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Global and Commercial Articles

Top-Rated Business Climate Helps Make Northern Virginia a Happy Place

Aug 21, 2019, 14:34 PM
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AMAZON WAS RIGHT: Virginia is the top state for business in 2019, according to a recent national report on CNBC. Even better news is that the addition of the new Amazon headquarters and the increased employment opportunities should make Northern Virginia even more attractive.

“Virginia has worked toward being a great place for all business to thrive,” newly appointed Fairfax County Economic Development Authority President Victor Hoskins observed in a press release heralding the CNBC recognition. Hoskins knows what attracted Amazon to Northern Virginia. Before his recent move to join Fairfax County, Hoskins was the point person in shepherding Amazon’s decision, as Arlington County’s director of economic development.

"Without putting too fine a point on it, companies like Amazon may be putting Northern Virginia at the top of their lists because it is a happy place."

“The consistent local and state investment in education, the outstanding commitment of the state for workforce training, and the consistent corporate tax environment for the past 30-plus years has really created a very strong pro-business environment that is matched at the local level,” he explained.

And it’s not just Amazon. Speaking for his new jurisdiction, Hoskins pointed out that 10 Fortune 500 firms call Fairfax County home, as well as more than 100 “inc 500” companies, 400 foreign-owned companies and a large minority business community. In fact, with more than 118 million square feet of office space, Fairfax County is the second largest suburban office market in the nation.

Most observers agree that corporations like Amazon are choosing to bring their headquarters operations to Northern Virginia due to its well-educated workforce, strong business climate supported by effective state and local governments, and excellent public and private schools at all levels.

But equally important may be a factor identified by Bob Peck, former head of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and currently a senior consultant with Gensler. According to Peck, this area has become “a lifestyle destination” based on “a diverse population with a tolerant ethos, a buzzing theater, arts and restaurant scene, and walkable neighborhoods.”

Without putting too fine a point on it, companies like Amazon may be putting Northern Virginia at the top of their lists because it is a happy place.

According to a recent annual report on the “happiest counties in America,” Loudoun County ranked second in the nation, while Fairfax County was tied for fifth place. Personal finance specialist Becca Stanek determined the ranking by analyzing U.S. Census Bureau data for 980 counties with populations of at least 50,000 residents across the United States. She looked at eight factors to measure “happiness” from unemployment and poverty rates, to marriage and divorce rates and physical fitness and longevity.

After analyzing the data and ranking the counties, what do city planners say makes one location more likely to be “happy” than another?

Much of it relates to the diversity in population, housing and employment opportunities, access to desirable amenities, and connection with neighbors.

Claudia Carol, a colleague of Peck’s at Gensler, emphasizes that amenities like access to nature and community gardens, public plazas, parks and other meeting places, multiple modes of transportation and pedestrian friendly streets, are all significant factors in creating a “happy” community.

Northern Virginia’s status of having the most federal, regional, state and local parks in the country is among the core factors adding to its desirability as a place to live and work.

Coming to a similar conclusion, a recent report by Dan Cox and Ryan Streeter for the American Enterprise Institute Survey on Community and Society (SCS), confirmed that people are willing to pay more for homes that are closer to amenities and located in walkable neighborhoods. Their study found that increased home values correlate with the property’s proximity to grocery stores and reduced commute times.

The reports are consistent. Residents living in “walkable,” amenity-rich suburban communities have similar levels of community satisfaction as persons living in dense urban neighborhoods.

The Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at the George Washington University also recently studied the 30 largest metropolitan areas in America. The center reported that with an eighth of its commercial real estate in walkable suburban areas, the Washington region, including Northern Virginia, has more investment in walkable communities than any other metropolitan areas in the country. “Across the country, buildings are worth 75% more when they’re in walkable places,” the center found.

As it turns out, it is just as desirable for residential property owners to have convenient access to shopping, entertainment and recreational opportunities, as it is for commercial property owners to have their customers and clients nearby. Realtors® should be aware of these important findings about community design as they work to keep their residential and commercial clients happy in a rapidly changing built environment.

Happy communities make happy clients, and happy clients make happy Realtors®!

Frank Dillow is a past chair of NVAR’s Realtor® Commercial Council, an NVAR instructor, and a senior commerical broker in Long & Foster‘s Commercial Division. He can be reached at francis.dillow@
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