- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

Prince William County, long known for its Civil War history, is now becoming known for the quality of its golf courses, as well as tremendous job growth and business development.

The Prince William County/Manassas Convention and Visitors Bureau says golf courses are the new battlegrounds in Northern Virginia.

The 2005 President’s Cup, a biennial international golf match, was held at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club of Lake Manassas in September, bringing a lot of publicity to the county.

“This is one of many things that indicate who we are and the type of community we are to host that type of event,” says Jason Grant, communications director for the Prince William County Department of Economic Development.

“We’ve watched golf in Prince William County really mature over the years and become a good location for golf,” says Prince William County/Manassas Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Tabatha Mullins.

Ms. Mullins noted that the Stonewall Golf Club of Gainesville and the Forest Greens Golf Club of Triangle ranked among the top 50 courses for women in the country.

Tony Giglio, 2005 president of the Prince William Association of Realtors, says the golf industry is attracting business to the area.

“Because of the quality of golf courses they’re building, we do have a lot of industry that is looking at relocating to Prince William County,” he says. “Apparently that makes a big difference to your CEOs of big companies.”

An 18-hole Jack Nicklaus signature golf course is being developed as part of the Harbor Station Hotel and Conference Center along the Potomac River and should open in 2007.

Dominion Valley is a large golf course community under development by Toll Bros. Inc. north of Haymarket. Homes there start in the low $500,000s, but the large single-family homes are priced higher than $700,000.

Right next door at Piedmont, KSI Services Inc. is building condos, town homes and neo-traditional single-family homes. Prices begin in the high $300,000s for condominiums, while single-family homes go for as much as $650,000. All homeowners receive rights to the Piedmont Golf Club, a staffed athletic club, resort-style outdoor pool and a community center.

Prince William County is 30 miles southwest of Washington and runs from the Potomac River to the Bull Run Mountains. The county’s September estimates place the population at just under 360,000, an almost 28 percent gain since 2000.

The county, established in 1731, was named after Prince William Augustus of England, the second son of King George II of England. Prince William originally contained about 2,000 square miles, but in 1759 the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier and Loudoun were carved from it. As a result, the county now contains about 348 square miles.

The city of Manassas is probably best known for its role in the Civil War. Union and Confederate forces met there for the first major battle of the war in July 1861.

The two sides met again a year later for the Battle of Second Manassas, where 24,000 men lost their lives in one of the war’s bloodiest days.

The Manassas National Battlefield Park is open year-round to visitors. (www.nps.gov/mana/)

In the first quarter of 2004, the county had the highest job growth rate among the largest counties in the United States. Job creation grew by 8 percent, compared to only 0.8 percent nationwide, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. This year, jobs increased by 8.5 percent in the first quarter, compared to a 3.1 percent national rate.

“Part of why Prince William County is successful is because we’re part of the Greater Washington area, which has experienced growth over these past few years,” says Mr. Grant of the county’s Department of Economic Development.

Significant job growth has come in construction, retail and service jobs, as well as in high-tech industries, government contractors and small businesses, he says.

“Because of the work force that is available, and the ability for a reverse commute, companies want to relocate to an area where they can still reach employees from inside the Beltway but also reach those employees who live in the suburbs who are commuting in,” Mr. Grant says.

“There is an interest among companies to locate good, high-paying jobs in those outer suburbs in order to increase the quality of life of their people.”

Innovation at Prince William is a fast-growing technology business park just outside of Manassas at the intersection of Va. Route 28 and the Va. Route 234 bypass.

A number of new businesses and facilities will be built in the coming years. George Mason University’s Prince William Campus has been awarded $25 million from the National Institutes of Health to construct a Regional Biocontainment Laboratory in the technology park.

The facility will develop techniques and products for detection, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, resulting from biological terrorism or natural causes.

Eli Lilly and Co. will build a new bio-manufacturing facility to produce insulin. The facility is the first built by Eli Lilly outside of its home state of Indiana. It is expected to be operational in 2009.

Mediatech Inc., now based in Herndon, will build its new corporate headquarters in the park by 2006. The company manufactures and supplies cell culture and molecular biology reagents.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Northern Virginia Resident Agency, employing more than 300 people, will be completed in 2007.

All these new employees need housing. As a result, Prince William County has experienced a recent explosion of new-home construction. Last year, more than 4,600 new homes were sold in Prince William — more than in any other county in the region.

“Prince William County is really a dynamic market,” says Dan Fulton, president of Fulton Research and Consulting, a Virginia-based real estate research firm. “Today it’s a close-in market, whereas back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Prince William County was about as far as you would go. Now it is a close-in alternative to Winchester, Culpeper, Stafford and Fredericksburg. If those people down there want to move closer in, they’ll move to Prince William.”

This year, the housing market has leveled and stabilized, Mr. Giglio says.

“We just went through a seller’s market, and I think we’re into a level market at this point,” he says. “The prices aren’t going to be increasing in the near future as they have in the last several years. We’re going to see slower appreciation, but I don’t think we’re going to see a drop in home prices.”

Mr. Fulton predicts that the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure Commission’s proposal to move as many as 18,000 jobs to Fort Belvoir and 3,000 to Quantico will have a major impact on nearby communities.

“You’re going to see much more of a military influence in the southern area of the county, including defense contractors. That will create a demand for housing in that area immediately surrounding Fort Belvoir and points south,” he says.

Until recently, much of the growth in Prince William could be attributed to affordability compared to other counties. But prices have risen, going up 28 percent last year, for the largest increase in Northern Virginia.

Mr. Giglio says he doesn’t believe there are many homes left under $300,000 in Prince William.

Affordable housing is certainly a regional issue. In 2004, county officials established an Affordable Housing Task Force, which reported its findings and recommendations to the Board of County Supervisors in October.

The task force reported that market pressures have increased the shortfall of affordable housing as median sales prices have risen to more than $300,000, based on 2004 data that includes single-family homes, town homes and condos.

Considering projected job growth in the area, 60,000 more homes will be needed by 2010. Current housing production cannot keep up with this demand, the task force reports.

The task force recommended a number of goals to make housing more affordable in the county: establishment of production goals for moderate-priced housing; improved and expanded first-time buyer programs; preservation of the current supply of moderate-priced homes and rental units; development of Employer Assisted Housing programs, and encouragement of innovative housing projects by developers.

The report concludes that homeownership is not affordable to many employees of the county, and 39 percent of the annual salaried employees live outside of the county.

“Now Prince William County folks are moving out of the county in search of affordable homes because the homes in Prince William County today just aren’t affordable anymore for the young couple and the young family. They are affordable relative to Fairfax and Loudoun counties, but they’re not affordable for a new home buyer,” says Mr. Fulton.

Although prices have risen dramatically, it is still possible to find an affordable home in the area if you’re older than 55. For example, Brookfield Homes and Patriot are building single-family homes starting in the $300,000s at the active adult community of Braemar near Bristow.

Prince William has long been known for its more affordable shopping at Potomac Mills mall, which draws millions of visitors to the county. It is one of the 10 most popular tourist attractions in Virginia, with 30 million annual visitors, the county convention and tourism bureau reports.

The county received some $308 million from travelers in 2004.

Tourism has brought the county about $3 billion in economic activity to the area during the past decade. Fueling these numbers are 12 historic attractions, 12 golf courses, two major shopping districts, six entertainment/performance venues and 35 hotel properties.

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