The Washington Post Sunday
County can still win after losing Amazon
Pr. George’s hopes to lure employees through housing, Metro, U-Md.
Prince George’s officials felt snubbed when their county was the lone jurisdiction in the Washington region not picked as a finalist for Amazon’s second headquarters. Now, though, they say Prince George’s could be the “lucky loser” of the retailing giant’s move to Crystal City.
The abundance of Metro stations and low housing prices in the county, which is home to the state’s flagship university, could attract new employees and businesses that Amazon will bring. But experts say that to best capitalize on opportunities presented by Amazon’s second headquarters, Prince George’s must make a concerted effort that includes marketing, improving its schools and boosting workforce development.
“There’s a real opportunity there,” said Margery Turner, a senior vice president at the Urban Institute. “Access to affordable housing and quick transportation across the region is going to be a magnet.”
Terry L. Clower, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, said Prince George’s needs “an ‘everybody in the pool’ effort” to market itself to auxiliary businesses as well as potential new residents
and ensure that neighborhoods are safe and educational opportunities are plentiful.
With the Amazon announcement just a few weeks old and County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks taking office Monday, the county has not yet taken any firm steps to lure people and companies associated with the retail giant.
But David Iannucci, the new head of the Prince George’s Economic Development Corporation, said he has a list of more than 20 companies to try to recruit that do business with Amazon in Seattle.
Much of the work to attract new residents will happen in the private sector, Iannucci said. That task should be made easier, he added, by the recent arrival of high-end apartments near the New Carrollton Metro station and elsewhere.
Still, Prince George’s has higher crime rates than its neighboring jurisdictions, despite substantial reductions in recent years. Its which have also improved, are still among the lowest performing in the state.
Alsobrooks (D) dismissed negative stereotypes about the county during her inauguration speech, calling Prince George’s “a model for others to follow.”
“We are not Ward 9!” she said to loud applause, using a common moniker for the lower-income Prince George’s communities that border the rapidly gentrifying District of Columbia and its eight political wards.
Alsobrooks said she is optimistic that Prince George’s will benefit from Amazon’s arrival, especially because its housing remains relatively inexpensive compared to the District and other nearby suburbs. Amazon — whose owner, Jeffrey P. Bezos, also owns The Washington Post — plans to employ 25,000 employees in Northern Virginia by the mid- to late 2020s.
The median sale price for homes in Prince George’s was $274,113 in March, according to data from the Urban Institute, compared with $424,208 for homes in Montgomery County and $519,313 for homes in the District. In Arlington County, where Amazon will be located, the median sale price was $588,583.
Prince George’s is also an outlier in terms of rental prices, which increased 8 percent in the District from 2011 to 2017, compared with 0.1 percent in Prince George’s, according to the Urban Institute data.
Citing the county’s low housing prices and swaths of undeveloped land, council member Derrick Leon Davis (D-District 6) said there is “no jurisdiction that is prepared to move more rapidly in terms of welcoming people to this region.”
Leaders hope another big draw for the county will be its 15 Metro stations — more than any other Washington suburb — and the development that has occurred around them in recent years.
Among Amazon workers in Seattle, about 30 percent of commuters take public transit. Prince George’s has four Metro lines runschools, ning through it — one of which, the Blue Line, goes directly to Crystal City. The county also has two MARC lines that deliver passengers to Union Station; Amtrak trains stop at the New Carrollton station as well.
“All of these lines — and the development around all of these lines — present opportunities to connect us to jobs throughout the region,” said council member Dannielle M. Glaros (D-District 3).
Overlooking the New Carrollton station in Glaros’s district, there is a new luxury apartment building called The Remy, along with a swanky office for the educational technology firm 2U and retail space ready to be leased. The development was part of former county executive Rushern L. Baker III’s plan to trigger development around five underdeveloped Metro stations.
The Remy, which received fee reductions, a tax break and a conditional loan through Baker’s Economic Development Incentive Fund, has a rooftop deck with striking views, a state-of-the-art fitness room and a screen in the lobby showing Metro and train routes and Uber wait times. Kevin Berman, whose company Berman Enterprises developed the project, said it was the fastest-leased building in suburban Maryland this year.
Alsobrooks said she plans to find innovative ways to build on economic development work done by Baker and continue to focus on transit-oriented development.
“We have accessibility . . . we have affordable, amazing housing . . . we have a world-class university,” Alsobrooks said. “We know we will become attractive almost by extension.”
The University of Maryland at College Park, which will soon have a new computer science building, will create talent for Amazon and other companies to recruit, she said, as will Bowie State University and Prince George’s Community College.
Those institutions will have to compete, however, with Virginia Tech and other state institutions across the Potomac River, which are receiving a huge boost in funding from Richmond in concert with Amazon’s arrival.
Alsobrooks and other leaders say they are already having conversations about how best to position and market the county, which is one of the wealthiest majority black jurisdictions in the country. Amazon estimates its new headquarters will open in 2019 with about 400 employees and grow in subsequent years to the full 25,000.
Prince George’s already has a marketing campaign, launched by Baker, that officials say highlights the county’s selling points. Glossy pictures of attractions from wooded parks to Six Flags America are paired with the slogan “Experience, Expand, Explore.”
“This campaign was the county’s offensive move to try to begin to tell our own story,” said Baker spokesman Barry Hudson. “If you experience Prince George’s or explore it, you’ ll want to expand your business here.”