The work begins
Amazon construction, hiring starts in Northern Virginia
Following Amazon.com Inc.’s November 2018 announcement that the online retail giant would locate its $2.5 billion HQ2 East Coast headquarters in Arlington County, the company filled 2019 with hiring announcements, commercial real estate deals and a new push toward regional collaboration in Northern Virginia.
Hiring for Amazon’s estimated 25,000 HQ2 employees started in April 2019, and more than 600 workers were on board by early this year. Demolition to start construction on HQ2 started this January, and the e-tailer announced late last year it would give Arlington County $20 million to develop affordable housing. Washington, D.C. metro leaders have long decried the lack of workforce housing in the region, and costs are anticipated to rise as Amazon moves into town.
To address these concerns, Amazon and developer JBG Smith Properties promised a community benefits deal in their negotiation with the county for the construction of Metropolitan Park, its first office project in Pentagon City. The $20 million will go to Arlington’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, which subsidizes residences for lower-income people.
Amazon also inspired the September launch of the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance, which groups the 10 competitive regional counties and cities into one organization to promote economic growth, transportation, education and affordable housing. NOVA EDA also will work with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and other regional alliances.
In Pittsylvania County and Danville, VEDP and local economic development staff members scurried to land delivery van maker Morgan Olson LLC to fill an assembly line plant soon to be vacated by Swedish home-goods manufacturer Ikea. It was a major save, creating 703 positions — 400 more than Ikea, which shut down work in December. In February, Morgan Olson President and CEO Mike Ownbey upped that estimate to about 1,000 new jobs.
The story was different in Richmond, where the proposed $1.5 billion Navy Hill redevelopment project ran into public and political resistance. Despite the backing of Dominion Energy President and CEO Tom Farrell, head of the NH District Corp., and Mayor Levar Stoney, Richmond City Council killed the project in early February. Several Council members expressed concern and an independent advisory board deemed the project too expensive and risky for the city.
Nonetheless, it’s possible that the project could go back to the drawing board, as City Council asked the mayor to seek competing proposals for the redevelopment project.
2019 also was dominated by discussions of casino and gaming projects proposed across the state, as the General Assembly considered legislation that would open the commonwealth to a limited number of casinos — a potential boon for economically challenged localities and the state.
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