Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

How much will it cost the sainted taxpayers of Arlington to incentivize the mighty Amazon?

The dollar amount, I’m afraid, is presented by experts as coming in many buckets, over many years. Not easy to boil down to an annual per-household investment.

Officials over the past two months have delivered more than 20 Amazon impact presentations in diverse public forums. On Jan. 9, their sophisticated dog-and-pony show came to the Arlington Committee of 100, where they portrayed the injection of corporate power in Crystal City as a blessing the county well planned for.

One housekeeping detail: The term “National Landing” bandied about in national media will not replace the name Crystal City. That was a term planners from multiple disciplines needed when they started in September 2017 to describe the land area that straddles Arlington and Alexandria.

Stephen Moret, CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and a key player (a previous Clarendon resident), said luring Amazon was “most coveted competition” he ever experienced, “like winning many Olympics all at one time,” he said, except that the benefits stick for years.

“Northern Virginia was off the charts in all criteria,” Moret said, citing the governments’ Triple-A bond rating, higher education investments, quality K-12 schools, light traffic (relatively!) and “business-friendly” environment. “For the first time, Loudoun, Fairfax, Alexandria and Arlington partnered to make the case,” he added.

Arlington’s incentive package — dovetailed with a larger state bid — “was one of the smallest in the country.” It involved 30 percent in direct funding, 70 percent in indirect. And Amazon is to create 25,000 jobs for careerists lousy with computer science degrees whose average salary is $150,000.

Even pre-HQ2, Amazon already has a presence showcasing 28,000 small business firms along with a $30 billion investment, Moret said.

Victor Hoskins, the county’s catch as director of Arlington Economic Development (while working for the D.C. government, he brought to life the new Southwest Wharf and City Center), cited Arlington’s as “brightest residents I’ve worked with.” He lauded his staff of six, who were joined in the Amazon effort by three from Alexandria and 100 city, county and school staffers.

Previously, “Arlington wasn’t liked by Alexandria; now there’s collaboration,” he said.

Poor Crystal City. After losing 24,000 jobs since 2001 (remember BRAC?), some blocks were “dead points — no spirit,” Hoskins said, apologizing to locals. After 98 area planning meetings, there will be improvements to Route 1, affordable housing, a new Metro entrance and a footbridge to the airport. Major landlord JBG Smith was told they have to consult and do things “The Arlington Way,” Hoskins said. “They love Arlington.”

Not all the Amazon employees will reside in Crystal City, so other neighborhoods, such as Ballston, will fill vacancies, he said.

Arlington taxpayers’ main shell-out to Amazon is $23 million over 15 years, or 15 percent of revenue from the transient occupancy (hotel) tax. Because of pre-planning (before Amazon) in an accelerated Capital Improvement Plan, the tightening annual budget will not be affected, Hoskins said.

Moret hopes Arlington will do better than Seattle in anticipating the coming growth in high-wage jobs and “keep up with infrastructure needs.”

Had we not won Amazon, Hoskins added, Arlington would still be in a better position for managing growth.

“That’s our future.” Other jurisdictions will now pursue regional cooperation, he said. They will “act like us.”

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My fellow history nut Mike Nardolilli raises a puzzler about the famous 1826 duel between Henry Clay and John Randolph. Folks in Fairfax claim it as their county’s nonfatal confrontation, even though the historical sign near Chain Bridge marks it in Arlington.
Dueling was illegal in the District of Columbia, of which Arlington then was a part. Nardolilli thinks surveys done three decades earlier to place the district’s boundary stones suggest that Clay and Randolph knew precisely where to seek “satisfaction” in a clearing beyond the district line.
Washington historian Ken Bowling told me the duelists would have crossed the river from “topographical” D.C. to avoid law enforcement.