Monday, March 05, 2007

Honey, I Lost the Jobs!

You want to know what really, really makes the Growler mad?

It's having to struggle up the steep incline of Shooter's Hill to the Masonic Temple on a rainy night just to hear once again how our City leaders (both elected and appointed) have missed the boat.

The news flash is this: while politicians have been obliging every cheesy developer with a hard hat he can call his own, Alexandria has suffered a net loss of jobs during the biggest regional employment boom in recent history.

That news couldn't be worse, given the magnitude of future job losses we already face due to the migration of defense-related agencies and businesses to Ft. Belvoir over the next few years.

The occasion that irritated the Growler so much was last Thursday's State of the City address by Mayor William D. Euille. Hizzoner's remarks consisted of the usual blather about vibrant communities, the tanking residential real estate tax base, and how we need to develop everything (particularly Braddock Road Metro) to a fare-thee-well. Yawn.

Then we had the infamous sterilized, screened and potted questions. Are the Mayor and Council unable to deal with full frontal citizen queries? The audience submitted a number of questions related to the Braddock Road Metro plan, but these were softened and squelched in translation. Was that done on purpose?

The Mayor's speech was preceded by a video intended to arouse feel-good vibes about Alexandria, but which curiously resembled porn in that its money shots were lingering takes on the biggest and ugliest new developments in town, including the Monarch.

No, the Growler found the real heart of the meeting was in a presentation by Nigel Morris, founder of Capital One, chairman of the Economic Sustainability Task Force, and long-time City resident. The group has been charged with independently analyzing what Alexandria needs for continued economic growth.

Mr. Morris was a refreshing change from the canned hams on Council: bright, funny, articulate. 'Tis true, the Growler has a soft spot for Brits, especially one as smart as Mr. Morris, who has made bazillions and can still speak intelligently about Charles Dicken's two alternative endings for Great Expectations.

Mr. Morris's presentation outlining the task force's preliminary findings struck home with many in the audience. He talked about Alexandria's enormous assets (its historic districts, high education and income levels, falling crime, geographic proximity to Washington, D.C., etc.) but also spelled out how the City is not leveraging those assets properly through business collaboration, research and marketing.

He proceeded to make some dramatic and well-received suggestions to nurture commerce, including simplifying the bureaucratic hurdles posed by Code Enforcement and other agencies regulating small business. (You could heard murmurs of approval rippling through the audience with that statement.)

But the presentation also laid out some fairly damning findings. One of the most critical was that even with the upcoming addition of another 1,200 PTO jobs (which Mayor Euille crows about at every opportunity), Alexandria has suffered a net job loss with the departure of the American Trucking Association and PBS.

And this occurred, as Mr. Morris noted, at a time when the greater Washington area has experienced unparalleled job growth.

Now how did this happen, the Growler wants to know? Who was asleep at the switch? Did the politicians assume that they addressed the jobs issue by taking care of ex-mayor Kerry Donley with a snug, well-paid post in the school system? And can someone explain why the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership still has no executive director after nearly a year?

Mr. Morris went on to note that "All development is not created equal." He urged Alexandrians to create a clear picture of what we want in terms of development and then go out and get it, not wait passively and react to what the developers bring to the table.

Funny, that's exactly Arlington's approach. Too bad City Manager James Hartmann ignored that very same advice some months ago when it was pressed by prominent civic activists.

Mr. Morris concluded by calling for a five year strategic plan. That's a great idea, but the Growler can already anticipate how the Mayor and Council will position the plan:

Build some condos
Build more condos
Build a few additional condos
Build some townhouse condos
Follow up with more condos
Reinforce with more condos