IN THE MIDST of all the speculation that constantly swirls around politics, often in the service of shaping perception, it occasionally helps to remind ourselves of what’s real.
Amazon is real. Amazon’s second headquarters is coming to Arlington County and the benefits, as recently detailed by economist Stephen Fuller, should be lasting and important.
“There can be no question that Amazon’s HQ2 location in Arlington County will have significant implications for the local and regional economies,” Fuller wrote last week.
The numbers, as he correctly says, have been widely reported: “25,000 or more jobs with an average salary of $150,000, an annual payroll of $3.75 billion or more, $4 billion in new construction outlays, the generation and support of tens of thousands of other jobs throughout the region’s economy cutting across all sectors …”
So, not chicken feed. Not run-of-the mill.
But if you back up and broaden the perspective on Amazon’s decision, Fuller believes, you get an even more impressive view.
“The Amazon HQ2 investment is actually much more important that these numbers suggests” Fuller says, “Arlington County and the Washington region have been experiencing the most significant economic transformation in their histories over the last 10-15 years, as these economies shifted away from their previous dependences on federal government spending to drive their growth.”
OK, now we’re getting at the heart of Amazon’s significance and what has long been an economic paradox in Virginia: the joys and woes of federal largesse.
On one hand, since the end of the Second World War, Virginia has not only benefited mightily from national defense spending, but also from the myriad enterprises directly and indirectly related to national defense.
It’s everywhere in Virginia and you are likely part of it.
But this happy circumstance also makes Virginia highly dependent on one source of economic strength — federal procurement — and that, in turn, subjects Virginia to the whims of Congress.
It so shapes Virginia’s thinking that you might even imagine local economic development officials posted at the mouth of harbor — pass the binoculars, please — to make sure no Norfolk-based Navy flattop takes a sudden turn toward Jacksonville, Florida.
That BRAC thing — the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Act — gave Virginia palpitations. The Budget Control Act of 2011 put the word “sequestration” into our daily vocabulary,” usually with a few choice modifiers.
Sequestration cost Arlington County alone 34,000 jobs and the Washington Metropolitan area, which includes Northern Virginia, fell from first among the nation’s fifteen largest metropolitan areas to dead last on that list.
So, diversity is good. A diverse economy will improve on the status quo. It will make Virginia substantially less vulnerable.
Because Amazon — the seller of all things — will land in Virginia. It will add a push in a new, more constructive direction. It’s a big break from the past and, like most big changes, has inspired some consternation.
Yes, last week people showed up at an Arlington County Board hearing last week to oppose a $23 million incentives package for Amazon. The board patiently heard the naysayers out — which, in the fashion of the day, involved a lot of chest-thumping and hollering — and then proceeded to vote 5-0 in favor of the incentives.
Good. That vote expressed confidence in the broad public support favoring Amazon.
That’s right. Virginia is not New York.
But the nature of present-day politics being what it is — too often angry, too frequently populist, and too, too incoherent — the underlying rationale for Amazon has to be constantly restated and reaffirmed.
Virginians will never be on one page on any topic, but economic development — growth and the expansion of opportunity for jobs and wealth — has long been the glue for both liberal and conservative purposes.
Conservatives, generally, favor enterprise and the power of individual initiative. Liberals, generally, favor public efforts that expand equity and justice and even up the playing field.
One produces wealth; the other requires it. It’s not by any means a perfect marriage, but it can be made to work. It’s real. Virginians have proved that in the past, over and over again.