Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Friday, October 31, 2014

Successful Clarabridge expands Reston office space, and provides another lesson in office space planning.

BIZNOW reports that Reston's Clarabridge, a young social media marketing research firm, is expanding its office space next to the Wiehle Metro station by about 40% to accommodate 80 new employees within the next year.  Great!  It is precisely the type of high-tech start-up that Reston wants in its emerging Silver Line transit station areas. 

Here is a little of what BIZNOW has to say:
Clarabridge will increase its 250-person workforce by 40% next year and has just doubled its Reston HQ. Naturally we wanted to hear more, so we stopped by the software firm right in the middle of moving day. . .
CEO Sid Banerjee . . . says Clarabridge’s growth is coming from large customers like DIRECTV, Walmart, and Best Buy that want to know what people are saying about their products and services. Clarabridge, launched by Sid over seven years ago, pulls customer feedback from social media and from surveys and call center data and turns it into recommendations. He says the company is on the road toward an IPO in the next few years.  . .
Sid, trying out a treadmill desk, says revenue has grown 55% and head count has grown 50% this year. That's why the company took another floor in the Reston building where it’s been for several years. The company will occupy both floors, doubling to 42,000 SF. The new space allows the company, which also has offices in San Fran, London, and Spain, to hire roughly 80 more people in the next year. . . 
Its new floor, which formerly housed a government contractor, was also redesigned with Silicon Valley in mind. (SVP) Emily (Markmann) toured 28 startups and midsize companies, including Salesforce and Etsy, to get ideas. Those ideas included private and open collaborative spaces, private rooms, exposed floors and ceilings, and large colorful disks hanging from the ceiling that control noise. . .
From an office space perspective, Clarabridge is an excellent example of what future office space will look like, especially in the high tech industry Reston and the County are pursuing.  

And, oh yes, the 42,000 square feet of space will serve 330 employees--250 current and 80 prospective.  Getting out our slide rule, we find that the space allows 127 square feet of space per employee--which we presume are "leasable square feet."  As we pointed out in a letter (p. 8) to County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova more than a year ago, that translates into about 144 gross square feet (GSF)--the metric used by the County to plan future office space--per employee.

Unfortunately, the County insists on using 300 GSF per employee as its planning metric as noted in this letter responding to our point from the County's planning chief, Fred Selden.  Why?  Because Houston has an average of 300 GSF per employee and so do nine firms in the Reston-Tysons area!  Of course, all of these firms are legacy businesses, not the new companies the County is theoretically trying to attract.

The result, of course, is that Reston's transit station areas will over time see about twice the employment that the planning process projected if developers are successful in filling out their land as planned.  Unfortunately, the transportation planning for these areas is also based on one worker per 300GSF of office space.  The result will be, at bets, about half the transportation capacity--roads, buses, pedestrian & bicycling capabilities--the community needs to meet even the most basic transportation standards.  It will result in absolute gridlock on local roads, including community thoroughfares through the station areas.  Ultimately, it will erode the attractiveness of Reston's station area development.

The County can change the plan now, but once it translates the plan into zoning decisions, the densities can not be revised downward in this property rights-obsessed state.  And don't look to the Board of Supervisors for forward thinking on these matters, especially when they see developers at the way to County financial nirvana where no tough budget decisions need be made.

We will continue to point out how new and expanding firms in Reston's urban areas are leasing and furnishing their office spaces for the future of work in which telework, collaboration, and cost efficiency are the principal drivers.  We hope that our leaders will learn this rather sooner than later in the face of a County office space vacancy rate now running near record high levels.  In its third-quarter office “snapshot” report, Cassidy-Turley (CT) puts Fairfax County’s office vacancy rate at 16.3% and total office space availability (including currently occupied, but available space) at 22.7%.  It puts Dulles Corridor vacancies and availability as follows:


Location                 Vacant                Available
                                                                Tysons                     17.1%                     24.3%
                                                                Reston                     15.3%                     22.1%
                                                                Herndon                   12.5%                     21.3%

Together, there is more than 13,000,000 (yes, 13 million) leasable square feet of office space available for lease in these three areas, 4,000,000 GSF of which are currently vacant.

 
Like the workspace Clarabridge is so carefully re-cycling into a contemporary creative office environment, there is at least room for 116,000 more office workers along the Dulles Corridor at 150 GSF per worker before developers need to pour any concrete.  Now the County needs to find companies that can be as successful and creative in doing so as Clarabridge.

Keep up the great work, Clarabridge.  The County Board of Supervisors needs to learn from your example about the future of office space in the Dulles Corridor. 

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