Boeing’s move to Arlington brings the vision of the “Tech Hub” closer to reality

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

More than three years later, this vision no longer seems to be just an idea.

For boosters of 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 well on the way is a regional “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 attracting businesses through the growth and diversification of the state’s tech workforce.

But if Boeing’s decision signals that more companies could be coming to the area soon, it’s also a red flag: All the pain points associated with explosive growth in Seattle or the San Francisco Bay Area — sky-high real estate prices, chronically congested roads , a growing gap between rich and poor – may be exacerbated in a wealthy county already suffering from similar afflictions.

Boeing moves headquarters from Chicago to Arlington, Virginia

Boeing’s move to Arlington “adds an even greater bounty to the work the region has been trying to build its digital talent pipeline,” said Amy Liu, vice president of the Brookings Institution and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program.

“But we have to be very conscious of the people who will benefit from this growth,” Liu added. “Otherwise, we will continue to widen inequalities in this region.”

Next to Amazon’s new offices, the “National Landing” corridor is anchored around a graduate engineering campus that Virginia Tech is building in Alexandria’s Potomac Yard neighborhood. The 8-acre facility is partially funded with $545 million from the Virginia Treasury, in addition to $50 million from Boeing.

The weapons and jet maker already has a 400-person office in Arlington’s Crystal City neighborhood, and there are no immediate plans to expand its footprint or move employees out of Chicago a few top performers.

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

Terry Clower, a public policy professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government and director of the Center for Regional Analysis, said Boeing’s decision nonetheless grants National Landing a number of “showoff rights.”

Boeing has also said it will build a research and technology center to focus on innovation in cybersecurity, quantum science and other areas, though there have been few details as of where that center will go or what it might look like.

“If you say that [Boeing] In addition to the announcement of Amazon HQ2 and the presence of other significant employers in the technology sector, this sends the message that this is a great place for technology companies,” said Clower. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.)

As local officials seek to compete with other commercial centers in the DC region, as well as other “innovation districts” in the Northeast, such as the college city of Philadelphia or Kendall Square in Cambridge, Mass., this message is perfectly in line with the Boom Vision urge them on National Landing.

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

What that means for the region as a whole, however, depends very much on who you ask.

Amazon jerseys at Boeing Field

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

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

So Boeing’s arrival at its current Long Bridge Drive offices in 2016 served as a sort of counterpoint to that exodus.

“They’ve been quite a steadfast partner in Crystal City at a very challenging time for the region,” said Katie Cristol (D), Arlington County Board Chair. “We were really concerned about Crystal City being eroded, but Boeing was willing to make an investment.”

Unlike many of its more suburban neighbors, Arlington depends on commercial real estate for about half of its tax revenue. Keeping office workers close was, and still is, important to support county services without significantly increasing taxes for homeowners.

However, Cristol also pointed out that the aerospace giant’s contributions have exceeded its taxes. For example, in 2019, the company donated $10 million to the district to fund the construction and operation of a new water sports center on the street, and also paid entry fees for active-duty military members and their families.

In return, county officials named a portion of the parking area between the two buildings after the aerospace company.


Boeing Fields

at the Long Bridge

park

Boeing Fields

at the Long Bridge

park

Boeing Fields

in Long Bridge Park

Today, Boeing Fields in Long Bridge Park is a center for after-school activities. On a recent Tuesday night, youth travel soccer teams performed drills on the grass while parents watched their toddlers on futuristic areas with rubber floors along the side.

Noemi Vargas, 49, had brought her sons to cruise the sidewalk while she thumbed through her phone and sat on a bench across from Boeing’s glass-and-steel offices.

The family had been making the short walk from Pentagon City for years, but Vargas said they had no idea the park was named in part for 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 think it’s a good thing if they bring jobs.”

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

As a real estate agent, the Falls Church resident said he’s already seen how the e-retail giant’s presence in the region’s white-hot real estate market has resulted in skyrocketing home values ​​across Northern Virginia. 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 going into tech,” Edmunds said, looking at the jostling crowd. “My daughter can say, ‘I’ll go to college and then I’ll come back and work for Boeing.’ ”

A “clustering effect”

Ask any economic development official in Northern Virginia and they will share Edmund’s conviction. Her plans to grow and develop a pipeline of young, diverse tech workers are closely intertwined with her quest to attract businesses to National Landing and transform it into 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 highly competitive. The proximity of this technical talent is essential to the operation.”

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

But Virginia was banking on the idea that investing in computer science graduates — and building the necessary pipeline to sustain them — would be more effective in attracting Amazon and other big business heavyweights.

And it seems to have worked: while Amazon will receive $550 million from state coffers, more of Virginia’s dollars will go into the state’s $1 billion Tech Talent Investment Program. This initiative aims to produce an additional 25,000 new graduate students in computer science and related fields over two decades, many of them on Virginia Tech’s Alexandria campus.

Boeing spokesman Connor Greenwood said Boeing is not taking “economic incentives” from Virginia. Becca Glover, a spokeswoman for Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), said it’s possible the state will eventually offer some financial incentives to the company, but they’re not “significant”.

Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied where and why companies are locating their operations, said Amazon and Boeing’s decisions to build headquarters in Arlington bode well for such an education-centric approach.

While Boeing didn’t directly address why it decided to move its headquarters to Arlington, the tech job market in DC is already large, well-educated and offers a variety of specializations, he said. Any effort to expand that pool can only help create what Moretti says appears to be a “clustering effect” of working with Boeing’s move.

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

Ian Duncan and Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.

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