Thursday, November 17, 2011

Montgomery vs. Fairfax: Montgomery County Planning Board Member Casey Anderson Weighs In

CASEY AT THE BAT: Montgomery County Planning Board member Casey Anderson recently forwarded Maryland Juice a series of articles regarding the ongoing Internet and media discussions comparing Montgomery County & Fairfax County (or Maryland & Virginia). His primary point in forwarding the news items appears to be to respond to a recent Washington Post editorial jumping in on the side of the Chamber of Commerce, Republicans, and business lobbyists:
The growing breach between Fairfax and Montgomery — which together account for 2 million people, more than a third of the region’s population — is laid bare by new federal data. The data were the centerpiece of an eye-opening presentation to the Montgomery County Council this month by Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University....

Elected officials — some of them, at least — have at last concluded that ever-spiraling taxes and bloated budgets, driven largely by the county’s powerful and aggressive public-employee unions, are not conducive to attracting major employers and high-end, knowledge-based jobs. 
Mr. Anderson questions this framing of the issues. He sent the following explanation to place his three news snippets in context:
My main concern is not so much whether Fairfax is in fact "ahead" or "behind."  It is the (way overdone, in my view) idea that Fairfax is the only or at least most relevant benchmark for where Montgomery County should be.  Montgomery County is not perfect, but when I think about how it might be different I don't say to myself, "Gee, if only we could be more like Fairfax County, this place would be fantastic!"
In fact, I think you could argue that the plan for Tyson's Corner is an admission that they have reached a dead end on the path they have taken for the past fifty years and that they need to change course.  White Flint is somewhat similar for us -- and/but I think that in some ways we have a better chance of executing the new plan than NoVa, because the existing land use along the 355 corridor is more amenable to being altered for the better than the Tyson's area.

We should be looking at elements of what Fairfax County has going for it, but DC and Arlington are just as important as sources of insight for MoCo, and there are other jurisdictions in various parts of the country that are at least as relevant in assessing our competitive position in life sciences, for example.  We don't have as much defense-related spending as Fairfax, but we have better transit, an ag reserve that has effectively served as a growth cordon to limit sprawl, and some important health care/life sciences assets as well as better access to DC.
News snippet #1:A Virginia Resident begs to differ with The Post // This note was lifted from the Washington Post editorial's comments. It comes from a WaPo reader named pdt278:
Having lived in VA for most of my life, I would not necessarily agree. Virginia benefits from its geography more than anything else - especially NoVA. Eastern Fairfax, Arlington, PW, and Alexandria benefit greatly due to its close proximity to DC, Pentagon, Crystal City, Quantico, and Fort Belvoir. Western Fairfax and Loudoun would not be what they are without the economic engine that is Dulles. MontCo and for the most part the rest of MD has only DC, Ft. Meade, and BWI as their economic drivers. Aside from a small, but growing presence in Frederick (Ft. Detrick), their isn't much attracting businesses. 

And don't kid yourself, without the federal government presence, Fairfax and the rest of NoVA would not have much to talk about. And without NOVA and Hampton Roads (huge military presence), Virginia would not have much to talk about either. Its not attracting businesses because of its policies, its attracting them because of the huge federal gov't presence. NoVA and Hampton Roads are the rest of the state. 

For example, just go visit Richmond. I had to leave there last year because it has nothing to offer anymore. No more jobs. Fairly high unemployment - much higher than NoVA. Too many office buildings left standing empty due to bankruptcies. It is relying on VCU (largest school in the state) to live on these days because ever since tobacco ran its course and the banking industry left to go elsewhere (like Charlotte and St. Louis), there is nothing left to offer.

Oh and a couple of other things. I live in Loudoun now. My property taxes are as high as anywhere in MD and our governor has only balanced the budget by borrowing on future revenues and not making pension payments owed to the state workers. Don't get me wrong, I love Virginia and I will continue to live here because it has a lot to offer, but I am not wearing rose colored glasses.
News snippet #2: A DC Resident Chimes In on the MoCo vs. Fairfax Debate // Richard Layman, the prolific writer of the "Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space" blog, notes one explanation for Northern Virginia's recent successes:
Sure Montgomery County has some real assets. The National Institutes of Health and the National Institute for Science and Technology (formerly the National Bureau of Standards) are fundamental building blocks. It's because of NIH (and FDA) that Montgomery County has a number of biotechnology firms and assets--even though the West Coast remains supreme in this business sector.

Montgomery County has a number of technology companies along the I-270 corridor, plus Marriott (which used to be based in DC) and other lodging companies, and a whole lot of other businesses....
But Fairfax County benefits I think from being more centrally connected to and dependent upon the military-industrial complex, albeit not manufacturing related--even though Montgomery County does have military companies, such as Lockheed Martin... 
A comparison between the counties and ascribing dependence on the military to Fairfax County is a little complicated because of the number of software related businesses based in Northern Virginia, but in large part these businesses developed in relationship to the Pentagon and/or the large build up of telecommunications assets in the area that were in large part developed out of the military's telecommunications needs....

It's beyond my skill set to do a full analysis of the economies of Fairfax County and Montgomery County, producing what is called an input-output table analysis, but if one were performed... I would bet that the results would show how much Fairfax County is dependent on military spending.

It's actually scary to consider how much of the US economy is dependent on military spending, how the US spends more money on the military than all other nations combined, and that if the Defense budget is slashed, this will have big implications for the economic success and failure of many communities.
News snippet #3: Virginia Residents Love Maryland // According to The Examiner, recent data shows equal numbers of Virginians and Marylanders are swapping states:
SOURCE: WASHINGTON EXAMINER (emphasis in red added by Juice)

Movement between Maryland and Virginia, where local officials vie for their state's claims to the best quality of life, was close to even. About 50,000 people crossed the Potomac, half from the Old Dominion and half from the Old Line State.

"Maryland tends to have higher taxes and more taxes, but people don't usually move for those reasons. They ask, 'Where can I get the house that I want, and the neighborhood I want, and avoid a hellish commute, and send my kids to school?' " Sturtevant said.
I'm getting tired of opportunistic advocates using the recession and political fear to try and score points for their industry-driven agenda -- especially when it involves turning Maryland and Montgomery County into punching bags for anti-tax or anti-regulatory propaganda. Enough is enough.

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