Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Whipped by Fairfax, MoCo needs boardrooms, not bedrooms

A drive around the Capital Beltway tells you all you need to know about where the economic development action is in our region. Winding your way around the curves through Tysons, you marvel at the area's most impressive skyline. The region's tallest building - the Capital One headquarters - is under construction, towering over the freeway. Corporate logos are around every bend, including many that recently chose Tysons over Montgomery County, like Intelsat and Hilton Hotels. Snaking through the job-rich territory are major new transportation investments - Express Lanes and the Metro Silver Line; serious infrastructure compared to MoCo's laughably-lame future plans, which entirely consist of 12-miles-in-50-minutes Bus "Rapid" Transit, and bike lanes.

Driving the Beltway through Montgomery County, you'll see...trees. And more trees. Holy Cross Hospital. The Mormon Temple. A Marriott hotel. Extremely appropriately, the last thing you'll see before you cross the congested American Legion Bridge are two retirement communities on either side of the highway. Sad, but reflective of the message moribund Montgomery County would send to any international businessperson whose corporate limo happened to be traveling along the Beltway. An unlikely scenario, given that said businessperson will have already taken the Silver Line or direct highway access from Dulles International Airport into Tysons, signed the deal, and flown out of town again while you're still stuck in traffic going around the Beltway, thanks to our unfinished master plan highway system.

Realizing this, you probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that Fairfax County is still handing our impotent Montgomery County Council their briefcases when it comes to economic development. You wouldn't be surprised that the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that the average weekly wage paid in Montgomery County is $200 less than what you'd earn if you worked in Fairfax County. And you might not be surprised to learn that there are 588,000 jobs in Fairfax, and only 471,000 here in Montgomery.

But knowing all of that, what probably would surprise you, is that the Montgomery County Council and Planning Board believe we need more bedrooms, not more jobs. Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson recently went to bat on behalf of the developers he represents, adding even more last-minute luxury apartment height and density to the Westfield Montgomery Mall property, which sits alongside the I-270 spur in Bethesda. Not more office space, but more bedrooms. In one of the most overcrowded school clusters in the county, to boot.

This, despite the inescapable fact that adding thousands of new residential units countywide over the last two decades has proven the tax revenue generated by those bedrooms absolutely does not cover the costs in services, education and infrastructure they create.

This, despite County Executive Ike Leggett warning that we are becoming a bedroom community for the booming job centers elsewhere in the region.

And this, despite the fact that the only highway corridor in the county that has historically shown any sort of business development to interstate travelers - I-270 - is slowly being converted from corporate and business uses to residential and...self-storage. Yikes.

Office parks along I-270 and in Rock Spring near the mall are exactly the kind of places the most significant companies of our time are seeking for their headquarters - Apple and Google, for example, both have sprawling. low-rise, suburban campuses. High-wage aerospace and defense firms are seeking simiilar secure sites. Yet, companies like these aren't coming to Montgomery County. It's not because office parks went out of style, as Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai can tell you. It's because MoCo's taxes are too high, its regulation is extreme, the business climate is horrendously unfriendly, and the transportation system simply doesn't function - and doesn't go directly to Dulles Airport.

The last thing we need are more bedrooms around Montgomery Mall. Thanks to poor planning, and elected officials who are clueless about the world of international business circa 2017 (their few business trips have been taken exclusively to Communist countries, which probably explains a lot), we remain stuck significantly behind competing jurisdictions in economic development. Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction in the region to experience a net loss in jobs since 2000; all others around us gained jobs - even Culpeper County, for Pete's sake.

Government incompetence is costing you - in your paycheck if you work in MoCo, on your tax returns, and at the fuel pump and on your internet shipping charges, as traffic idles on the unfinished highway network of Montgomery County. Only by adding more boardrooms - not bedrooms - can we turn this around. Throw the bums out.


  1. From what I've heardS, we actually had a surplus of office space around MoCo that some of it had to be torn down or converted to residential space? I'm convinced our "leaders" actually do not want more business here. Maybe it threatens the Council's ego? After all they're elected leaders, why would they care about the voters?

    But you're right, this already is a bedroom community. Even if that's the design, at least make it easier for people to commute to and from NoVa for their jobs! MD had not invested in MoCo beltway in decades while VA has gone leaps and bounds. This does not seem to make sense from any angle. How many more mixed use communities can we support without attracting big business? An economy cannot run on housing and retail/service jobs alone!

    It really is invigorating driving to Tysons or Alexandria where I see much development happening, real business. Then I come back to the stone age here.

    1. I believe the reason may be that every office or corporate campus site is one less that can be used for residential, which is far more profitable for developers than office. By discouraging big corporations, it not only creates the false impression that office parks are dead, but also reserves the land for conversion to residential.

      Where this goes against their claimed "smart growth" policy, is that having more high-wage jobs in the county would reduce traffic congestion. Residents could go to work a mile away, instead of 10 miles away or more.

  2. speaking on behalf of rockville town center area, to be more specific, they are adding more "senior, historic preservation and affordable housing". There is no more future growth in here.....

    1. if you are looking to retire here, probably is a good place for you

    2. You mean, to die here..."

  3. I guess my thought is that office parks per se are not dead, just the ones around here. It sounds like the surplus space was a result of overbuilding and of course not attracting business to fill it. Yeah I've also heard that residential space is much more profitable for them so makes sense they would convert it since it's idle anyways (I'd rather see it filled as office space though).

    "Smart growth" for MoCo seems to be only as far as residential, retail, restaurants and metro are concerned. While this is great, it also needs the corporate components...any kind really...finance, consulting, another govt agency, tech, etc. Smarth growth is still a residential model here to get people in transit hubs to get to their jobs in DC or Nova.

  4. MoCo continues to die....will the loss of jobs and influx of illegals, when will the bleeding stop??!!