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

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When Amazon announced it was moving its second headquarters to Arlington, local officials wasted no time touting it as an opportunity to build something much bigger: They said this corner of northern Virginia could turn into a dense urban tech hub — sort of an eastern outpost of Silicon Valley.

More than three years later, it seems that this vision is no longer just an idea.

For boosters in the area now dubbed “National Landing,” the leaked announcement last week that Boeing will move its headquarters to Arlington shows that the neighborhood once known as the home of the Pentagon is on its way to becoming a regional “innovation zone.”

For economic development experts, the airline giant’s move from Chicago also underscores the success of Virginia’s economic development strategy, which has focused on attracting companies by growing and diversifying the state’s technology workforce.

But if Boeing’s decision indicates that more companies could soon come to the area, they say it’s also a warning sign: All the pain points associated with the explosive growth in Seattle or the San Francisco Bay Area — skyrocketing home prices, chronic congested roads, rift running In the breadth between the rich and the poor – it may become more acute in a rich province already suffering similar woes.

Boeing moves its headquarters from Chicago to Arlington, Virginia.

Amy Liu, vice president at the Brookings Institution and director of the Capital Policy Program, said Boeing’s move to Arlington “places more importance on the work the region is trying to do to build its line of digital talent.”

“But we have to be very careful about the people who are going to benefit from this growth,” Liu added. “Otherwise, we will only widen inequalities in this region.”

Besides Amazon’s new offices, the “National Landing” corridor is centered around the graduate engineering campus that Virginia Tech is building in Alexandria’s Potomac Yard. The 3.5-acre facility is partly funded by $545 million from Virginia’s coffers, plus $50 million from Boeing.

The weapons and aircraft manufacturer already has a 400-person office in Arlington’s Crystal City neighborhood, and said it had no immediate plans to expand its presence or move its employees out of Chicago other than Few senior executives.

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

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

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

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

As local officials seek to compete with other business centers throughout the metropolitan area, as well as other “innovation areas” in the Northeast, such as University City Philadelphia or Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this message fits perfectly with the prosperity vision that they are pushing from for the national landing.

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

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

Amazon shirts at Boeing Stadium

While Boeing has had a presence in Arlington since it acquired military contracts during World War I, the company moved its defense operations to Crystal City at a time when the county was facing a kind of existential crisis.

On the recommendation of a federal commission in 2005, 17,000 military and defense contractors began moving out of the area. About a decade later, a process known as Basic Reorganization and Closure (BRAC) emptied about one-fifth of the neighborhood’s office space.

Boeing’s arrival at its current offices on Long Bridge Drive in 2016 was a counterpoint to this exodus.

“They have been a very consistent partner in Crystal City during a very difficult time for the area,” said Katie Kristol, Arlington County Board Chair. “We were really worried about unpacking Crystal City, but Boeing was willing to make an investment.”

Unlike many of its suburban neighbors, Arlington relies on commercial real estate for about half of its tax revenue. Maintaining office staff was and remains necessary to support county services without significantly increasing taxes on homeowners.

However, Kristol also noted that the airline giant’s contributions exceeded its taxes. In 2019, for example, the company donated $10 million to the county to fund the construction and operation of a new aquatic center on the street, as well as entry fees for the active-duty military and their families.

In return, county officials have named some of the park space between the two buildings after the airline.


Boeing Fields

in Longbridge

garden

Boeing Fields

in Longbridge

garden

Boeing Fields

In Longbridge Park

Today, Boeing Fields in Long Bridge Park is a hub for after-school activities. On a recent Tuesday evening, youth travel soccer teams practiced on the grass while parents watched their young children in futuristic areas with rubber flooring on the side.

Noemi Vargas, 49, had brought her sons to a motorbike on the sidewalk as she fiddled with her phone, perched on a bench across the street from Boeing’s glass-and-steel offices.

The family has been a short drive from Pentagon City for years, but Vargas said she had no idea the park was named in part after the company.

“If it was so expensive now, it would be impossible with Boeing,” Vargas, a homemaker, said in Spanish. “Not everyone will be able to stay in this area…but I think it’s a good thing if they bring in jobs.”

A few feet away, Sebastian Edmunds stood on the sidelines of the soccer field, chatting in a circle of fathers as their daughters travel team dribbled balls up and down the field named Boeing. Half of the team wore gray T-shirts with Amazon logos on the back.

As a real estate agent, the Falls Church resident said he’s already seen how the presence of the e-retail giant has sent home values ​​in Northern Virginia soaring in the area’s real estate market. As a parent, he added, the existence of these tech companies presents a greater opportunity for his children.

“When you have Amazon here, it’s very easy for a kid to imagine going into technology,” Edmunds said, looking at the melee. “My daughter could say, ‘I’m going to college and then come back and work for Boeing. “”

aggregation effect

Ask any official of Northern Virginia’s economic development, and they will surely share Edmonds’ conviction. Their plans to grow and develop a pipeline of young and deeply diverse tech workers are intertwined with their drive to lure companies into National Landing and turn 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 job market is very narrow and highly competitive. The proximity of those technical talents is essential to operations.”

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

But Virginia is betting on the idea that investing in computer science graduates — and building the pipeline needed to maintain them — will 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 Virginia dollars are going to its $1 billion tech talent investment program. This initiative has set a goal of 25,000 additional fresh 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 “economic stimulus” from Virginia. Becca Glover, a spokeswoman for Governor Glenn Yongkin (right), said the state could eventually provide the company with some financial incentives but it wouldn’t be “significant.”

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

Although Boeing hasn’t directly addressed why it decided to move its headquarters to Arlington, DC’s tech job market is already large, well-educated, and offers a variety of specialties, he said. Any effort to expand that pool could only help produce what Moretti says appears to be a “pooling effect” in action as Boeing moves in.

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

Ian Duncan and Laura Fuzela contributed to this report.

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