The loss of private-sector jobs — many of them high-paying, white-collar positions — comes as Lockheed Martin and other defense and government contractors are eliminating headquarters positions in anticipation of Pentagon budget cuts.
“This is just bad timing,” said Stephen Fuller, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis. “It is a hit, and it runs counter to the long-term expectations for Fairfax and for the broader region to become a global business center.”
In recent years, Fairfax County has been especially aggressive in its push to attract major corporations, but even the 1,200 jobs created by familiar nameplates such as Volkswagen, Hilton and Northrop Grumman are not enough to offset the latest loss.
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said Wednesday that he has been speaking to Exxon officials for two years about a possible move, trying to persuade the company to stay.
“We’ve actually been fortunate that they have delayed their decision and we were able to keep them here for a couple years to keep that presence here,” McDonnell said. “Obviously it’s a lot of jobs. I’m disappointed.”
The Washington area has been largely insulated from the economic downturn that ravaged other parts of the country, given its proximity to a federal government that ramped up spending to support two wars and stir a recovery. Unemployment rates in Maryland and Virginia have generally remained below the national average, helping to stabilize the local housing and retail markets.
But the region’s relative good fortune may be ending now as concerns about federal deficits grow larger. The government has already scaled back or canceled many military and technology programs, and area business leaders fear worse after the presidential election, when lawmakers must again confront decisions about taxes and spending levels. Currently, automatic spending cuts called for under the sequestration process, totaling more than $1 trillion over about a decade, are set to start in January, with half coming out of the defense budget.
The prospects are already figuring into Virginia state politics.
“This is very disconcerting,” said Terry McAuliffe, a businessman and presumed Democratic candidate for governor. “The loss of 2,100 well-paying jobs, coupled with the fact that we are about to lose thousands more jobs with the upcoming Department of Defense cuts, makes it imperative that we diversify Virginia’s economy and bring in new industries for the 21st century.”