For the first time, Prince George’s County is on the map for holiday shoppers.
County officials, developers of National Harbor and thousands of shoppers celebrated the opening of 80 new stores at the Tanger Outlets in Oxon Hill on Friday. Many of the brands, among them Calvin Klein, Michael Kors and Tommy Hilfiger, are names that Prince George’s County residents have long had to find by leaving their neighborhoods for drives around the Beltway or up Interstate 95.
Tanger and the county got the $100 million, 340,000-square-foot shopping plaza open in time for the holiday season, and by late morning Friday, the 6,000-space parking lot was full. Around 20,000 people are expected to shop there Friday, and another 75,000 to 100,000 are expected this weekend. The crowds are so big they are causing weekend traffic concerns requiring 80 police officers.
“For the first time, I’m going to have these news crews coming to the county, at those outlets,” Scott Peterson, spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, said recently. “It won’t be people from Prince George’s County down at Pentagon City mall. Or out at Montgomery County or Anne Arundel County.”
But the shopping and hiring blitz at Tanger, which created 900 full- and part-time retail jobs, can’t mask the worrisome shifts in the county’s economy. “Are Boomtown D.C.’s Days Numbered?” asked a recent headline on a story on the “Atlantic Cities” Web site — and the leading indicators of a possible slide in the region are in Prince George’s County.
Prince George’s has a larger percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees than the national average (30 percent to 28 percent), and its median income is also higher than the national average ($71,260 to $51,914). But the county has added few net jobs since it lost more than 10,000 in the recession.
Part of the reason for the sluggish job creation is that major employers in Prince George’s are still laying off hundreds of workers. Comcast announced in May that it would axe 145 positions in its Largo offices. Smithfield Foods recently closed a plant in Landover, at a loss of 156 jobs.
Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), once one of the largest private employers in Prince George’s, has shed hundreds of jobs in recent years from the 12-story tower overlooking the Capital Beltway in New Carrollton that bears its logo.
The lack of new jobs is causing a new round of turmoil for owners of office buildings in the county. CSC said recently it would keep some 400 employees and contractors in the county by moving them to Lanham, but the owners of the New Carrollton building, a partnership between local businessman Carl Williams and fund manager Urban America, may have trouble paying their bills. There is still $69.5 million worth of debt on the property, according to Morningstar, and the ratings agency recently added it to a watch list of loans that are at risk of default. (The owners declined to comment on the matter.)
Other Prince George’s property owners are in similar straits because the uncertainty on jobs makes it difficult to determine which companies might be up for leasing their buildings. The vacancy rate in the county is 18.5 percent, well above the regional rate of 13.4 percent. Four buildings in the county are nearly or completely vacant, according to Jones Lang LaSalle. And almost no new office buildings are under construction.
The state and county are doing what they can to hold the fort until the private sector begins to create more jobs. In Largo, the groundwork has finally been laid for a $645 million regional hospital, which could also help revive The Boulevard at the Capital Centre.
After an initial stumble, the state plans to relocate the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to a site near the Orange Line Metro station in New Carrollton. The first phase is expected to create 132 permanent jobs and 325 construction jobs.
By Dec. 20, the county will also learn which of three bidders for a new casino will be selected. All of the teams have promised hundreds of casino, hotel and resort jobs should they be chosen. But many of the jobs being created by these projects are of the hourly sort — cooks, hotel staff, cashiers, etc. Real estate investors with holdings around the Washington region are wondering what the local economy will look like if no white-collar job growth appears. In Prince George’s County, they can get a preview.
Luz Lazo contributed to this report.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz