Area Experts Look at the Local Economy

Chamber gives some big-picture items cover NOVA as well.

The picture of the local economy has its ups and downs according to the Mount Vernon-Springfield Chamber of Commerce “Economic Outlook 2023” meeting at Belle Haven Country Club recently. Area financial analysts laid out their perspective, but as usual, Northern Virginia is a bit different compared to other sections of the country. The federal government’s influence here is partially responsible for that.

“We are at the center of growth in the region,” said Chris LeBarton from CoStar Group.

The list of guest speakers included David Boyle from Burke & Herbert Bank, Dr. Terry Clower from the Stephen S. Fuller Institute at George Mason University, Chris LeBarton from CoStar Group and Alex Thalacker from the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. Each area of expertise had a hiccup for the pandemic period, but things are looking up for the most part.

It's hard to talk about the area's economy without highlighting the real estate market, and Clower noted that it had skyrocketed in recent years, but is leveling off now, he said.

“Pent up demand for housing is still there,” said Clower. In the Richmond Highway corridor, the EMBARK Richmond Highway project will include additional housing, and also the WISH Center in the Hybla Valley area to train upcoming workers. The combination will help the economy grow.

The WISH Center is the Fairfax County Workforce Innovation and Skills Hub built within reach of neighborhoods with some of the biggest economic challenges in the county. Classes and certification programs help participants get better jobs and lift quality of life. This could be a catalyst for the whole area, creating "a pathway to high-paying tech or science-related careers," as WISH center information states.


Population Shrinks

Another element of the Mount Vernon-Springfield economy is the retail sector and the job numbers have grown recently, while the unemployment numbers are down. LeBarton noted that what happens in D.C. “has an impact in Northern Virginia too,” he said.

The population in Northern Virginia has shrunk. From July 2021 to July 2022, there were 3400 fewer people living here, and some of the people leaving the area are skilled workers who are tired of high real estate prices and the high prices for childcare. The danger is that it might lead to a trickle effect. “Businesses follow the talented workers,” LeBarton said.

Clower said that hybrid office work is “here to stay” with many even continuing fully remote work. This is based on numbers looking at office demand, housing, transportation and the cost of living for young families, among other factors.

Office vacancies in general are an issue. In Fairfax County, the office vacancy rate is 16.7% and it continues to rise, according to Thalacker. “Office vacancies did increase in South County,” he said.