A group assessing the effect on Northern Virginia of the recent Base Realignment and Closure process is urging the governor to allocate millions of dollars in state funds to help Arlington mitigate the impact of losing 17,000 defense industry jobs.
In a report released Dec. 1, the Northern Virginia BRAC Working Group recommended that Gov. Mark Warner provide state money to relocate research agencies within Arlington, to help companies move to vacated space and to establish a job assistance center in Crystal City. The committee, created this fall by Warner, also insisted that Arlington be eligible for federal funds available to communities losing military bases.
“It is critically important for Arlington to have help from both the state and federal government,” said state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-31), a member of the committee. “There will be a very significant impact from losing so many jobs and we will need assistance.”
Over the course of the next decade an estimated 22,000 defense workers and private contractors will leave leased office space in Arlington, Alexandria and Bailey’s Crossroads and transfer to Fort Belvoir in southeastern Fairfax County, Fort Meade outside Baltimore and other military bases across the country. Arlington will lose 8 percent of its total work force and almost 4.2 million square feet of office space in 39 buildings will be vacated. Up to 30 percent of leased space in Crystal City could be empty.
But the exodus of dozens of Defense Department offices presents an opportunity to restructure and diversify Arlington’s economy and transform Crystal City into a more vibrant community that is not beholden to a single industry, county officials said.
“When you lose this magnitude of jobs there will be significant disruptions and vacancies, but the long-term prognosis for Arlington is very good,” said County Board Chairman Jay Fisette, who represented the county government on the BRAC Working Group. “This will lead to the revitalization of Crystal City.”
THE FEDERAL BRAC Commission allowed Arlington to retain two valuable research facilities — the Office of Naval Research and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency — that supply 1,700 jobs and employ some of the county’s most highly skilled workers.
But the Department of Defense has indicated that these two agencies may be obliged to move to facilities that satisfy the department’s new building security requirements.
The BRAC Working Group asked the governor to provide $10 million to help move these agencies within the county, if necessary.
“In personal discussions the governor has promised this money to assist the relocation and development of facilities with research functions,” Fisette said.
The committee would like to see the state establish a one-time $18 million transition fund to assist companies in securing sites that will be vacated because of the BRAC process. That money would not go to any companies transferring from another locality within Virginia, committee members said.
The BRAC Working Group proposed additional programs designed to attract small businesses to space formerly occupied by the Defense Department, including a tax credit.
“Incentives to help small businesses fill this leased space will be very helpful,” Whipple said. “Otherwise this change is going to be tough for the owners of these buildings.”
Another recommendation of the committee is to create a job center in Crystal City, with $4.6 million in state funds, to supply job placement assistance, retraining and career advice.
Members of the committee said they were not under the illusion that every suggestion in their report would be fully funded, but predicted many items would receive Warner’s backing.
“The governor is very cognizant of the impact this will have on the economic engine of Virginia and I expect it to receive favorable consideration,” Whipple said.
To maintain Arlington’s economic viability, the committee’s report asserted that the federal government should provide the county with the same degree of recovery assistance available to communities losing military bases. County and state officials are asking that these funds be allocated before the transfer of agencies out of Arlington and not after a facility is left empty.
“It is entirely appropriate to give federal funding to Arlington to facilitate these moves,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8). “Arlington and Alexandria are losing the equivalent of four military bases. In any other community you would do major economic development with federal money because it was a federal decision.”
Despite the forecasted loss of 17,000 jobs over a period of several years, county and state officials said they are optimistic about Arlington’s ability to rebound from the economic hit. Because of Arlington’s prime location, abundance of space, safe environment and lower taxes and costs, many predict it will have little trouble attracting technology, retail and hospitality businesses.
Though Crystal City will certainly feel the effects of losing thousands of jobs in a short time period, county officials believe the influx of new and diverse companies will invigorate the neighborhood and help convert it into a major attraction in the county.
“There will be challenges in the short-term but there are still so many assets offered by Arlington,” Fisette said. “Crystal City will continue to compete very well with other parts of the region.”