Change is coming to the Northern Virginia economy.
That was the theme of a panel discussion hosted by the Prince William Chamber of Commerce at George Mason University’s Science and Technology Campus in Manassas.
Prior to the panel, Dr. Terry Clower, the Director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, spoke about important data that will shape the regional economy.
“We need to see a more diversified economy, one that’s less federally dependent. The good news is that our businesses are apparently figuring a way to start to do this,” said Clower.
In the region, many of the jobs are coming from professional and business services, as well as retail and tourism, according to Clower. But for Prince William County those numbers are a bit different, according to Clower, with many of the jobs in the county not only coming from business and professional services, but in the transportation and utilities industries as well. There has also been growth in Prince William County in the construction, education, and health services industries, said Clower.
According to Clower, Prince William County has the infrastructure to begin building that diverse business community that will be able to weather changes in the economy.
“We also have to keep in mind that balance in jobs that we’re creating…the counties out here, like Prince William, have an opportunity to have a diversified, multi-tier economy that includes all sectors,” said Clower.
How immigration plays a role
Immigration is a topic that has been on the forefront of discussion lately in the media, and Clower spoke to how immigration is impacting Virginia’s economy in a way that some may not expect.
“I think it’s important to talk about what’s going on in our population…our most recent data, which looks at the 2014 to 2015 period…if you did not have international migration into this county, you would have lost population. Immigration is key for our success. We talk about this area being one of the smartest areas in the country. We have, on average, the highest education attainment. 40% of our population that have Master’s degrees or above were not born in the United States, in this region. So it’s a little bit of a different immigration picture than what is sometimes cast in our political arguments when we’re looking at this,” said Clower.
Further investment in transportation is needed
For Clower, another key to continued success for the region and the county’s continued growth is an investment in transportation infrastructure.
“They key reason we need to be investing in transportation – whether it’s Metro, whether it’s I-66 or any of these other connector roads that get us around – is because our businesses need access to labor. The general rule in economic development is an employer wants to see their employees, on average, not commuting more than 30 minutes,” said Clower.
Clower stated that of the more than 400,000 residents that live in the county, only 43,000 people live and work in the county, 64,000 individuals outside of the county come to Prince William to work, and that more than 140,000 people leave the county each day to head elsewhere for work, demonstrating the necessity to have a solid transportation infrastructure.
The rise of the ‘gig’ economy
One of the biggest shifts ahead for the workforce is that people are predicting that by 2030, 30% of jobs will be considered ‘gig’ jobs, said Clower.
“And you’ll just roll from job to job – you may have three or four gigs going on at any one time…think about what that means in terms of how we have to plan for our financial structure. Think about what it means in terms of office [plans]. Think about what it means in terms of our education system, particularly for adult education,” said Clower.
And with the advent of the ‘gig’ economy, Clower pointed out concerns that the region was overdue for another economic downturn.
“We’re overdue for a recession [in the area]. And one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is that we will have another recession,” said Clower.
Economic Development Manager for the City of Manassas Park Ryan Gandy, Economic Development Director for the City of Manassas Patrick Small, Robert Buchanan of Buchanan Partners, and Executive Director for the Prince William County Department of Economic Development joined one another for the panel, and discussed what the localities need to do to get economic and business development moving forward.
“We need to do a better job of branding ourselves, to ourselves,” Buchanan said.
Check out the full panel discussion here:
In case you missed it
A few months ago the Prince William County Department of Economic Development hosted an event with a similar tone with the Washington Business Journal – the Greater Washington’s Crossroads of Innovation Science & Technology. The panel, also held at George Mason University’s Science and Technology Campus, talked about economic development in Prince William County, and how to bring companies at the forefront of innovation, science, and technology industries.
For more information about the event, click here.
For videos of the panel members, click here.
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