Wednesday, November 1, 2006
The new “model” for re-locating corporate headquarters has been set for many years. When given a choice, most big corporations prefer suburban locations, where land is cheaper than in the city downtown, parking is plentiful, and, by the way, the CEO and other top execs live nearby. (My favorite story in this regard is how an incoming chief of General Dynamics in the 1970s got the corporate headquarters moved to the St. Louis area because he already lived there.) Corporate relocation to the suburbs not only brings with it corporate jobs (and other jobs that rely on corporate employee residence and work), but also brings cachet, traffic, and land use disputes.
Some businesses have been resistant to the move to the suburbs. Law firms, for example, tend not to need much office space and often prefer to be close to city courthouses. But a new type of employer is now reported to be following the trend to the suburbs, disregarding all the talk of fighting “sprawl” and of encouraging centralized development near public transportation. This employer is the federal government. According to a story in today’s Washington Post, more and more agencies are moving some operations to the suburbs of Washington, and from inner suburbs to outer ones. For the military, in particular, many operations are being moved to the Virginia exurbs (where, by the way, many top military personnel happen to live.)
The move away from public transportation and towards exurbs, whose handful of road arteries are already chocked with commuters (any sane person would much rather drive around downtown Washington during rush hour than around Virginia’s Tyson’s Corner or Manassas) seems to be the antithesis of “smart” growth. It is also a sobering phenomenon in the on-going fight to reverse the trend toward sprawl.