Northern Virginia's private sector has lost sight of the issues that really affect business growth in Fairfax County by investing too heavily in a political campaign whose rhetoric has bordered on sexism and bossism.
Even if business' candidate does win next Tuesday's election to head the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, it's doubtful that the outcome will lead to a more enlightened approach to dealing with serious impediments to economic growth.
The politicians, largely with business' acquiescence, have made the race for county supervisor a narrowly focused campaign and a referendum on personalities.
The campaign makes clear that real estate developers and other business interests in Fairfax County have allowed personalities, rather than issues, to dominate their thinking about economic expansion in the 1990s and beyond. Years from now, when the personalities involved are no longer the issue, the business community will have to deal with other factors that could have a greater impact on business development and growth.
Fairfax and other Northern Virginia communities will still have an acute labor shortage even if business' candidate wins next week's election. That has far-reaching implications for business expansion.
The growing shortage of affordable low- and moderate-income housing will compound the county's labor shortage even if special interests' huge bankroll tips the ballot box in favor of business' candidate.
Underwriting the campaign of a so-called pro-business candidate is no guarantee that the commercial office market won't be overtaken by a space glut from overbuilding.
Who voted for or against road construction at various stages of planning is ancient history, given today's transportation problems and their impact on business. The question business should be asking of politicians -- friends as well as perceived foes -- is, What have you done lately to improve transportation, housing for potential employes and zoning to accommodate comprehensive growth? Until now, the private sector has failed to demand answers either from political allies or opponents.
Business leaders complain about traffic congestion and delays that result in lower productivity. Yet they refuse to support land-use compromises that might reduce problems associated with traffic congestion. Nor do they seem prepared to offer private-sector initiatives that might disarm critics of laissez-faire development policies.
The economic issues in Fairfax and other suburban jurisdictions were clearly identified months, even years ago in studies of population and business growth trends. But neither politicians nor special-interest business groups in the county seem much interested in discussing those issues and their eventual impact on business or individual taxpayers.
Conclusions by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and other research groups defined the issues likely to affect the region's economy into the next century. Significant findings reported by COG in each of the last two years bear repeating:
Not only is traffic congestion a serious problem for commuters, but many entry-level jobs in lower-skill occupations are accessible only by automobile, COG emphasized. Moreover, it said, the trend in the region's commercial development patterns around Metrorail stations is uneven and makes commuting to employment centers extremely difficult for large segments of the work force. Meanwhile, most homes that will be built through the year 2010 will be well beyond the Beltway, while substantial numbers of new jobs will be created in areas not well served by public transportation.
COG was even more specific about land-use patterns and their implications for business when it suggested that "Demands for new highway construction should be considered in light of the region's experience with the Capital Beltway and Metrorail. The success of transportation improvements is closely linked to the patterns of land uses around and tributary to transportation facilities."
What's more, COG warned, population and commercial growth in some suburban areas are "beginning to exceed the capabilities of the roads, schools and other urban systems required to support such growth."
More recently, several studies described the commercial office market in Northern Virginia as "soft" -- the real estate industry's euphemism for overbuilding and space glut.
The issues and potential problems spelled out by COG and others are byproducts, ironically, of Fairfax County's booming economy. They transcend personalities and merit wide public debate. The overriding issue in the long run is not who has experience in providing "pro-business leadership," or who is more likely to stop growth.
The business community in Fairfax County can gain more than just support for controversial development projects by insisting that a more intelligent discussion take place in the political forum of an agenda for continued economic growth.