Growth through innovation
One of my top priorities is to address the serious financial challenges that recent economic headwinds have created for Arlington. Pandemic slowdowns, combined with a broader shift to work-from-home office practices, has led many businesses to vacate Arlington’s commercial properties – depriving the county of key tax revenue. Compounding this problem, the recent spike in inflation has already outpaced the County’s revenue growth over the past year. Meanwhile, rising interest rates have increased the cost to the County of new borrowing. There is now a genuine risk that the County may soon find itself forced to delay or even reduce important programs and services.
As Commissioner on the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission, I understand the crucial importance of staving off these budgetary gaps, by actively working to reduce the record high 23% commercial office vacancy rate. In the short term, the County Board should continue to amend the zoning ordinance to specify more ways office space can be used by businesses. This allows a wider variety of businesses to use vacant space, alleviating some of the current financial pressures. In the medium term we should shift away from this prescriptive approach. Rather than designating specific allowable business activities associated with commercial space we should instead prohibit nuisance activities that are detrimental to the community. This will allow maximum flexibility and accommodate future unforeseen business innovations, eliminating the inefficient catch-up associated with constantly amending the zoning ordinance.
Finally, the County should invest resources in long-term planning for the conversion of office space to residential and encourage developers to take on such projects. The reality is changing macro-economic forces have reduced the need for office space nationwide. The private sector will eventually shift to accommodate these changes in supply and demand, but we can facilitate and expedite this transition through appropriate support from Arlington County Government.
I am also committed to finding creative and effective solutions to make up this lost ground and ensure Arlington’s continued fiscal health.
Among the avenues to pursue will be to attract technology companies to the County by leveraging its strong talent base, leading universities, and established tech companies such as Amazon to create a thriving tech ecosystem. The DMV region is already a hub for tech workers, ranking third in the country behind only San Francisco and New York, making Arlington uniquely positioned to pursue a strategy that entices technology-oriented companies with additional incentives such as education infrastructure and partnerships with local universities. We have the potential not only to help mitigate recent decreases in county revenue but generate new sources of income that stimulate economic growth substantially above previous levels.
At the same time, it’s imperative for the County to provide support and resources to local small businesses to ensure they too can grow and succeed. This could include providing funding, mentorship, and access to capital and other resources.