Monday, December 7, 2009

Recession Across the Country: Arlington, VA

This is the first in a series of blog posts about the impact of the recession in communities across the country. The current economic recession has had a severe impact on the nation as a whole, and every place has been impacted in some way. However, as economic development planners know, there isn't a single national economy, but rather the national economy that is comprised of a variety of regional economies, that drive the country. The nation's regions have been impacted by the recession to differing degrees, and in different ways. If you would like to spotlight your community in this series of blog posts please contact us.

Arlington, Virginia, located just outside the nation's capital, is a small urban county approximately 26 square miles. It is one of the most densely populated counties in the nation, with a population density of 8,140 persons per square. The county's current population, 210,000, represents a 10 percent increase over its 2000 population. Arlington is known nationally for its young, highly educated workforce, in 2007 approximately 68% of Arlington adults age 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher and 38% had a graduate or professional degree. Arlington is also considered the premier national model for the successful Transit Oriented Development implementation. Given these strengths, it shouldn't be that surprising that Arlington has fared comparatively well during the current recession and past recessions. The following graphs were provided by Arlington Economic Development Regional Economist Isabelle Xu:

In October 2009, Business Week magazine named Arlington as the best place in America to ride out a recession.

Arlington's knowledge-based workforce combined with its integrated urban development are what has given the county its competitive edge during economic downturns, according to an internet post by Arlington Economic Development director Terry Holzheimer:

"A strong federal government presence, a more recent diversification of the economic base, and location near the nation’s capital have been invaluable, however, they account for only part of the reason. The primary factor in our success has been to create an urban environment that is attractive to employers, residents and visitors alike. Placemaking in its broadest context is the key to our success. In our case, placemaking has meant incorporating into our planning processes attention to detail relative to a number of factors: density, product diversification, land use mix, transportation options, and a retail strategy. Each of these has supported our vision of high density, mixed use, transit-oriented urban villages."

What is your take? Is placemaking an integral part of economic resiliency? Or has Arlington's position at the center of a dynamic major metro what has primarily given the county its advantages? As reported in the Washington Post, Arlington is actually second in nation, behind nearby exurban Loudoun County, in the presence of individuals 25-34 with incomes over $100,000.

For more information on Arlington visit:

Arlington Economic Development
Arlington Planning Research and Analysis


  1. I think in Arlington's case the proximity not just to a major City, but to the seat of the US government plays the key role. Government at the federal level never really contracts, nor goes through the kind of rapid expansion we've seen in other industries. Add to that good transportation capacity via Metro, and it's no surprise that Arlington County is doing well.

    This is no criticism, and certainly it is only to their benefit to diversify their economic base. I only point out that this is hardly an economic 'miracle'.

    (I also note the presence of the Pentagon and National Airport within the County, which I'm sure are huge economic drivers in the area)

  2. As a long-time Arlington resident, I have no doubt that Arlington's transit-oriented development has played a major role in its economic resilience. This strategy has provided the convenient, Metro-accessible condos and apartments many folks want, while simultaneously preserving the older single-family neighborhoods other folks want.

    There's also no question that its proximity to Washington DC--with it's stabilizing federal employment base--is a major factor, but there are many other counties in the DC area that aren't doing anywhere near as well as Arlington.

    Storm Cunningham
    Resolution Fund, LLC
    Washington, DC

  3. I agree with previous comments that placemaking helps and can be part of an overall comprehensive program. However, the federal employment base is a major factor for without a basic stabilizing employment generator, you would need to have targeted businesses serving specific unique niches to weather an economic storm. Preparation and advance planning in anticipation of any economic downturns is extremely helpful in cushioning potential impacts based on the uncertainty inherent in a global economy. Congratulations to Arlington!