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What’s next for Arlington economic development? Director Ryan Touhill on biz attraction and support

With Amazon HQ2 progress, a potential recession and office vacancies in mind, Touhill shared his plans as the county's new director of economic development.

Ryan Touhill, Arlington's new director of economic development. (Courtesy photo)

This editorial article is a part of Navigating a (Possible) Recession Month 2023 in’s editorial calendar.

In late November, Arlington, Virginia’s economic development department gained a new head.

Starting the 28th, Ryan Touhill became the county’s new director of economic development, taking over from Shannon Flanagan-Watson. He came to the role from a post next door at the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, where his achievements included helping out with securing Amazon HQ2 and the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus.

Six weeks later, Touhill, a grad of both George Mason University and the George Washington University, said he’s eager to take on the development needs of his new geographic ward, and has a few plans he’s looking to get a jump on.

“Being able to continue my career here in Arlington means a lot because this is a really forward-thinking community and forward-thinking government,” Touhill told “So when this position opened up, I really saw an opportunity to step into a leadership role.”

First up on his new agenda is putting together the county’s strategic plan in the first quarter of 2023. Primarily, he said, the plan is going to focus on strategic defense, meaning that the team will be focused on keeping existing companies in Arlington and helping local businesses grow and expand. Additionally, the plan will feature strategies for sharing the benefits of the community with companies not located in the city but whose leaders are thinking of expanding or moving to the area. It will also mean continuing plans already in motion, like the Tech Talent pilot program which helps residents get credentialed for tech careers.

“We want to be really aggressive and on offense, telling the Arlington story to companies that aren’t located here but might be growing and are thinking that a presence in DC would be a positive thing for them,” Touhill said. “We want to build relationships with these companies.”

Rendering of glass buildings and green trees

Amazon’s planned “Forest Plaza” at its HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia. (Image courtesy of Amazon, April 2022)

Longer-term, Touhill said he’s also looking to up small business recovery from the pandemic, especially in tourism and hospitality, and looking to close the talent gap in Northern Virginia. But one of the biggest issues on his radar, he said, is vacancy rates in Arlington offices and determining what the future of work looks like.

To help with this, he’s hoping to, again, attract new companies into the market. Arlington, though, will also be taking on a Commercial Market Resiliency Initiative, which calls for zoning changes (such as switching to residential) and other creative uses for empty offices.

On a larger scale, Arlington is also keeping an eye on some of the Big Tech moves expect in 2023, like the completion of a few high-rise office buildings and a park in Amazon HQ2. Touhill said he and his team are excited about the Amazon project. He hopes that as employees move through the company and potentially decide they’d like to go elsewhere or start their own companies, they decide to stay in the community.

Gearing up for a potentially slow 2023 economically, Touhill said that his team is out in the community every day working with businesses. And like we saw in 2020 with the pandemic, it’s crucial to remember how to respond and adapt to changing times.

“The key thing we have to keep in mind is always, constantly adapting and evolving as a team because we don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring us,” Touhill said. “But I’m confident that we have the people and the resources here to help our community weather any kind of downturn.”


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