It’s been six months since Amazon announced it would create 25,000 jobs at a new $2.5 billion headquarters in Arlington. The announced brought a lot of attention to the planned transformation of the Crystal City neighborhood, but state and regional economic development officials are working behind the scenes to make sure the legacy of the online retailer’s record investment reaches beyond one tech company’s vision and sets a new standard for Virginia as a technology employment hub.
As part of the Amazon partnership, the state is investing $1.1 billion toward computer science education, notes Stephen Moret, president and CEO, Virginia Economic Development Partnership.
Moret was the keynote speaker at a conversation on economic growth in the region and the state on Thursday, July 25, hosted by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
Moret said a concern is a tech talent program, not just for Amazon, but the whole tech sector. The goal is to build a deeper, dynamic tech talent pool statewide.
He noted the state will be providing performance-based funding to create over 25,000 additional graduates with bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science for the next two decades.
“When you step back, we have many many growth assets going on in this state,” Moret said. “We need to not be complacent in Virginia, we're not that far ahead as our competitors overall.”
Alex Taylor, senior business development manager at Arlington Economic Development said everything is going according to plan.
“We did a lot of community outreach, groundwork, behind the scenes stuff leading up to the announcement that allowed us to have a successful roll out,” he said.
Stephanie Landrum, president and CEO of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, said the Amazon deal offered a lesson in self-reflection.
“One of the things learned in the Amazon process — not just workforce or real estate, but questions about what type of communities we are — diversity and inclusion, our social issues,” she said.
Since the announcement, Amazon has invested in robotic programs for elementary schools across the Washington region with diverse populations.
Moret noted that the state will be looking to bring success to other communities, not just Arlington. The state is looking to cultivate technology centers in smaller metros and rural areas and launching a robust business retention and expansion program.
An attendee of the event, Henry Hernandez, director of business development at Melwood, discussed his takeaways. Melwood is a nonprofit that brings job opportunities and more advocates for people with different physical and mental capabilities. It has been around for over 50 years.
“Certainly HQ2 was a major theme, probably rightfully so,” Hernandez said. “I think what I really learned was seeing the different constituents representing on the panel and how they really emphasized that this was a collaborative effort: what’s in it for Northern Virginia, how does the state benefit from this and what are some of the lessons learned so we can continue to move forward to sustainingVirginia as not only a great place to work, but a great place to do business.”