Northern Virginia is the belle of the ball.
It’s an easy conclusion to reach after the region’s recent welcoming of not one, not two, but three Fortune 500 companies. The moves are expected to generate tens of thousands of new jobs while establishing the region as a high-wattage tech hub — call it Silicon Valley East.
The linchpin was Amazon. In 2018, following a long — and very public — search process, which included finalists from New York City and Los Angeles to Dallas and Denver, the ubiquitous online retailer announced Arlington as the home of its second headquarters.
Known widely as HQ2, the Virginia hub was billed as the East Coast counterpart to its original base in Seattle. Amazon executives touted thousands of high-paying jobs, and a new mega-neighborhood of Arlington called National Landing was born, encompassing Crystal City, Potomac Yards, and Pentagon City.
In the wake of that watershed announcement, observers predicted other big corporations would follow suit. They turned out to be right: In May, aerospace titan Boeing unveiled plans to transfer its world headquarters from Chicago to Arlington, a move that would position the company closer to the federal government, its biggest client.
Defense and aerospace company Raytheon appeared similarly motivated when, in June, it announced its corporate address would move from Massachusetts to Arlington.
Similar alluring themes prompted each decision. There was a common desire to tap into one of the nation’s most educated and tech-savvy workforces — the DC region was recently rated fourth in North America in the Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis Group’s annual tech talent rankings. Still, each company had its own reasons.
“There are different circumstances for each one,” says Terry Clower, director of the Center for Regional Analysis and professor of public policy at George Mason University. “They all bring different strengths in different ways. … What the Amazon move does for [the region] in the long term is that Amazon is going to be sparking an economic diversification. It means we’re not as tied to the whims of Capitol Hill anymore.”
We spoke to company representatives to learn more about why these three titans chose Northern Virginia as their operational hub and to understand the present and future regional impacts each might have. (Yes, that includes traffic.)
Founded: 1994 Bellevue, Washington
Total Workforce: 1.6 million
2021 Revenue: $469.8 billion
Relocation Details: HQ2 in Arlington’s National Landing is set to open in 2023.
More than 200 cities around the globe wined and dined Amazon officials when founder Jeff Bezos first announced his intention to build a second headquarters. The pitches were replete with all sorts of clever public relations stunts, proposed tax benefits, and other enticements — from infrastructure improvements to promises of crime reduction.
After no shortage of drama, Arlington emerged as the winner, over several locations in Washington, DC, as well as Montgomery County, Maryland. So what led to its victory?
“First, it’s the tech-focused workforce that’s available here,” Clower says. “Second, young workers are plentiful. It’s a desirable place to live, and thus a good place to attract more young people. And finally, proximity to the airports.” National Landing and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport basically sit on top of each other.
HQ2 — all told, a $2.5 billion investment — has already generated 5,000 jobs in the region, according to Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty. If corporate estimates prove correct, there are approximately 20,000 more on the way over the course of the next decade. That number does not include “indirect” jobs — or, those created because of an association with Amazon and the HQ2 campus. According to Lighty, those could easily number into the thousands.
According to Arlington Economic Development, Amazon has already had a major impact on the region, having rented 1 million square feet of existing office space in Crystal City.
Amazon’s Metropolitan Park — Met Park for short — is slated for a 2023 opening and is expected to include more than 2 million square feet of mixed-use development space in Pentagon City. PenPlace, which will contain The Helix, HQ2’s architecturally show-stopping centerpiece, is scheduled for completion in 2026.
Aiming to present itself as a good corporate neighbor, the company has taken measures like using a Virginia solar farm to power HQ2, partnering with local colleges and universities on educational efforts, and contributing $800 million to support affordable housing in the area.
That sense of partnership also permeates discussions of a less-friendly topic: traffic, the ever-present, necessary evil that accompanies all talk of economic development in the area. According to Lighty, Amazon is doing its best to lessen inevitable congestion.
“There are a lot of things we do … to encourage carpooling and public transportation and biking to work,” Lighty says. “We also work with policymakers before we come into any location to do an audit of the infrastructure. The county and the state are working in tandem to make long-term investments that will improve and enhance accessibility to HQ2.”
Founded: 1916, Seattle
Total Workforce: 142,000
2021 Revenue: $62.3 billion
Relocation Details: In May, the company announced it would be moving from Chicago to Arlington.
Proximity to DC may not have been a primary motivator for Amazon’s move, Clower says, but it most certainly was for Boeing.
“Boeing has been talking about moving some key leadership positions here, primarily because their major corporate client is the federal government,” he says. “They were a West Coast business, and now they’ve moved closer to this customer, and it makes a lot of sense.”
The company has deep and longstanding ties to both the government and the region, Boeing spokesperson Connor Greenwood says, including in the form of its existing Arlington campus, which is also situated in National Landing.
“Northern Virginia makes strategic sense for our headquarters with the proximity to our global customers and stakeholders, as well as world-class engineering and technical talent,” Greenwood says. “A significant customer set is based in Washington, DC, including the U.S. military leadership at the Pentagon, but also representatives of the more than 150 countries we do business with.”
According to Greenwood, Boeing employs more than 2,500 people in the DC area, most of whom live in Northern Virginia. A May report by Bloomberg indicated that the new headquarters will be housed in Boeing’s existing buildings. No major staffing changes are planned for the existing Chicago campus or Virginia, however, which bodes well for traffic-watchers concerned about an influx of cars around the Boeing campus.
Even so, Boeing, which will be based just a few blocks from Amazon’s HQ2, is expanding its physical presence in the region. The company recently announced plans to develop a $50 million research and technology hub at the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus in Alexandria that will focus on “innovations in the areas of cybersecurity, autonomous operations, quantum sciences, and software engineering,” Greenwood says.
The Virginia Tech campus is also home to The Boeing Center for Veteran Transition and Military Families, recently established to provide career resources and employment opportunities for those who have served.
Founded: 1922, Cambridge, Massachusetts, as Raytheon Company
Total Workforce: 174,000
2021 Revenue: $64.4 billion
Relocation Details: Raytheon moved its headquarters from Massachusetts to Arlington in July.
Like Boeing, Raytheon was motivated by a desire for closer proximity to Washington and its network of lawmakers, regulators, diplomats, and contractors. Also like Boeing, Raytheon’s move does not promise substantial expansion, although there will be some growth.
Rather than a need for new spaces and employees, Raytheon’s move indicates a reprioritization of the company’s business ventures — the Department of Defense principal among them. In July, for example, Raytheon announced a $354 million contract with the Defense Department to develop a new missile-defense radar.
The new headquarters is located in Arlington’s Rosslyn neighborhood. Raytheon expects to slightly expand upon its current leased-space footprint in Arlington, which presently houses about 130 corporate staff members.
The impact of Amazon’s HQ2 is likely to continue to gain momentum in the form of shifting power centers and new developments, Clower says. Major-player additions like Boeing and Raytheon will only fuel Northern Virginia’s appeal as a stronghold for tech businesses, both old and new.
“Over the next 10 years or more, this could develop into something huge,” Clower says. “You think about how all those workers might have a spinoff effect, where vendors and people who sell to Amazon are going to want to have a presence here. There’s a lot of possibility. … Nothing draws a crowd like a lot of people, and now we’ve got this critical mass.”