The Marketplace is Speaking. Are the Counties Listening?

After CoStar Group, a provider of real estate market intelligence, announced last fall its intention to move its research division headquarters to downtown Richmond, the company offered employees from Washington, D.C., Atlanta, San Diego, and Columbia, Md., an opportunity to move to Virginia. A big concern of Senior Vice President Lisa Ruggles was how many would want to make the move. “I had no idea of how many people would be interested,” she said.

She was surprised that 150 applicants responded, Ruggles told Richmond BizSense. After they took part in three-day tours of the metropolitan area, she says, “I told them that they were all welcome to come to Richmond, and the place erupted. Everybody was clapping, people were crying; it was an amazing sight to see.”

AvePoint, a New Jersey provider of Microsoft cloud services, had a similar experience, according to BizSense. “We estimated that when we would be transferring people down here that we might not get a ton of people, because Richmond is very different from New York,” said AvePoint COO Brian Brown. “That’s proved absolutely not to be the case.”

Big selling points: a lower cost of living, shorter commutes and a high overall quality of life. “I think one of the things people are pleasantly finding, especially people who have families, is how cheap it is to find a really nice place to live and how easy the commute is,” Brown said.

Here’s the really interesting thing:

CoStar’s Ruggles said it has been interesting to see where employees have chosen to live in Richmond. Of the 120 employees who made the company’s initial move, she said the majority chose places such as Deco at CNB and other apartment communities in Tobacco Row and Manchester. Only two employees chose to live in Short Pump, said Ruggles, who herself just closed on a house in the West End.

“Coming from D.C., a lot of our employees don’t have cars, and that was not something they were wanting to run out and buy, so a lot of people ended up in locations where they could walk to work,” Ruggles said. “We have found that, because that group relocated from D.C., where they’re used to taking the Metro or walking or riding their bike, they’re continuing to do that here.

Bacon’s bottom line: Richmond’s urban core exerts a strong appeal to highly skilled and educated employees — the affluent, creative-class types who pay more in taxes and spend more in the local economy — from other cities. If the region wants to attract more employees like them, along with the companies that employ them, the city and counties need to facilitate the building of the kind of communities these people want to live in. That means more moderate density, more mixed-use development, more grid streets, more investment in streetscapes, and, where economically justified, more mass transit.

That’s an easy sell for Richmond, most of which was laid out according to the dicta of traditional city planning. It’s a harder sell for Henrico and Chesterfield Counties, built according to the principles of suburban sprawl. The marketplace is yelling loud and clear what it wants. As a Henrico resident with a vested interest in the county’s long-term fiscal viability, I hope county officials are listening. If they’re not the City of Richmond will kick our butts in the economic development game.

(This article first ran in Bacon’s Rebellion on May 5, 2017)
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About Jim Bacon

James A. Bacon is the author of “Boomergeddon” and publishes the Bacon’s Rebellion blog at www.
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One Response to The Marketplace is Speaking. Are the Counties Listening?

  1. Frederic Boisseau says:

    I think there a few issues with what you are saying.

    First, you are looking at a snapshot in time and at a limited number of people that are coming from one type of housing, of course, they are mainly going to move into the similar type of housing as they came from. But would be interesting to follow this group for a period of time and see where their future choices move them. I think that you will see a large number if not most will move to the suburbs. This is a historical trend, young people just starting out tend to want to live in the city, but as they age they tend to want more land and larger houses. The movement of people as they age and live home from the suburbs to the city and back again seems to be one that will continue from what I can see.

    Second, you seem to suggest that it is up to the local governments, mainly the counties need to provide some sort of “public transportation”. The issue with that is that as the counties are currently structured the typical public transportation options do not work. Most of them require people to get to common pickup points. This means you either have to have the riders drive to a common area to meet a bus or train. Or you have to have buses going down every subdivision and small road in the county. It is just not efficient.

    That is not to say that there is not a solution, but whatever solution that comes about is going to have to take more imagination and risk taking then you can expect from the government. The better solution is for the counties and the state to look at ways that it can loosen regulation and allow the free market to come up with a solution. They are already on their way, with products such as Uber and Lyft, both of which the state government recently made more difficult, by requiring an excessive amount of liability insurance on the drivers.

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