This season Northern Virginia is thankful for the announcement last week that Amazon had selected the aggregate area recently dubbed National Landing by local economic development leaders for a partial award of the company’s HQ2 placement. Although not selected, D.C. officials also heralded the choice, knowing the District would gain auxiliary benefit.
Ending a national search spanning more than a year, nearly 300 communities competed for designation as the location of the company’s second headquarters to supplement the existing organizational center in Seattle. In the end, the company chose to split the designation between the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, New York, and a swath of Arlington and a slice of Alexandria in Virginia. The latter locale encompasses Crystal City, Pentagon City, and Potomac Yard.
Despite the overwhelming regional embrace of the local selection by elected officials, business leaders, and regional residents alike, there was a minority of voices exhibiting upset. They should be ignored, discounted for their tiresome continuing and reflexive opposition to economic growth and development.
That is the prime paradox of the intrinsically big-government-as-goddess gaggle now exhibiting an all-too-predictable tongue clacking over government enticement of an engine of economic growth. You can’t on the one hand argue for increased political control of market commerce and simultaneously vent outrage when government engages in and incentivizes job growth and economic development by the private sector.
A little soul-searching is also requisite for that crowd. It is a characteristic stance, after all, to oppose both housing and economic enlargement that are the central components for expanding growth and opportunities for all. Both NIMBY and anti-business activism, whether in stymieing housing development or curtailing economic expansion, or both, only ensures that neither will occur.
Most of all, it lays bare the comical notion that politicians or governments create jobs. It’s a farcical claim that makes sensible folks cringe each and every time an elected official declares they created some stated number of new enterprise employment.
Governments do not create private sector jobs, no matter how many times the claim may be made, but can create the conditions in which those jobs can be created.
In fact, and not without inherent irony, a large part of the motivation and benefit of winning the Amazon award is to replace the now-disappeared federal government jobs that have rendered Crystal City, in particular, a domain of low-occupancy or vacant office buildings and underutilized land tracts.
Amazon is scheduled to hire only 400 employees in the first year, with full staffing of 25,000 total company jobs to be integrated over a lengthy dozen years. Regional economic analysts have determined that number of positions and pace of integration as wholly absorbable without deleterious effect.
The region needs to encourage additional housing development necessary with or without Amazon contributing to local population growth. Area governments must ease existing regulatory obstacles and diminish oppositional opportunities currently precluding the adequate production and rapid deployment of sufficient housing units.
More important than the tax abatements, financial incentives, and transportation infrastructure support governments can provide is an assessment whether local leaders have fostered a regulatory and tax environment wherein commerce can thrive and survive. On that score, it’s no mystery among enterprise leaders that the chronically business-unfriendly District and notoriously like-postured neighboring Maryland suburban areas were passed over.
Rather than railing about deployment of government resources to encourage private sector enterprise growth, the discussion should instead focus on expanding the public sector purse to the greater source of job creation and economic vitality. Local independent small businesses are equally in need of both relief from burdensome government regulations and benefit of collective societal support.
Government is not the primary or essential grantor of economic opportunities, provider of housing, or producer of jobs. The sooner the lesson is learned that government has a limited and, for some, counterintuitive role in creating economic well-being, the more opportunities can be created for the most.