Gerald Gordon, president of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (EDA), says older, commercial areas of Fairfax County—like Annandale, Bailey’s Crossroads, and Seven Corners—can attract investments by “marketing their natural assets,” like proximity to Washington, the Pentagon, and National Airport and cheaper rents than other areas.
Speaking to members of the Bailey’s Crossroads Revitalization Corporation at a recent Bailey’s Business Breakfast at the Skyline Center, Gordon said it is a lot harder to attract investments now that the county’s office vacancy rate has climbed to 15 percent. A few years ago it was under 3 percent.
Gordon isn’t overly concerned about the loss of Exxon Mobil, the first big corporation to relocate its headquarters to Fairfax County. In June, the company announced plans to vacate its campus off Gallows Road near Annandale and move the 2,100 employees who work there to Houston.
Other corporations that have moved to the county in recent years helped diversify the local economy, he says, including Northrup Grumman ’s corporate headquarters, Hilton Worldwide, Volkswagen Group of America, and Bechtel.
A growing industry Gordon is pursuing for the county is “bioinformatics,” which combines bioscience and technology. There already are several companies here in the “personalized medicine” field. These companies offer such services as analyzing individuals’ genetic code to determine whether they have a predisposition for certain diseases and create a personalized plan to help them stay healthy.
There are about 400 foreign-owned companies in Fairfax County with about 30,000 employees, Gordon says. Much of those businesses came here in response to the EDA’s aggressive recruiting efforts. The agency has five offices oversees—in London, Munich, Bangalore, Tel Aviv, and Seoul—that promote the benefits of operating a business in Fairfax County.
Gordon says Fairfax County has grown faster than any other jurisdiction in the region because “it’s the only one that’s aggressively pro-business.” Montgomery County has actually lost jobs in each of the past three years.
Fairfax County’s unemployment rate only dropped as far as 5.3 percent in the recent recession and has now climbed to 4 percent.
In the past, Fairfax County’s economy was overly tied to the federal government, but has become much more diverse, Gordon says. That diversity will help the county weather expected federal budget cuts which could result in a loss of more than 400,000 jobs statewide.
Gordon predicts the impact on Fairfax County will be minimal, because “we’re no longer overly dependent on direct government employment” and defense contracting. “You cannot have an economy dependent on a single employer or single industry.”