Boeing’s move to Arlington brings ‘tech hub’ vision closer to reality

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When Amazon announced it would locate its second headquarters in Arlington, local officials wasted no time in presenting it as a chance to build something much bigger: This corner of Northern Virginia, they said, could develop into a dense urban tech hub — a sort of eastern outpost for Silicon Valley.

More than three years later, this vision seems to be just an idea.

For thrusters in the area now dubbed “National Landing,” last week’s leaked announcement that Boeing would be moving its own headquarters to Arlington shows that a neighborhood once known only as the home of the Pentagon is on its way to becoming a regional one.” innovation district.

And for economic development experts, the aerospace giant’s move from Chicago also underscores the success of Virginia’s economic development strategy, which has focused on luring businesses by growing and diversifying the workforce. state technological work.

But if Boeing’s decision signals that more businesses could soon move to the area, they say, it’s also a warning sign: All the pain points associated with explosive growth in Seattle or the region. of the San Francisco Bay Area – exorbitant housing prices, chronic road congestion, a widening gap between rich and poor – may become even more acute in a wealthy county already suffering from similar woes.

Boeing will move its headquarters from Chicago to Arlington, Virginia.

Boeing’s move to Arlington “gives even greater importance to the work the region has been trying to do to build its digital talent pool,” said Amy Liu, vice president of the Brookings Institution and director of its policy program. metropolitan.

“But we have to be very intentional about who will benefit from this growth,” Liu added. “Otherwise, we will further increase the inequalities in this region.”

Along with Amazon’s new offices, the “National Landing” corridor is anchored around a graduate engineering campus that Virginia Tech is building in the Potomac Yard neighborhood of Alexandria. The 3.5-acre facility is funded in part by $545 million from Virginia state coffers, in addition to Boeing’s $50 million.

The arms and aircraft maker already has a 400-person office in Arlington’s Crystal City neighborhood, and it said it has no immediate plans to expand its footprint or moving Chicago employees out of some senior executives.

Boeing’s move to Virginia will mean few new jobs in the DC area

Terry Clower, professor of public policy at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government and director of its Center for Regional Analysis, said Boeing’s decision nonetheless gives National Landing a good set of “rights of bragging”.

Boeing also said it would build a research and technology center to focus on innovation in cybersecurity, quantum science and other areas, though it has so far provided few details on the plan. where this center will go or what it might look like.

“If you put that [Boeing] along with the announcement of Amazon HQ2 and the presence of other major tech employers, it sends the message that this is a great place for tech companies,” Clower said. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

As local authorities seek to compete with other malls in the DC area, as well as other northeast “innovation districts,” such as the University City of Philadelphia or Kendall Square in Cambridge , Mass., this message is perfectly in tune with the boom vision they are pushing for the national landing.

According to a market impact study released in April, the region has 8 million square feet of new office space in the works, with 9,000 new jobs in addition to those created by Amazon. AT&T has rolled out plans to build a 5G network aimed at transform the neighborhood into a “large-scale smart city”.

However, what this means for the region as a whole largely depends on who you ask.

Amazon jerseys on Boeing Field

While Boeing has had a presence in Arlington since it landed military contracts during World War I, the company moved its defense operations to Crystal City just as the county faced something of an existential crisis.

Following the 2005 recommendation of a federal panel, 17,000 military and defense contractors began to leave the region. About a decade later, the process known as Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) had emptied about a fifth of office space in the neighborhood.

The arrival of Boeing in its current offices on Long Bridge Drive in 2016 therefore served as a counterpoint to this exodus.

“They’ve been a pretty loyal partner to Crystal City during a very difficult time for the region,” Arlington County Board Chairwoman Katie Cristol (D) said. “We were really concerned about Crystal City being hollowed out, but Boeing was willing to make an investment.”

Unlike many of its more suburban neighbors, Arlington depends on commercial properties for about half of its tax revenue. Keeping office workers around was and still is essential to supporting county services without significantly increasing landlord taxes.

Yet Cristol also pointed out that the aerospace giant’s contributions went beyond his taxes. In 2019, for example, the company donated $10 million to the county to fund the construction and operation of a new aquatic center across the street, also paying access fees for active duty military members. and their families.

In exchange, county officials appointed part of the park space between the two structures after the aerospace company.


Boeing Fields

at the long bridge

Park

Boeing Fields

at the long bridge

Park

Boeing Fields

at Long Bridge Park

Today, the Boeing Fields at Long Bridge Park is a hub for extracurricular activities. On a recent Tuesday night, soccer teams of young travelers held turf drills while parents watched their little ones on futuristic rubber-floored areas to the side.

Noemi Vargas, 49, had taken her sons on a scooter down the sidewalk as she scrolled through her phone, sitting on a bench opposite Boeing’s glass and steel desks.

The family had done the short walk from Pentagon City for years, but Vargas said she had no idea the park was partly named after the company.

“If it’s expensive now, it’s going to be impossible with Boeing,” Vargas, a stay-at-home mom, said in Spanish. “Not everyone will be able to stay in this area… But I guess it’s a good thing if they create jobs.”

A few yards away, Sebastian Edmunds stood on the sidelines of the football field, chatting in a circle of parents as their daughters’ travel team dribbled balls across a pitch named after Boeing. Half the team wore gray jerseys with Amazon logos on the back.

As a real estate agent, the Falls Church resident said he’s seen how the online retail giant’s presence has skyrocketed the value of homes in Northern Virginia on the market hot real estate in the area. As a parent, he added, the presence of these tech companies represents a greater opportunity for his children.

“When you have Amazon here, it’s very easy for a kid to imagine getting into tech,” Edmunds said, watching the fray. “My daughter can say, ‘I’ll go to college and then I’ll come back to work for Boeing.’ ”

A “grouping effect”

Ask any economic development official in Northern Virginia, and they’re bound to share Edmunds’ belief. Their plans to grow and develop a diverse pool of young tech workers are closely tied to their desire to attract business to National Landing and make it a tech hub.

“You can’t have a tech company right now without talent,” said Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, executive director of the National Landing Business Improvement District. “The labor market is very tight, it is fiercely competitive. Having the proximity of this technological talent is essential to operations.

When Amazon announced a nationwide search for a second North American headquarters, states like New York and Maryland were lambasted for offering billions in tax breaks and direct subsidies to the tech giant, which has earned about $33.4 billion last year.

But Virginia bet on the idea that investing in IT graduates — and building the pipeline to support it — would be more effective in attracting Amazon and other big corporate heavyweights.

And it seems to have worked: While Amazon is expected to get $550 million from state coffers, more of Virginia’s dollars are going to the company’s billion-dollar tech talent investment program. State. This initiative has set a goal of producing an additional 25,000 new graduates in computer science and related fields over two decades, many of them at Virginia Tech’s Alexandria campus.

Boeing spokesman Connor Greenwood said Boeing was not taking any “economic incentives” from Virginia. Becca Glover, spokeswoman for Governor Glenn Youngkin (right), said the state may eventually provide the company with financial incentives, but they would not be “meaningful”.

Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied where and why companies locate their operations, said the decisions by Amazon and Boeing to build their headquarters in Arlington bode well for such a education centered approach.

Although Boeing hasn’t directly explained why it decided to move its headquarters to Arlington, the DC tech job market is already large, well-educated and offers a wide variety of specializations, he said. Any effort to expand that pool can only help produce what Moretti says appears to be a “cluster effect” at work with Boeing’s move.

“If you attract a company like Amazon, the job market becomes more attractive for future companies and future workers,” he said.

Ian Duncan and Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.

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