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How Arlington's New Economic Development Director Is Managing The Pandemic

Arlington Economic Development Director Telly Tucker

When Telly Tucker was named the new director of Arlington Economic Development in December, he didn't know his first six months on the job would require him to respond to a global pandemic and economic crisis. 

Tucker spoke Tuesday on Bisnow's Rosslyn Ready webinar, along with other top stakeholders in the neighborhood, about how Arlington County has responded to the crisis. He said his team started by soliciting feedback, sending out surveys and holding hundreds of virtual meetings with businesses, including small retail operators and large office tenants. 

"Because none of us had a playbook or roadmap on how to respond in the midst of a pandemic, much of what we've tried to respond to has been from the feedback we've received," Tucker said. "One of the overwhelming sentiments, particularly from the small business community, was that there was a need for financial assistance to help get them through this rough period."

Many small businesses in Arlington found difficulties with the federal Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, Tucker said, and Arlington decided to launch a local relief fund.

Arlington announced June 17 it selected 394 businesses for a total of $2.8M in grant funding. The requirements were that businesses had to be located in Arlington, have fewer than 50 employees and demonstrate pandemic-related revenue losses of at least 35%. Tucker said it had over 1,100 applications. 

"Every business in Arlington is deserving of the grant, but we simply did not have enough resources," Tucker said. "So we went through a robust three-stage review process where we weighed the impact to the business operations, the impact to the employees ... and also we had a measure by which we evaluated the impact to the community."

Clockwise from top left: LiveSafe's Carlyn Parent, Rosslyn BID's Mary-Claire Burick, Walsh Colucci's Andrew Painter, Arlington Economic Development's Telly Tucker and Monday Properties' Jennifer Burns.

Tucker said he was glad to see that 60% of the businesses that received awards were owned by women or minorities and that there was diversity in the types of businesses that received funding.

"We saw a very diverse group of businesses that were recommended for awards and ultimately approved," Tucker said. "We saw everything from arts organizations to restaurants to small contractors to consulting businesses."

Virginia moved into Phase 3 of its reopening process July 1. The step allowed restaurants and nonessential retail businesses to operate at full capacity with social distancing measures, allowed social gatherings of up to 250 people and allowed child care centers to reopen. Tucker said Arlington is still mandating 6 feet of distance between tables at restaurants. 

"As we moved into Phase 3, it allowed a little more flexibility for restaurants that already had outdoor seating that they could seat to their capacity as long as they were able to maintain that 6 feet of physical distancing," Tucker said. 

Arlington's Temporary Outdoor Seating Area permit program has allowed restaurants to expand their patio areas during the reopening process. As of Tuesday, the county had received 96 applications and granted 46 approvals totaling more than 1,400 additional outdoor seats, Tucker said. 

Rosslyn BID President Mary-Claire Burick said supporting restaurants was one of the group's top priorities at the start of the pandemic, as she saw they were likely to be the most impacted.

The BID launched several initiatives, including the Rosslyn Rewards program, which gave cash rewards to residents who ordered takeout from participating area restaurants and published a social media post about their meal.

"The Rosslyn Rewards program was a way to support the consumers who were supporting the restaurants," Burick said. "That program has been very successful. It continues to this day, and we'll probably continue it long after we're starting to get back into true economic recovery."

Additionally, the BID contributed $100K to Arlington's business relief grant program. It also helped reorient public spaces to provide restaurant pickup areas, provided informational guides to restaurants about how to reopen and installed public signage with messages that promote social distancing. 

Monday Properties, one of Rosslyn's largest office and retail landlords, released a guide to help its office tenants safely return to work. It has also worked with its retail tenants to provide new signage and facilitate takeout service and outdoor seating, Monday Senior Vice President Jennifer Burns said. 

Sfoglina, an Italian restaurant from chef Fabio Trabocchi, in October opened at Monday's 1100 Wilson Blvd. in Rosslyn. Burns said it has worked with the restaurant to expand its outdoor seating, and it is also planning to provide rooftop seating atop the 31-story tower. 

"We've been working with them on some creative strategies to utilize our roof deck space, which is coming soon, and I think that's going to be fabulous," Burns said. "There are a lot of exciting things that we're going to start to see as we're in Phase 3."