In contrast to a slumping national economy, the metropolitan Washington region is continuing to add jobs, people and office space at a steady rate according to two new reports presented during the COG Board of Directors meeting. Despite the positive growth trends, COG Board Members voiced concern that development around both Metrorail stations and in regional activity centers decreased by 10 percent.
The COG report Economic Trends in Metropolitan Washington, 2003-2007 shows that between 2003 and 2007, the region has added over 182,000 jobs and more than 275,000 people. The metropolitan statistical area is now home to 2.9 million jobs and 5.3 million people. More than 47.9 percent of the region’s jobs are located in the inner suburbs of Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties and the cities within them. Between 2003 and 2007, Fairfax County led the region in employment growth with 51,959 jobs followed by the District of Columbia with 29,400 and Loudoun County with 24,799.
In 2007, commercial construction projects added nearly 32.8 million square feet of space according to COG’s Commercial Construction Indicators 2007 Annual Summary. The new projects in 2007 were valued at nearly $5.7 billion, marking the seventh greatest amount since COG started reporting on the data in 1980.
COG Board Members were concerned that 18 percent of new commercial construction projects in 2007 were located in Metrorail station areas compared to 28 percent in 2006. Fifty-six projects totaling more than six million square feet were started near Metrorail stations. In 2007, 48 percent of new projects were located in activity centers (areas which have high concentrations of housing and jobs) as opposed to 58 percent in 2006. There was a slight increase in development around commuter rail stations from eight percent in 2006 to nine percent in 2007.
“We need to refocus our efforts and message so that we take the opportunities to develop around Metrorail and regional activity centers,” said Alexandria Councilmember Ludwig Gaines, who chairs COG’s Metropolitan Development Policy Committee.
The unemployment rate in the metropolitan Washington region was three percent in 2007. It has remained steady over the last five years, averaging 3.4 percent. The number of homes sold has decreased dramatically between 2003 and 2007, from more than 106,000 units in 2003 to about 66,000 in 2007. COG planners said they believe the region’s strong economy will withstand the housing foreclosure crisis; however, they will be monitoring its impacts as well as the effects of rising fuel costs and interest rates closely over the next year.
Office development held the largest share of commercial construction in 2007 accounting for 40 percent of the region’s new commercial space. The region’s largest project with 1.3 million square feet of space was the DeWitt Army Community Hospital at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County.
Northern Virginia led the region in the construction of new commercial space, amounting to half of all new projects started in 2007. Among local jurisdictions, Fairfax County had 6.6 million square feet of new development led the region in 2007. The District of Columbia added nearly 4.9 million square feet of new space.
COG publishes the five-year analysis of the region’s economy each year to provide information on the region’s population, employment, construction, retail sales, inflation, mortgage rates, and number of passengers served by the area’s major airports. Commercial construction is analyzed annually by COG to provide information on the number, location, structure type, size, and estimated costs of new commercial development projects.