Tysons, VA

The Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce has big plans for 2021.

As offices shuttered and pivoted to remote work when COVID-19 hit Fairfax County last spring, the chamber became a vital source of information and resources for local businesses scrambling to stay afloat and adjust to a new reality.

Now, with vaccines suggesting a potential end to the pandemic, the chamber faces the task of helping members recover from a year of economic upheaval, while recognizing that some of the changes to the workforce and business landscape introduced by the novel coronavirus may be here to stay.

“This is going to be a big year in transition,” Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce board chairman Andrew Clark said in an interview on Jan. 4.

Like many of the businesses it represents, the chamber shifted its focus online last year in lieu of holding in-person meetings and events, but that did not make its schedule less busy.

Clark says the chamber organized more than 40 webinars last year on subjects ranging from brand management and networking to health protocols for businesses looking to reopen and ways that nonprofits could compensate for declines in charitable giving.

The organization hosted its signature Tysons 2050 event for the fourth year in a row, and it held the first-ever Tysons Restaurant Week in October. The initiative proved so successful that organizers are planning to revive it this spring.

Clark says the Tysons chamber will bring that same spirit of creativity and collaboration to the new year with initiatives like a Chocolate Safari that Visit Fairfax is currently promoting and a car show that is being organized with Tysons Corner Center.

A spokesperson for the mall confirmed that a car show is in the works, but the event is still in the preliminary planning stages. Clark says the chamber is tentatively aiming for a date around the end of February or early March.

“It’s a communal effect,” Clark said. “…The restaurants are supporting the buildings, the buildings are supporting the restaurants, and now that we have a sense of the community that’s coming to Tysons, it’s fun to be a part, as the chamber, of being a conduit for that.”

With a new board of directors set to be inducted on Thursday (Jan. 14), the chamber’s priorities for 2021 will include intensifying its focus on technology companies and government contractors, two industries that have a strong presence in Tysons, current board member Vicki Warker says.

The chamber will also continue working with companies that manage or provide services to commercial real estate as they prepare for a potential return of office workers while maintaining cleaning protocols and other health measures necessitated by COVID-19.

Clark says safety will be “paramount” to ensuring a successful transition to a new normal for Tysons. The chamber strives to keep members informed on everything from how to obtain personal protective equipment to the legal issues to consider when reopening a business.

“What’s relevant today? We try to position ourselves to get that information as quickly as we can to our constituents,” Clark said.

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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Like everywhere else in the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic fallout have hit Fairfax County hardest in its most disadvantaged communities, consultants confirmed in a presentation to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (Nov. 10).

With the exception of just two zip codes, the areas in Fairfax County with more COVID-19 cases also have more residents of color and lower average median incomes than the county as a whole, according to HR&A project manager Olivia Moss.

The zip codes with the most COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents are concentrated primarily around Falls Church, Annandale, and Bailey’s Crossroads.

On top of that, low-income residents and people of color have been most affected by the national economic downturn that started this spring, when businesses and public spaces temporarily closed in an effort to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

90% of all job losses in Fairfax County this year have occurred in industries like retail and food services, where average wages are less than 80% of the county’s area median income. 63% of the county’s job losses were in industries where the majority of workers are people of color.

“We know across the country, the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis has not been distributed equally across everyone and every business sector,” HR&A partner Jeff Hebert said. “So, really trying to understand what’s happening in Fairfax and how you can be part of creating a more just recovery in Fairfax is going to be really important to the community that will result after this pandemic is over.”

Fairfax County hired HR&A this summer to develop an economic recovery framework to guide the county’s response to the economic challenges presented by COVID-19.

To create a “new normal” that addresses the socioeconomic inequities exposed and deepened by the ongoing pandemic, Fairfax County needs recovery strategies targeted to different industries and populations based on their specific needs, Hebert and Moss say.

For instance, the county could assist the hardest-hit industries – led by the hospitality and food services sectors, which have shed 12,420 jobs or 26% of their entire workforce – by helping them reduce costs, evaluating regulatory requirements, and supporting programs to rebuild consumer confidence.

Initiatives like the RISE COVID-19 Small Business and Nonprofit Relief Grant Fund that the Board of Supervisors approved in May will be critical too. Through RISE, Fairfax County has awarded $52.5 million to 4,804 businesses so far, 72% of them owned by women, minorities, or veterans.

Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk says Fairfax County should adapt its recovery strategies to specific geographic areas as well as industries, noting that the pandemic’s economic impact in his district has been especially acute in the Richmond Highway corridor.

“Certain parts of Fairfax County are going to have different needs and issues,” Lusk said. “Tysons, Reston, Herndon are in a very different position than Bailey’s, Richmond Highway, and parts further south.”

Workforce development will also be essential to help people whose jobs may never return.

While 40,300 of the approximately 48,200 jobs lost during the pandemic are projected to be recovered by the end of the year, Fairfax County’s labor force has contracted by about 22,000 workers. Women in particular have been driven out by issues like inadequate or uncertain access to childcare, Hebert says.

“The reskilling piece is probably the important thing in here, from my standpoint. Not only if you’re going to help those most vulnerable in the community, you’re going to do that by making sure they have a skill set to take advantage of our future economy,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay said, suggesting the green economy as one industry with a lot of potential for growth.

HR&A will continue analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on Fairfax County before delivering a report with recommendations for recovery strategies and programs in January 2021.

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

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Barry Biggar, President and CEO of Visit Fairfax, has a somewhat frank assessment of the state of the hospitality industry in Fairfax: not great.

“There’s one particular industry that’s been devastated, and that’s travel and tourism,” Biggar said, “and when people aren’t travelling, there are many elements that are affected.”

Biggar isn’t alone in that assessment. In an Economic Advisory Commission meeting, local hospitality industry leaders spoke with Biggar and members of the Board of Supervisors about the impact the pandemic has had on hotels and other hospitality services.

“This has perhaps been the most heart-rending experience of my entire career,” said Mark Carrier, representing DoubleTree Hotel in Tysons. “Many hotels are paying to stay open. In Fairfax, all hotels combined had an occupancy of just 32 percent over last three months, less than half a year ago. Same period in 2019 was 76 percent. Revenue has declined by 73 percent across the entire county. Cash flow has evaporated basically, operators fighting to sustain their business. Frankly, the sustained nature of the crisis has been a source of stress.”

Biggar told Tysons Reporter that the D.C. area, including Fairfax, is one of four regions in the country seeing occupancy below 50%.

“From middle of March to end of August, hotel revenue (generated here in our county) has seen a loss of $278,987,000, just between mid-March and August,” Biggar said. “May is generally a good month. In May of 2018, the hotel revenue in Fairfax County was $70 million. This May, that figure was $9.1 million.”

Biggar noted that those figures are just based on revenue from occupancy and don’t include the total loss from related services, like food and beverage or catering.

“When you add those up, it’s significant,” Biggar said.

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A consultant hired by Fairfax County has rounded up some thoughts from regional government, business and non-profit leaders on what was hit most by the pandemic and where the most help is needed.

The feedback is one of the first steps on HR&A’s task of building an Economic Recovery Framework, a recovery strategy commissioned by Fairfax County and the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.

“This strategy will guide the County through stabilization and outline recommendations for fostering an equitable, inclusive recovery,” HR&A said in a report on the preliminary findings of their study.

In the initial findings, county and civic leaders highlighted the disproportionate impact of the virus on Latino and immigrant populations in Fairfax. The pandemic has also affected access to housing, with lost jobs leaving families without the ability to pay rent.

“Continue to invest in programs that support economic mobility and enrich residents’ lives (job training, continuing education, disability support resources) despite budget shortfalls,” said one unnamed County leader sourced in the findings.

Meanwhile, non-profit and health service providers said their capacity has been under-strain and expect further fundraising challenges in the upcoming year. Suggested solutions mainly involved streamlining services and trying to find efficiencies.

Major employers in the region, meanwhile, said decisions about real estate investments are being deferred until more certainty can be stablished, balanced only by hopes for a more efficient permitting process and a doubling down on tourism and leisure investments.

Smaller employers said they are still struggling with a lack of consumer confidence in returning to businesses and negative impacts have rippled along the supply chain. Many small businesses in the area are still focused on survival. Proposed solutions included more clear safety guidelines, streamlined online permitting, and rent deferment for small businesses.

More analysis of potential recovery scenarios is currently in the works, with a final report being drafted after that.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Downtown McLean could see new development over the next 10 years, after Fairfax County adopted a new program last Tuesday making it cheaper and faster for developers to build in revitalization districts.

Developers whose plans meet certain criteria could benefit from real-estate tax breaks, a 10% reduction in site plan fees and a fast-tracked process for zoning applications if they build in McLean, or one of the other five revitalization district in the county.

The Board of Supervisors adopted the Economic Incentive Program on Sept. 15 to give the private sector incentives to revitalize and redevelop properties in a half-dozen commercial revitalization districts, including McLean.

The program was established by an ordinance that amends the county code.

Other qualifying districts include:

To qualify for the lower costs and faster application processes, developments must be commercial, industrial or multi-family residential. Proposals need to be new and should consolidate at least two neighboring parcels of land totaling at least two acres.

Proposals need to align with the county’s Comprehensive Plan for redevelopment, and follow all laws and policies regarding affordable housing.

Developers will only receive tax breaks for their proposals if they act within the 10-year timeframe specific to their revitalization area. McLean’s window for the tax cut starts on July 1, 2024 and lasts through June 30, 2034.

The county plans to make the application process and forms available later this fall. Those who are interested can connect with county staff and discuss their eligibility by emailing Community Revitalization Section Director Elizabeth Hagg at [email protected]

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In a discussion last night (Tuesday) with Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert, several business and economic leaders talked about how locals could show support for their businesses, and how some businesses could do a better job of bringing in customers.

The simplest, and most obvious answer, was for locals to shop local when they can rather than buying through a company like Amazon. Jim Brooke, Town Business Liaison Committee chair, said people should also be more conscious now of taking the time to leave positive reviews online.

“Talk about local businesses on social media, leave positive Yelp reviews for local businesses,” Brooke said. “It’s easy to shop online, but if you want to have brick and mortar businesses in your community, you have to shop at them sometimes.”

Some industries have fared better than others in the pandemic, and Brooke said it’s particularly important to show support for the hardest hit, personal service businesses.

“Construction businesses and real estate have been doing pretty well, but businesses that are more intimate like hair stylists, anything that involves close interaction with people, aren’t doing very well,” Brooke said. “For my business and the people I work with, hospitality industry is really in trouble. Especially caterers, party planners, or party venues.” Read More

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(Updated 11/21/19) A recruiting company in Tysons wants to hire hundreds of employees in Tysons — making them the largest job creator in recent months in Fairfax County.

In the third quarter of 2019, the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority announced that 14 companies are adding 456 jobs to the county — including 358 positons in Tysons.

Randstad North America, Inc., an IT recruiting and staffing firm whose parent company is based in the Netherlands, announced they will add 300 information technology jobs in fiscal year 2020.

INADEV, another information technology company, is the runner up for job creation in Tysons for the third quarter by bringing 25 jobs to the area.

Here is the alphabetical list of the rest of the companies bringing jobs into Fairfax County:

Companies in the Tysons area also topped the list for the most added jobs when FCEDA worked with 35 businesses in the second quarter.

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Despite a large number of vacancies on Maple Avenue and some recent high profile closures, the Town of Vienna’s Finance Department says twice as many businesses are opening in the town compared to those closing.

Last year, 115 businesses opened and 65 closed, the finance department said, in response to an inquiry from Tysons Reporter.

It’s an optimistic note for a town that, economically, could really use a win.

Last year, Vienna’s commercial vacancy rate was 13 percent. Of the town’s 1,095 commercial properties, 138 were vacant and 68 were on Maple Avenue, according to InsideNova.

But it’s businesses off of Maple Avenue that are being hit the hardest by increasing rents and declining sales. Peggy James, executive director of the Vienna Business Association, said a combination of increasing rents and limited parking availability are making it hard for local businesses to stay afloat.

The Town is taking some steps to make commercial businesses in Vienna more viable, including a plan in the town budget to hire a full-time economic development consultant to focus specifically on ways to make life easier for businesses. Vienna is currently the only Northern Virginia locality without staff tasked specifically with economic development.

In the meantime, here’s a look at some of the more recent businesses to open in Vienna:

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Things are getting better for Tysons’ economy, but slowly.

For offices around Tysons, the boom anticipated with the opening of the Metro in 2014 has been more of a trickle as growth continues at a more sluggish pace than initially anticipated.

The Office Submarket Report on Tysons Corner (their wording, not ours) by Ryan Rauner, an associate broker with Realty Markets, shows a market experiencing steady, if unremarkable, growth.

“Despite slow demand growth at the metro level, some has trickled down to Tysons, helping vacancies improve slightly over the past few years,” the report said. “An explosion in the residential population has not yet been matched by strong office-demand growth, despite four Metro stations opening in the submarket.”

While the expansion of the Capital One facility was a welcome boon, the report notes that most tenants are not actively expanding their footprint and there has been a spate of large move-outs, specifically pointing to public affairs consulting group Interel’s decision to leave Tysons for Washington D.C.’s East End Submarket.

Which isn’t to say there haven’t been plenty of new clients coming into Tysons. Apian announced in April it would be moving to Tysons while Cvent announced it would be expanding its local offices. Facebook is also reportedly looking for space at Tysons II to occupy between 75,000-85,000 square feet.

In 2015, office vacancies in Tysons were near 18 percent. Since then, vacancies have steadily fallen to 15.6 percent. Forecasts for the market show vacancies taking a dip in middle-2019 then continuing a steady decline.

The high supply of office and relatively low demand led office rents in Tysons to face a steep decline from 2012-2014. There’s been some growth there, averaging about 2 percent from 2015-2018, but the report also warned not to view that growth as a trend.

“High vacancies could continue weighing on growth,” the report said. “Rents have continued their increase this year but at a relatively slow pace — as of early December, rents had increased by roughly 2 percent for the year. At the metro level, rents surpassed their pre-recession peak in 2015, but those in [Tysons] are just now reaching that point.”

The report did note that Tysons isn’t alone in its lackluster rent growth, that several other locations across Fairfax have also faced similar low rents.

None of this has slowed construction, however. There was 1.2 million square feet of new office space created between 2014-2017. Last year also saw a record high of office space opening with Capital One’s 975,000 square foot expansion.

The report notes that there are two notable projects underway: The Boro and View at Tysons.

The Boro is anticipated to include 582,000 square feet of new office space. Boro Tower, the main office component of the project, is currently 70 percent pre-leased and is expected to be ready sometime this year.

The View at Tysons is further out in development but is expected to include 570,000 square feet of office space and the region’s tallest building as part of a 2.8 million-square-foot mixed-use development.

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Auditing giant KPMG LLP will be bringing $30 million dollars and 500 new jobs in a sweeping expansion of its Tysons operations.

KPMG will be moving into seven floors of Boro Tower, part of a massive mixed-use development near the Greensboro Metro station, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced Wednesday morning.

The building, expected to open in early 2019, is a block away from the offices that KPMG currently occupies at 1676 International Drive. That building, in turn, is also set for a substantial renovation.

A $1 million grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund was approved by Northam as an economic incentive to facilitate the move. Virginia also offered a slew of other incentives, including a Major Business Facility Job Tax Credit for the new full-time jobs coming with the expansion and employee retraining activities provided by the Virginia Jobs Investment Program.

“We’re committed to Fairfax County and are excited about the growth that we’re seeing here in world-class innovation and leading-edge technology — two areas that align with our own core services and strategic approach,” said Jerry Carlson, a KPMG managing partner, in a press release.

The expansion was also facilitated with local help from the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA) and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.

“KPMG has been a major employer and corporate citizen in Fairfax County for years, and we are delighted to see that the company has chosen the county as a base to expand its audit, tax and advisory business significantly,” said Gerald Gordon, president and CEO of the FCEDA, in a press release. “This coincides with the continued growth and diversification of the county economy and the increasing realization that this is a great draw for the workforce the company wants to attract and retain.”

“This illustrates our strength in the professional services sector that creates so many jobs here, and is a great vote of confidence in the kind of business community that we promote here,” a FCEDA spokesman added.

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