That’s no one’s fault but we do need to stay focused on it.”
While it’s mostly larger companies that help to fill Arlington’s office towers, small businesses in Arlington need help, de Ferranti said, so Arlington Economic Development is preparing a grant program using American Rescue Plan funds. It follows up on a similar program last year that helped 393 businesses.
The county still has work to do to fix bugs with the online permit system and improve the customer service experience for businesses — lessons learned from the roll-out of temporary outdoor seating areas, or TOSAs, the chair admitted.
(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Arlington’s four candidates for the County Board agree that Arlington County should take more steps to support small businesses.
The County Board hopefuls articulated their plans for supporting the business community and encouraging economic development during an Arlington Chamber of Commerce candidate forum last night (Tuesday).
Candidates suggested providing grants, cutting certain taxes and fees, expanding online permit applications, and improving both the county’s regulatory processes and how county staff help businesses navigate them.
The debate was moderated by Alex Koma of the Washington Business Journal, a former ARLnow reporter. Koma also asked candidates about office space vacancies, housing and development.
Citing his “Freedom and Justice Plan,” Democratic challenger Chanda Choun said he would encourage public-private partnerships that fund grants for startups and minority-owned businesses, which often struggle to get loans. He would also eliminate the Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) tax, which is calculated based on the gross receipts of a business.
“If you’re a small mom and pop, and you generate revenue — not even profit — of $10,000 or more, you have to start paying business license fees,” he said. “It makes no sense.”
Independent candidate and Yorktown Civic Association President Mike Cantwell said the county should eliminate the business tangible tax — which taxes the assessed value of business furniture, machinery, tools and computer equipment — and instead tax specific things like automated checkout machines.
“The business tangible tax takes in approximately 4% of revenue for the entire budget and it is a highly inefficient tax and an administrative burden on small businesses,” he said, adding that “we have a role to play to make sure machines don’t replace humans.”
Perennial independent candidate Audrey Clement supported expanding the Permit Arlington portal, which took some permits process online in 2019 (a dozen others are already slated to go digital through 2022). She said the county needs to keep up its vaccine distribution efforts and review the real estate assessment process.
Democratic incumbent Takis Karantonis called for small business grants; better customer service for people navigating county, state and federal regulations; and — for big businesses — a review of county processes to see if they are efficient.
“We need to create something that will sustain [the smallest, women-owned and Black- and Brown-owned businesses] in the long term,” Karantonis said, adding that continuing a pandemic-era business loan program “would be a signal that we welcome them and are committed to restoring neighborhood retail and retail diversity.”
The pandemic has dealt a blow to Arlington’s economy, but the county may be well-positioned for a rebound rather quickly.
In a virtual panel discussion hosted by the Arlington Committee of 100 — the second of a two part series — local experts said that unlike past downturns that resulted in a lengthy recovery, this one is driven not by structural economic factors but by a virus.
As people are vaccinated and the pandemic recedes — whenever that may happen — expect a strong recovery.
“The economy right now is reacting to the health crisis and [that] is driving the recession,” said Jeanette Chapman, economist and director of the Stephen Fuller Institute at George Mason University. “This is not a normal recession.”
Due to the pandemic, consumer spending dropped significantly. Compared to this time last year, credit and debit card spending is down nearly a quarter in Arlington (less than D.C. comparably, which is down nearly 30%).
However, that is an improvement from early spring when spending overall was down about 50%.
As expected, the drop in spending was mostly concentrated in the transportation, apparel, hotel, and food service sectors. Grocery and food spending rose in 2020.
While job losses continues to be a concern, the Northern Virginia region is above the national average. Chapman says this is due to “mostly being a knowledge services economy and can send a bulk of workers home [to telework].” A big chunk of the job losses, as expected, are in the leisure and hospitality sector, accounting for nearly a third from November 2019 to November 2020.
“Leisure and hospitality jobs tend to have lower wage scales,” says Chapman. “Those jobs are hardest hit.”
In general, says Chapman, the losses regionally are skewed toward lower wage jobs. However, because this recession is due to a health crisis, Chapman says we can expect a near full recovery by 2022 due to the widespread availability of a vaccine.
Arlington’s small businesses, particularly those dependent on in-person interaction, are also being significantly impacted.
Telly Tucker, director of Arlington Economic Development, said that any business with fewer than 50 employees is defined as a “small business.” This encompasses about 90%, or 6,000, of the county’s businesses.
Arlington’s small business emergency grant provided nearly 400 businesses with a combined $2.7 million. More than half of those businesses were woman and/or minority-owned.
As for bigger businesses, Tucker also spoke about how office building vacancy rates actually were decreasing going into 2020 from a high of over 20% in 2015.
While the vacancy rate has since risen and now sits at 16.3%, that remains below the office vacancy rates of the mid-2010s. Commercial real estate like office buildings are a major source of tax revenue for the county, Tucker noted.
What’s more, a number of large, multinational companies have made a home in Arlington over the last five years. This includes Microsoft, which made the announcement just last week that it would have a significant presence in Rosslyn.
The Arlington housing market, meanwhile, is doing well. Homes are typically selling for between 3% to 5% over listing price, noted Tucker, which is a positive sign.