Northern Virginia's Diversified Economy
New jobs in Data Management, Bio Health, Cybersecurity, and IT rally after federal cutbacks.

By:  M. Callahan


The past prosperity of Northern Virginia was largely derived from federal government jobs and federal contracting.  Now, it emanates from the private sector having reinvented the region's economy and diversifying the workforce along the way.

The local unemployment rate is particularly impressive at 3.4 percent during the first quarter of this year.   The National rate stands at 4.7 percent, while the Commonwealth reports 3.9 percent.  Private sector jobs, particularly in IT, Bio Health, Data Management, and Cybersecurity have added 10,000 jobs in these professional and business services.(1)

The flight of federal and federal contractor jobs has left office vacancy rates from 20-24% in Arlington and Alexandria Counties, and 18% in Fairfax County.    The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority works to fill this space with both national and international companies through their offices at Tysons Corner, London, Munich, Bangalore, Seoul, Tel Aviv, and Los Angeles.  For the local economy to fully recover and continue to diversify, these vacancy rates must be cut at least by half.  And, while new spaces are being created, smaller boutique spaces are especially attractive to emerging private businesses who prefer to be in a walkable neighborhood setting rather than office parks or stand-alone office buildings.

For the revitalization districts of Fairfax County, there are no ambassadors appointed by the County, the Economic Development Authority, or any agency or office directed to attract business to these districts.  Selling Fairfax County is restricted to the heavy weights of Tyson’s and the Dulles Corridor, with an occasional flutter at Fairview Park or Reston.   Since NO incentive of any sort exists to attract developers to the multiple revitalization districts, and NO county staff to promote their value, there is no reason to believe that redevelopment will occur.  Spiraling downward are the retail ratings in all revitalization districts, including Annandale, while on-line sales are reinventing the marketplace.  Developers pass-up the revitalization districts heading instead to Prince William and Prince George Counties partially due to the astoundingly high proffers levied by Fairfax County, indeed encouraged by county agencies charged with redevelopment. 

The county simply can no longer expect developers to pick-up all infrastructure expenses, along with parks & recreation, and the newly outstretched hand of the Arts Council, and every other social service program.  Fairfax County must learn to budget on the vast delta created with the highly inflated value a new project brings, as NO redevelopment will exist if these greedy & exorbitant proffers continue.  Public-Private Partnerships have also become more strained in Fairfax County, and now defined by the private sector picking-up all the costs and workload, and government individuals taking the bows & giving one another awards.  Is it any wonder that the quality developers that could turn Annandale back into a fully functioning community have said their good-byes?

The two major deterrents for expanding this diversification in Northern Virginia are traffic and the housing market.  Traffic here is only second in congestion to Los Angeles and the housing market is so expensive some companies never even take a look, especially those with a millennium workforce who wish to live near their workplace as long commutes are for the past generations, not theirs.  A comprehensive rapid transit (metro or streetcar system) could bridge the gap between distance and affordability with the millennium workforce if Fairfax County ever extends the system to the beltway communities. The county would be wise to next look east rather than west.


 Photographs & images are not available for use by other publications, blogs, individuals, websites, or social media sites.  (Copyright © 2011 Annandale Chamber of Commerce. All rights reserved.)  This article first appeared in October 2016 ENDEAVOR News Magazine, and may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.


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