What Sept. 11 Taught Alexandria about Economic Recovery

Ingenuity, determination, flexibility, imagination and a ton of collaboration — those are the qualities that Alexandrians are going to need in the coming months as they transition from stability to recovery from the local effects of the global pandemic.

This spring, we talked to several business and government leaders about Alexandria’s economic forecast. (Read much more about this in the upcoming July issue of Alexandria Living Magazine — click here to subscribe by July 19 for home delivery.) 

Businesses may need to make changes in the future that may not even be on their radar right now, said Alexandria Chamber of Commerce CEO Joe Haggerty, referring back to significant changes in the way businesses operate that happened after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“We will have different behaviors, and businesses will have different behaviors. Some of those changes will stay with us and some will go away, but look at how different things are now,” Haggerty said.

In addition to the way small businesses have already pivoted, there’s another positive sign: Major projects are continuing, including the new Potomac Yard Metro station construction and large building projects. New restaurants have plans to open.

“Hopefully we get back to some economic growth for everybody,” Haggerty said.

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson noted that this region capitalized on the investments that occurred in this area after those terrorist attacks.

“We did a good job of making sure that we were the area for counterterrorism investments and cybersecurity,” Wilson said. “We have to do the same thing with this crisis. To the extent that there’s going to be big money thrown at public health, pandemic resiliency and public health, we have to be ready to capitalize on that.” 

“From an economic development perspective, we have some opportunities as a city and as a region and I’m hopeful,” Wilson said. “Some of the work we’ve done in the past couple of years to be more regionally focused about economic development will help us capitalize on that.”

In September 2019, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP) worked with other Northern Virginia economic groups to form the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance. The new organization will work together to promote Northern Virginia as a business and economic development destination. It was formed after Northern Virginia localities banded together to market the region as the perfect choice for Amazon’s second headquarters, which is now under construction. Attracting HQ2 required a lot of collaboration between Arlington, Alexandria and even Prince William County.

“We learned out of Amazon that it doesn’t have to be every man and woman for themselves and that the sum of our parts is worth more than individual jurisdictions. If we go together and sell the region, and the assets of the region, we can be really successful,” Wilson said.

Alexandria is stronger when it works with its partners across Northern Virginia, AEDP President Stephanie Landrum noted.

“We can’t just make decisions here in Alexandria about, say, contact tracing and testing and distancing, without recognizing that we’re part of a much larger metropolitan area. When we’re at our best economically, it means lots of movement between Alexandria and everywhere around us.”

If the region works on stabilizing and recovering from this global pandemic at the same pace, “I think that will help deliver the best outcome for all of us,” she said. 

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