Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Yext Rosslyn announcement pounds final nail into MoCo's tech job coffin

Northern VA declared
"next Silicon Valley"
after tech firm follows
Amazon's 25000 jobs
into the Old Dominion

There's nothing new about Northern Virginia destroying Montgomery County when it comes to economic development, nor about tech firms choosing the "birthplace of presidents" and D.C. over moribund, high-tax-and-regulation MoCo. But Montgomery's sad role as pinata in our regional rivalry just got weaker than ever last week, when New York-based tech firm Yext announced it would open a new office in Rosslyn with 500 high-wage jobs. On the heels of Virginia's victory in the nation's biggest job sweepstakes - Amazon's HQ2 that will open in Crystal City - the Yext move now has national power brokers officially declaring Northern Virginia the "next Silicon Valley."

Rosslyn's latest big "get" follows other new arrivals to Arlington's business hub with monumental views like the world headquarters of Nestle, Corporate Executive Board, Gerber and Deloitte. Not to mention all the other HQs NoVa has nabbed in recent years, including Hilton Hotels, IntelSat, Volkswagen and Northrop. Yext has leased the top three floors of 1101 Wilson Boulevard, a Class A tower with breathtaking views of the Potomac River and Capitol dome, among other landmarks, according to the Washington Post. Most embarrassing of all, the Yext deal wasn't even a deal - Virginia is paying them no tax incentives, Yext founder Howard Lerman tells the Post. Meanwhile, Montgomery County hasn't attracted a major corporate headquarters in two decades.
Capital One tower in Tysons,
the tallest office building in
the D.C. region
Montgomery has a national reputation as being hostile to business, a high-cost location to do business from, and having an ideological aversion to completing its master plan highway system - or adding Express Lanes to jammed interstates (unlike Virginia). How bad is it? Bethesda-based Donohoe Companies' CEO Chris Bruch had to chastise Montgomery politicians, who are furiously trying to block Gov. Larry Hogan's Express Lanes proposal for I-270 and the Beltway, in a letter published by the Post last weekend.

In other counties and cities, local officials are usually allied with business leaders like Bruch to complete major infrastructure projects. Here? Welcome to Clowntown, U.S.A.!

But our horrible reputation has compounded many past defeats with a major one. All major local jurisdictions have been competing for some time to be seen as a national tech hub. The Amazon and Yext victories have now led to that contest ending with the official recognition that Northern Virginia has won: game, set, match: Virginia.

"Northern Virginia's status as an East Coast tech hub got a major lift last week," wrote the Post's Aaron Gregg of the Yext announcement. "Northern Virginia is a reservoir of untapped talent," Lerman told Gregg. "I think it's the quiet next Silicon Valley." Gregg notes that the hits taken by Pentagon contractors in the Obama-era knucklehead budget battles on Capitol Hill led Virginia officials to turn to the private sector. "They have succeeded with a string of influential corporations setting up offices and headquarters in places such as Rosslyn and Tysons."

How much did we lose when the Montgomery County Council fumbled the Amazon golden ticket last year? 25,000 new jobs, $4 billion in lost wages, and $12 billion in collateral economic growth that Amazon would have provided. None of that even includes the tax revenue that would have accrued to Montgomery and Maryland.

Although it's unclear if our corrupt elected officials are capable of being embarrassed, particularly when they are being coddled and protected by an obsequious local press and surrounded by "Yes Men," we now know that Amazon was watching and listening to their public statements and actions very closely last year. Anti-Amazon and anti-business sentiments made by councilmembers last year were topped off by the capstone of the Council canceling the biggest infrastructure project near our proposed Amazon site in White Flint - while the Amazon executives were touring White Flint. It doesn't get any dumber than that, folks.

"For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term," Amazon said in its official statement announcing they were withdrawing their New York proposal. Yes, the comments and behavior of our "local elected officials" were indeed given heavy weight by Amazon. Anti-business sentiments and a bizarre, radical opposition to needed new roads were clearly not the winning message.

“A small group of politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said after Amazon's pull-out there, but he could have been talking about the Montgomery County Council, too. Nobody knows Montgomery's reputation for being hostile to business better than Yext founder Lerman, who grew up in Vienna. That irony echoes the Amazon decision as well, where one of the key decision makers for Amazon in the HQ2 search was Holly Sullivan, former President of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation. Sullivan knew our elected officials very well, and was very familiar with our business climate and failing infrastructure and traffic congestion. After all, she had to drive around it herself for several years! She knew exactly what Amazon would get by selecting Montgomery County, and...egads!!! Yikes!

Fortunately for New York City, at the end of the day, they're still New York City and an economic powerhouse even without Amazon. At the end of the day, Montgomery County is still...moribund.

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