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Telework Would Keep Employees Spending Cash in Local Economy

Opinion 

By AL ALBORN
Contributing Editor

I’m a telework evangelist. I enjoy “connecting the dots” between the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, Rep. Gerry Connolly’s Telework 2.0 initiative, Virginia Delegates Ramadan and Comstock’s legislation to offer telework tax credits, the federal push to reduce the size and cost of Government, BRAC, and our ever-expanding road budget.

The folks who should really be vocal supporters of telework are local business owners, particularly small business owners that operate in the bedroom communities that support “inside the beltway” business and Government activities. I live in Prince William County however, the principle applies to all bedroom communities.

Many who spend time in Prince William are often struck by how empty our shops and restaurants are during the day, by the number of vacancies in our strip malls, Manassas Mall, and Potomac Mills mall. Our local economy appears to start at around 6 or 7 p.m.

That’s because over half of our local labor force (or around 105,000 folks out of a civilian labor force of 212,230 “in place” employees and an estimated 4,900 self-employed folks) works outside Prince William County, according to county documents.

These folks who don’t work within Prince William County are heading for Reston, Tysons Corner, Downtown Washington, or other points north of here. Every day, we send over half of the county’s labor force, and their wallets and purses somewhere else. They shop somewhere else, eat somewhere else, buy and service their cars somewhere else, drop off and pick up their dry cleaning somewhere else, Christmas shop somewhere else – they live most of their lives in someone else’s economy.

Let’s bring these people and their wallets home.

We do that by implementing a telework-friendly policy at all levels, and integrating a philosophy driven by letting our residents work and shop at in Prince William County instead of thinking of more ways to move people and their pocketbooks out of the county. Let’s integrate telework into our strategy for solving Northern Virginia’s transportation problem. Let’s think about ways to take people out of local roads instead of just building more roads.

Over half of our local labor force (or around 100,000 folks out of a civilian labor force of 212,2301) work outside Prince William County.

Let’s do the math.

Let’s assume that we take 10,000 of those folks (or roughly 10% FTE) off the road via telework. Because they are staying in Prince William County (you can “plug in the math” for any county) and that they spend a modest $5 a day (using a 5 day week) or $25 a week on the local economy (instead of “somewhere else”). Suddenly, we have over $13 million and change spent in our local economy instead of somewhere else.

Five dollars a day amounts to a Venti at Starbucks, gum and a candy bar, or a magazine at a drug store. It adds up quickly.

Some more fun with numbers:

If just 200 of these folks purchased a car that cost $25,000 in Prince William County instead of somewhere else (I purchased three in Tyson’s Corner over the years), that would add another $5 million in annual revenue.

If half of these folks (that 10%) got their car serviced twice a year in Prince William at $100 each service, that would add another $1 million a year pumped into the local economy.

If half of these folks (again, that 10%) dropped of their dry cleaning once a week here $5 a pop, that’s another $1.3 million (and change).

I could go on. This is real money that leaves Prince William County every morning.

These are conservative estimates and admittedly fuzzy math, but they give you an idea of the dollars and cents value of telework to our local economy. The more successful we are integrating telework into our transportation strategy, the more money we keep in Prince William County businesses.

When I commuted to Tysons Corner, I “lived there,” bought and serviced my cars there, bought my family birthday, anniversary and Christmas gifts there, ate lunch there, joined a gym there. I would suggest that perhaps the dollars are big enough to have a more robust analysis performed perhaps by the Prince William County Economic Development Department.

If you’re a business in Prince William County, you really need to get behind telework. Our federal, state, local, and city governments habe been developing transportation policy for years that sends county pocketbooks elsewhere to spend their discretionary income. We need to change this trend.

I’ll be focusing on telework for a while. Delegates Ramadan and Comstock successfully passed a new telework tax incentive in the Virginia House, and Congressman Connolly is working on Telework 2.0 legislation will make it easier for federal contract officers to give contractors more freedom to telework.

I plan to explore how telework impacts economic development, the real estate market, public safety, our quality of life, community involvement, and just about everything in future columns.

Not everyone can telework; however, for those of us who do it’s “what’s next” in the way we live, work and play.

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  • My estimate for folks who leave Prince William County came from Prince William County’s Standard Data Set As of December 31, 2012. I also adjusted the estimate to allow for 4% self-employed who are not part of Prince William County’s “in-place employment estimate. By using only 10% of the resulting number for my examples, I believe I am “close enough” to make the point that telework has significant economic advantages for small businesses in Prince William County, Virginia.

  • Jim the PWC Teleworker

    Sorry to nitpick, but…

    “If half of these folks (again, that 10%) dropped of there dry cleaning once a week here $5 a pop, that’s another $1.3 million (and change).”

    …dropped off their…

    Please tell me this was posted on-the-fly and not something that was reviewed by someone else before posting.

    Good read otherwise.

    PWC resident since 1997.
    Regards

    • My fault. My posts do get reviewed and edited for AP Standards; however, even the Post misses one once and a while. Thanks for pointing it out, and for reading the column. I’m sure the editor will catch your comment and correct the column.

  • Good work, Al! I’ll be looking forward to further columns elaborating the benefits to all by taking cars off the roads!

  • Janelle Anderson

    Could “telework evangelist” be shortened to “televangelist”?

    • I think that one’s taken… but thanks for the idea.

  • Al,
    Great column.
    We have been pushing this idea for many years.

    And it’s not only in this area but rursl economic development across the country depends on people not only eliminating their commutes and spending more of their money closer to home, but also NOT moving their families to live closer to their work and taking all of their money with them.

    As far as the dry cleaning, I make that stop much less frequently since I work from home. I probably save $500/year on dry cleaning alone.

    Thanks,

    Chuck Wilsker
    The Telework Coalition

    • Thank you, Chuck. I plan to address telework’s impact on real estate values and other issues in future columns. I was co-founder of the Northern Virginia Telework Council, a local body focused on the subject. We worked with the Prince William Chamber of Commerce during 2012 to work on policy issues, and are now focusing on jobs. We meet on-line (physical meetings would ironic) on the 2nd Friday of every month. You may find out more about us here http://www.usateleworkjobs.com

      I hope you’ll join us.

      • My pleasure, Al.

        I was on the telework committee at the Northern Virginia Tech Council for several years and chaired the Telework Task Force at the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

        I know Gerry Connolly and had several meetings with him when he was still with Fairfax County.

        Looks like i missed this month’s meeting but I will try to join you in March.

        Let’s keep in touch.

        Chuck

        • We should talk. I was on the Northern Virginia Tech Council, telework sub council around the year 2000 (or so. i was a VP at SAIC). Mike Saylor, Microstrategy, was also a member (if that syncs things up a bit). We ,may have sat in a couple of the same meetings.

          Congressman Connolly’s current legislation initiative, Telework 2.0, came out of his collaboration with our group last year.

          We should talk. I found you on your website, and will send an email.

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