Be Your Own Boss
Tired of the old 9-to-5? These entrepreneurs have traded traditional office jobs for a different way of life.
Call it the gig effect. It may not feel like there are fewer cars on the road or fewer people taking Metro, but changing work habits are having an impact on local traffic patterns, not to mention office building occupancy. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has seen a drop in Metro ridership in recent years, and Arlington County has experienced a decreased demand for traditional commercial space.
It’s not just entrepreneurs and freelancers who are no longer commuting to an office each day. Local companies and the federal government are increasingly embracing alternative work schedules that allow employees to work from home one or more days a week. And a growing number of businesses are virtual.
Since 2004, the number of people teleworking in Arlington has increased from 13 percent to 23 percent, says Marie Cox, business development manager for employer services at Arlington Transportation Partners, the county’s business-to-business transportation consulting firm. That translates to fewer commuters. Although the regional population has grown by more than 16 percent over the last decade, vehicle travel Monday through Friday has only increased by 4 percent, Cox says.
Meanwhile, Metro has lost more than 16,000 weekday riders—largely due to customer frustration over disrupted service and delays. Though 14 percent of Metro riders report switching to the bus or the Virginia Railway Express, and an increasing number of people are using Capital Bikeshare, many are also exploring the work-from-home option.
Cox expects teleworking to continue its upward trend over the next year as the region braces for WMATA’s extended program to repair and rebuild its plat-forms. WMATA plans to close all Metro stations south of Reagan National Airport for at least 98 days next summer, starting around Memorial Day weekend.
Teleworking, gig careers and nomadic work habits are also having an impact on county office space. Arlington’s office vacancy rate isn’t as high as it once was—it’s currently 18.4 percent, down from a high of 21.4 percent in 2014—but the majority of corporate tenants are nevertheless leasing less space than they used to, says Alex Iams, assistant director of Arlington Economic Development.
Tenants signing new leases are taking 15 to 24 percent less square footage, he says, and even the federal government and companies with long-term leases are cutting their space down by 10 to 15 percent. A few years ago most companies were leasing an average of 250 square feet of space per employee. Today, the average is 160 square feet per person.
For tips on how to set up a successful teleworking program, Arlington Transportation Partners offers a variety of online resources at arlingtontransportationpartners.com/services/telework-services/. The state of Virginia’s Telework!VA program (teleworkva.org) also provides business assistance and offers a Telework Expenses Tax Credit, whereby Virginia businesses can receive up to $50,000 in tax credits for telework-related expenses incurred in 2019. Just keep in mind that eligible businesses must apply for the credit prior to the 2019 tax year.
Hang a Shingle
Want to launch your own business? Arlington County offers a wealth of resources for local entrepreneurs.
Arlington Central Library has a business services librarian, Alexandra Fox, who offers free, 60-minute consultations by appointment. Library resources include sample business plans, market research, demographics and consumer spending data, as well as industry research and investment analysis. library.arlingtonva.us/explore/small-business/
The Arlington Chamber of Commerce provides networking and professional development programs as well as small business roundtables, targeted marketing campaigns and government advocacy. arlingtonchamber.org
Awesome Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) creates opportunities for women entrepreneurs to network, collaborate and support one another through small group, peer-to-peer gatherings. awesomewomen.org
BizLaunch, a program run by Arlington Economic Development, offers one-on-one mentoring and a small business checklist with guidance on how to write a business plan, get funding and become licensed. It sponsors events and roundtables and maintains a directory of newly created small businesses. arlingtoneconomicdevelopment.com
Arlington freelance journalist Lisa Rabasca Roepe has written for Fast Company, Family Circle, Quartz, The Week, CityLab and Good. She is also a Forbes contributor. Three years ago, she left a corporate job to start her own writing business.
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