Vice Chair Libby Garvey’s March 16, 2019 closing remarks following the Board’s unanimous vote to approve a performance agreement with Amazon for HQ2.
From my vantage point, Amazon’s establishing a second headquarters here is something we’ve been working toward for a very long time…since before my husband and I arrived here in 1976, when the new Metro was just about to open, and Arlington had already begun planning development along the Metro corridors.
In 1996, when I joined the School Board, Central American immigrants were swelling our immigrant community. Arlington had long welcomed immigrants, but our schools were feeling the effects. I was part of a movement to improve our school system and eliminate the persistent achievement gap between racial and ethnic groups.
Fast forward to today. Arlington is not perfect, but we’ve done a pretty good job over the past 40 years building a livable, walkable community that welcomes diversity, values education and provides outstanding schools for everyone in our County. Most recently, of necessity, we’ve begun to diversify our economy, so we are increasingly home to businesses and tech companies, and not so dependent on the Federal Government.
The one issue I think we really have not made much progress on, like pretty much every thriving city around the globe, is realizing our Affordable Housing Master Plan to sustain our supply of affordable housing for lower and middle-income families.The increased focus on affordable housing and the increased resources we have been promised by Virginia for it, is one of the positives I see from this agreement.
The sheer size of Amazon concerns some. That’s not an unreasonable concern, but we’re used to big in Arlington. We’ve got companies like Boeing and Nestle and, of course, the biggest of them all: the Federal government.
I understand the concern that Amazon will bring too much change, but we are used to change, and we face today the same options we always have: change with the world or be left behind. Arlington has done a lot of changing in the 40+ years I’ve lived here, and we are ready for this change. We’ve been building the kind of community that attracts a company like Amazon for a long time. We’ve planned for this growth, planned for these jobs. What we did NOT expect was getting so much of it in one agreement…and therein I see a very real opportunity.
With one large company coming and bringing state resources as well as producing local economic resources, we can better manage the growth, manage the transit, manage the needs of our vulnerable, manage the change…in a way we have not been able to since the planned advent of Metro.
In recent past decades we’ve had to be reactive as we’ve filled in our plans with a building here, and another there, tried to figure out how to get a park on line sooner when the right buildings aren’t moving. How to get by with a poorly performing intersection because no redevelopment is happening there yet. And we’ve been struggling to keep up the quality of our good schools and life in our community, to meet the needs of our vulnerable, with the high commercial vacancy rates that put so much of the cost burden for that quality of life on our taxpayers.
Suddenly, with one agreement ,we are able to fulfill many long- standing plans at once, and our commercial vacancy rate will come down several points, providing relief to our taxpayers. Does this mean our problems are over and everything will be easy? No.
I understand the concerns we’ve heard. Any relationship changes both partners in the relationship, sometimes a lot and sometimes a little. I believe this new relationship with Amazon will not change either of us as much as many people fear, or hope. But we will change. Moving forward, it is up to us to make sure we change for the better, keep to the plans we’ve had for our future, keep the progressive values we have of inclusion and equity. This agreement which is so advantageous for Arlington and Virginia, and good for Amazon, too, is an important first step in making sure this partnership and our future is a good one; that we thrive and our region will work well for everyone, not just some. This is just the beginning.
To conclude, I find myself thinking about the NEXT 40 years. I think they will be very exciting for us. This is about much more than Amazon. It’s about the future of our region. With this agreement and the Innovation Center our neighbors in Alexandria will be building, Arlington and our region are closer to becoming the global leader we should be, a place where all different kinds of people can live well, a place that attracts the best thinkers. I believe our region can be a place where people come from around the world to work on solving the problems of the 21st Century, and come up with solutions that work.This is a real opportunity, we’ve been working towards it for years and we’re ready for it. I believe it is our responsibility to take it.