Category Archives: Economic development

Progressives Perpetuating Poverty

Danny Cendejas, an organizer with La ColectiVa, addresses concerns about HQ2. Photo credit: Washington Business Journal

Amazon’s decision to scrap a $2.5 billion investment in New York City has emboldened far-left progressives in Northern Virginia to oppose the e-commerce giant’s plans for plans to build an East Coast headquarters in Arlington. Critics of HQ2 are targeting $23 million that Arlington County will contribute to the pot of incentives, reports the Washington Business Journal.

“The county should vote down the deal,” said Roshan Abraham, an organizer with Our Revolution Arlington in an anti-Amazon meeting Monday. One of the richest companies in the world does not need the county’s money, he said. “If Amazon chooses not to come to Arlington over $23 million, good riddance.”

A primary concern among leftist activists is rising rent. As 25,000 highly paid Amazon employees start working in Arlington, they will bid up housing prices. About 3,000 apartment units in Alexandria and Arlington between South Glebe and West Glebe roads could become unaffordable for the largely Latino community living there once Amazon moves in, say Amazon foes.

I sympathize to some degree with those who resent the incentives, including some $500 million in workforce grants from the state. Amazon is the world’s most valuable company, CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s wealthiest man (at least until his divorce is settled), and the showering of massive tax breaks on Amazon is manifestly unfair. But the world is unfair, and the rational response is not to chase Amazon out of town but to craft a deal that is tax-flow positive for state and local government, and work to ameliorate negative impacts on housing and transportation. To do otherwise is to limit opportunity and perpetuate poverty. Continue reading

Data Centers Spur Electricity Demand in Virginia, Says Greenpeace

Continued expansion of data centers in Virginia is driving demand for electricity, which gives Dominion Energy the justification for expanding its gas-fired generating fleet and building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, according to a new report by Greenpeace, “Clicking Clean Virginia: The Dirty Energy Powering Data Center Alley.”

While several major providers of cloud services — Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft most prominently — have committed to deriving their electricity from renewable energy sources, the boom in data centers has outpaced the ability of the data center industry, Amazon in particular, to line up renewable energy contracts.

“While electricity demand for utilities is flat or declining, electricity demand from data centers in Virginia has grown sharply, between 9 and 11 percent year year, offsetting declines elsewhere, with data center demand regularly touted by Dominion to its investors as a sign of continued growth,” states Greenpeace.

Ironically, although the Greenpeace opposes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, information in the report undercuts an argument the environmental group’s Virginia allies use against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline: that Dominion forecasts have consistently overstated future electric load. While electricity load has plateaued or even declined in many states, demand from data centers continues to push demand incrementally higher in Virginia. Continue reading

Virginia’s If-You-Don’t-Build-It-They-Won’t-Come Economic Development Strategy

Kevin Costner bet the farm in “Field of Dreams.” But “build it and they will come” is not a sound economic development strategy.

The City of Emporia, one of Virginia’s poorest cities, has poured $25 million into the 1,600-acre Mid-Atlantic Advanced Manufacturing Center. To date the industrial park has yet to attract a tenant. Over the past decade, Virginians have sunk more than $100 million into land acquisition and development for industrial “megasites” in the hope of luring major manufacturing investment, reports the Associated Press. So far, the Old Dominion has little to show for it. Continue reading

The Exact Moment Virginia Changed Forever

For veteran observers of the Virginia General Assembly, a brief oral exchange between an Amazon executive and the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday was a bright flash of insight into Virginia’s new political landscape.

You do not see people, especially not people seeking a major expenditure of state funds, get that cavalier with the chair in that committee.  The nervous laughter from the audience that followed, and then lingered for a few seconds, was exactly that:  Laughter from nervous people.

A very big player has arrived on the scene in Virginia.  Everybody else just moved back one or more steps in the pecking order.  Live with it.

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Bristol’s Newest Savior: a Proposed Casino and Resort

Jim McGlothlin (right) talks about his proposed casino project. Photo credit: Bristol Herald Courier

The City of Bristol, having mortgaged its future with a failed mall development project, is betting on another big-ticket project: a proposed $150 million casino with accompanying hotels, conference center, retail, and restaurants built at the failed mall location. The backers assert that the Bristol Resort and Casino would create an estimated 2,000 jobs initially, growing to 5,000 eventually, and paying an average salary of $46,000. The project would generate $30 million annual tax revenue for the hard-pressed locality.

All the backers need is for the General Assembly to rescind its ban on casino gambling in Virginia.

Normally, I would be highly skeptical of a project like this. When developers spin a fantasy vision of jobs and tax revenues, there’s always a hook — all they need is a little support from government. Loans, subsidies, loan guarantees, whatever. But in this case, the Bristol casino backers are funding the project themselves. Continue reading

Virginia Back to No. 1, or Close to It

Image source: Business Facilities

Virginia’s economic growth rate may have lagged the national average last year (See Don Rippert’s post on the subject), but outside perceptions of Virginia have changed for the better. Virginia ranked 4th in Forbes magazine’s 2018 Best States for Business ranking and 4th in CNBC’s Best States for Business ranking. Most recently, on the strength of winning half of Amazon’s HQ2 project, the most highly touted economic development project in recent history, Business Facilities magazine anointed Virginia as 2018’s “state of the year.Continue reading

Who’s Got Broadband and Who Doesn’t?

Percentage of households with broadband by locality. Source: Virginia Public Access Project based on the 2013-2017 American Community Survey.

This map, published today by the Virginia Public Access Project, shows clearly the metropolitan/rural divide in access to broadband Internet access. Some rural areas obviously enjoy better broadband service than others. Look at the cluster of counties to the south and west of the Washington metropolitan area. Look at the cities and counties running down the I-81 corridor from Winchester to Blacksburg. Many are low-density localities, but somehow they have higher broadband penetration. Continue reading

More People Still Moving Out of Virginia than Moving In

Virginia is still leaking population through out-migration, according to the most recent United Van Lines national movers study, which tracks customers’ state-to-state migration patterns in 2018. The gap between those moving into the state and moving out was small — 48.4% inbound compared to 51.6% outbound, but it continues a discouraging trend of the past several years and seemingly cements the robust in-migration of previous decades.

Dig into the numbers, however, and there were some consolations.

Continue reading

Virginia Should Take Regional Approach to Building Offshore Wind Supply Chain

Where the action is in East Coast offshore wind. Source: BVG Associates. (Click for more legible image.)

To build an offshore wind supply chain with thousands of construction, manufacturing and maintenance jobs, Virginia should collaborate with Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina, concludes a report issued last week by BVG Associates for the state’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.

Offshore wind development is advancing rapidly in the Northeastern states, and if Virginia wants to maximize the benefits of the emerging offshore wind industry, it needs to move quickly. “Virginia has great potential and many unique advantages to attract this investment, but it must act now if it is to be a leader in OSW,” states the study, The Virginia Advantage: The Roadmap for the Offshore Wind Supply Chain in Virginia. Continue reading

The Cloud Services Boom

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research

If it seems like the cloud-services industry is the hottest economic sector in Virginia — outside the new Amazon East Coast half headquarters — that’s probably because cloud services is one of the hottest economic sectors in the United States. This chart published by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows how cloud services expenditures have boomed in recent years.

The Washington region was the only metropolitan area in Virginia with the attributes that could compete for Amazon’s HQ2, but other parts of the commonwealth can vie for data centers, as Henrico County has shown with Facebook and Mecklenburg County with Microsoft. Unlike Amazon’s HQ2 facility in Arlington/Alexandria, which envisions hiring 25,000 workers over the next decade or two, data centers require only a few dozen employees, so they can locate in labor markets as small as rural Mecklenburg County.

As long as Virginia has abundant fiber-optic trunk line capacity with connections around the world, like the new trans-Atlantic cables to Virginia Beach, and as long as the state can provide abundant, competitively priced green energy, the sky’s the limit for more cloud-services investment.

JLARC: Discount Incentive Benefits By 90%

Click for larger view. Source: Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.

Virginia’s legislative audit agency started its most recent analysis of Virginia’s economic development incentive grant programs with an assumption boosters would quickly dispute – that 90 percent of the economic activity they produce would have happened anyway.

Continue reading

Amazon, Incentives and Alternate Opportunity Cost

Source: Mercatus Center

George Mason University’s Mercatus Center does not like the deals struck by Virginia and New York to split Amazon, Inc.’s $5 billion HQ2 project. In a new commentary, the market-oriented research center raises a valid consideration rarely mentioned by politicians touting favored government expenditures of any type: alternate opportunity cost. Money spent on “A” is money not spent on “B.” Continue reading

Fralin Donates $50 Million for Roanoke Research Center

Heywood Fralin

Heywood Fralin, his wife Cynthia, and the Horace Fralin Charitable Trust have announced a $50 million gift to Virginia Tech to attract top-ranked scientists to the university’s Roanoke medical research center. The gift is twice the size of the university’s previous single largest donation.

“I came up with the size based on what I felt I could do. I wanted to make a maximum gift that was a challenge to me and to the trust because I thought it was important to the community. And I thought it could benefit everyone, and it would have a lasting impact that would help to change the future of the Roanoke Valley and the surrounding area,” Fralin said in a Wednesday interview with the Roanoke Times. Continue reading

Amazon Deal Could Create 59,000 Virginia Jobs

Amazon, Inc.’s $2.5 billion investment in major new East Coast headquarters in Arlington/Alexandria will generate $14.2 billion in economic activity over the next 12 years, projects a new study by Richmond-based Chmura Economics & Analytics. While Amazon has committed to hiring 25,000 employees, indirect effects of the investment will create more than 59,000 jobs.

“The entire state of Virginia will benefit from Amazon’s decision to locate part of its second headquarters in Northern Virginia,” said Christine Chmura, the firm’s CEO and chief economist. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has the story here. Continue reading

Amazon’s New Home in NoVa Will Bolster Private Sector

An Amazon home-delivery drone. Private-sector applications of unmanned systems would fit nicely with Virginia’s economic development priorities.

In the lead-up to Amazon, Inc.’s announcement that it would split its massive HQ2 expansion between Northern Virginia and New York, there was considerable speculation that Northern Virginia had an edge among the 20 finalist regions due to its proximity to the federal government. The company was aggressively vying for federal government business, most visibly in cloud services, and Amazon, like other federal contractors, needed a Washington location in order be close to the world’s biggest customer of IT services.

But Amazon’s decision to locate in Arlington practically next door to the Pentagon is not a federal government play, says Stephen Moret, CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Furthermore, Virginia is not shelling out an unprecedented $550 million in job-creation inducements by FY 2035 (plus up to $200 million more in later phases) to magnify Northern Virginia’s dependence upon federal government spending.

The Amazon expansion is driven mainly by private-sector initiatives, says Moret, and Virginia’s incentives package is “right in the bulls eye” of Virginia’s strategic goals of diversifying the economy away from the federal government and bolstering the region’s high-tech industry. “For us, this is principally a private-sector diversification opportunity,” he tells Bacon’s Rebellion. “In terms of the jobs we incentivize, no more than 10% can be associated with federal government contracts.”

That’s why the Amazon-Virginia Memorandum of Understanding requires “a certification as to whether more than 10% of the New Jobs at the Facility during the prior calendar year were primarily engaged in supporting Federal Government contracts, and, if so, the percentage of New Jobs so engaged.” If new jobs tied to federal work exceeds 10% in the new facility, they would not be eligible for state employment incentives.

The percentage of federal-related jobs was not a significant issue in negotiations between Amazon and Virginia, Moret says. VEDP included the language as a “safeguard” to advance Virginia’s diversification goal. “We just wanted to make sure that the opportunity we saw would be ensured by the incentive structure.”

Last June Amazon announced a decision to expand the presence of Amazon Web Services (AWS) in Virginia with a new East Coast campus in Herndon. The deal was expected to create 1,500 new jobs in the cloud computing field. The press release from the Governor’s Office described the business this way: “AWS offers over 90 fully featured services for compute, storage, networking, database, analytics, application services, deployment, management, developer, mobile, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), security, hybrid, and enterprise applications, from 42 Availability Zones (AZs) across 16 geographic regions in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and the UK. ”

While AWS was pitching cloud services to Uncle Sam, the list of add-on software applications clearly was aimed at an audience beyond the federal government.

Known primarily as an e-commerce giant and, more recently, as a provider of cloud services, Amazon is expanding into many exciting fields, Moret says. In vying for HQ2, an even bigger investment, VEDP scrutinized the public job postings for Amazon’s Seattle headquarters and found the company was recruiting talent for fields from health care to big data analytics.

Amazon Business, launched in 2012, provides an Amazon.com shopping experience for business supplies. Amazon is expanding its array of consumer electronics products beyond the Kindle e-readers and Echo smart speaker into smartphones TV set-top devices and credit-card readers. The company is pushing into digital streaming of music and games, and with its Whole Foods acquisition is experimenting with the home delivery of groceries. Amazon wants to rationalize the logistics of the health care industry, peddle event tickets online, sell educational toys on a subscription basis, and penetrate the home Internet-of-Things market. (See a list of Amazon products and services here.)

Moret expects new private-sector initiatives will take root in Northern Virginia, enlarging the region’s innovation ecosystem, generating new Amazon business lines, and creating new opportunities for non-Amazon entrepreneurs. Ideally, the new ventures will play to Virginia’s strengths in areas such as unmanned systems, cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence and cyber-security.

Says Moret: “We saw these as big growth opportunities for Virginia.”