As policymakers and analysts try to understand the impact of Amazon’s decision to move roughly 25,000 jobs to Arlington over the next decade, the region’s Jewish organizational leaders are considering what it could mean for an already-growing Northern Virginia
Gil Preuss, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, said the topic of Amazon has been inescapable since the company announced last week that it would be setting up one half of its “HQ2” in the Crystal City area.
At a recent meeting of a Federation task force organized after a demographic study found that Northern Virginia now has the region’s largest Jewish population, Preuss said Amazon’s longterm impact was discussed, though it’s far too early to know what it will mean for the area’s Jewish institutions. (The study was done in cooperation with the
Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and funded by The Morningstar Foundation established by Susie and Michael Gelman. The Gelmans are members of the ownership group of Mid-Atlantic Media, which publishes Washington Jewish Week.)
“Most conversations about Northern Virginia I have these days involve a conversation about Amazon,” Preuss said.
But those, like many other discussions regarding the move, are largely speculative. The announcement sparked numerous analyses of just what the addition of those 25,000 jobs would mean for housing prices and traffic. But some initial reports suggest the effects may have been overblown after a months-long selection process in which municipalities quite publicly pitched incentive packages to the tech company, which has been valued at over $1 trillion.
According to the D.C. Policy Center, the Washington region has grown by more than 50,000 jobs in each of the last three years. The think tank says that phasing in an additional 25,000 over 10 years shouldn’t drastically accelerate the rise in housing prices in Northern Virginia and Washington.
Another concern has been traffic. Northern Virginia’s roads are famously clogged, but Amazon made it clear that a major selection criteria was access to mass transit, and the Crystal City site is located close to Metro’s Blue and Yellow lines. In addition, Virginia has pledged to spend $195 million on improving the area’s transit infrastructure and roadways.
Ken Labowitz, president of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria — the closest synagogue to the future Amazon site — said there hasn’t been much discussion of what the development might mean. But many in the congregation are concerned, as always, about traffic.
“Traffic is terrible today driving through Crystal City, and that’s not going to be improved with 25,000 more people,” Labowitz said. “Certainly for us and [Congregation] Etz Hayim in Arlington, neither of us are very far and it’s going to have a significant impact. But for now it’s too far out to know what it is.”
Jeff Dannick, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, said he was intrigued by a George Mason University study that posited that a plurality of Amazon’s employees would actually choose to live in neighboring Fairfax County, where the center is located. Still, he wants the JCC to make its programs available to any new Jewish residents, regardless of location. The center has a strategic plan that calls for more programming outside of its central building, and Dannick said its board will explore if there’s more that should be done in the Crystal City area.
In addition, he hopes that the JCC will be visible in any welcoming events for the Amazon offices when they open.
“As they get closer to actual implementation, I’m trying to see if there’s some way to actually reach out to Amazon and say, ‘Hey, we’re here and we’re ready to serve any employees that are new to the area,’” Dannick said. “I’ve always been intrigued by Crystal City and other areas where we don’t already have a huge footprint. It’s something we have to keep on our radar but for now, it’s not going to divert our attention that dramatically.”