Suddenly, the City of Falls Church is the apple of regional developers’ eye. Or, so it seemed from public comments made at Wednesday’s Biznow conference on regional economic development trends.
The reasons pertain to what we’ve known for a long time as the features distinguishing Falls Church from its neighbors, especially the giant Fairfax County to the City’s west. The prospects for continued robust development in the county, the panel of experts said yesterday, depend on the ability to attract a huge cadre of well-educated, tech-savvy younger workers and professionals, mostly the so-called “Millennials.”
So far for this region, the Millennials have parked themselves primarily in northwest Washington, D.C. and in the Rosslyn-to-Ballston corridor of Arlington, although the ones there tend to be more involved in the affairs of government than the high-tech cyber security, information technology, computer engineering, cloud-related and innovative health breakthrough professions in high demand in Fairfax County.
Still, for the high-powered developers at yesterday’s conference, the attraction of this Millennial labor force is key to the future prospects of the county, as underscored by Jerry Gordon of Fairfax County’s Economic Development Authority. That means not just the building of giant apartment complexes and office buildings. On the contrary, they see it as lying in the ability to be more fulfilling for the panorama of a young professional’s life, in the lifestyle amenities that can be established.
Fairfax is sorely lacking in these now, including Reston and Tysons, competing to become the central downtown of the county. It was in this context that Falls Church, especially following a very rich presentation of its merits by its Mayor David Tarter, came up repeatedly in the developers’ conversations.
It was the “authenticity” of the experience of living in Falls Church that was referred to with a sense of admiration and even envy, at least as these developers saw it.
The central value of quality public education made a huge impression, not to mention the emphasis on parks and open space, walkability and diverse transport modes (such as bike sharing), the farmer’s market, the State Theatre, the mothership Harris Teeter, the successful Hilton Garden Inn, Eden Center and the coming movie theater and second hotel in the Mason Row project and commitment to the upgrading of public infrastructure, everything from new sidewalks to a downtown pocket park and renovations at City Hall, the library and high school, and flexibility at City Hall. (We would add that the community sports a now-rare local newspaper to that list, as well).
The combination of all that with the City’s location between two Metro stations, just off I-66, midway between two major international airports and seven miles (as the crow flies) from the White House, earns the City major points from the standpoint of what the region wants and needs: those high-tech “creative class” Millennials.