Fairfax County has banded together with nine other jurisdictions in Northern Virginia to form an economic development alliance dedicated to promoting the region as an attractive place to do business.
Inspired in part by the region’s collaborative approach to luring Amazon’s second headquarters, the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance consists of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, the Prince William County Department of Economic Development, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, Loudoun County, Arlington County, Fauquier County, and the Cities of Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park.
Formed on Sept. 13 with a memorandum of understanding signed by representatives from all of the involved jurisdictions, the economic development alliance will assist individual jurisdictions with activities “focused on regional brand creation and promotion,” essentially marketing the region to outside companies and organizations.
“We have so much to offer workers and businesses, and them to us,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova said. “It is essential that we work together as a region to manage economic development in a way that benefits communities throughout Northern Virginia. I believe NOVA EDA will do just that.”
For Fairfax County Economic Development Authority CEO Victor Hoskins, the creation of a group that encourages cooperation among Northern Virginia localities in support of the regional economy has been a long-held goal.
Prior to joining the Fairfax County EDA in July as the successor to retired president and CEO Gerald Gordon, Hoskins served as director of economic development for Arlington, and in that capacity, he regularly attended events like South by Southwest and the Consumer Electronics Show with his counterparts from the City of Alexandria and Prince William County.
Instead of competing against each other at conferences, the three jurisdictions started to work collectively to entice technology companies that they were interested in to come to Northern Virginia.
“We discovered working together was very beneficial,” Hoskins said.
That collaborative spirit ultimately helped Arlington and Alexandria land Amazon HQ2 after they submitted a joint pitch in the national, 14-month-long bidding war for the online retail and technology giant’s second home, which is expected to create more than 50,000 jobs and bring in $5 billion in economic investment to the area.
Arlington and Alexandria’s proposal of a 150-acre site that encompasses parts of Pentagon and Crystal Cities as well as Potomac Yard was one of three offers that Northern Virginia made to Amazon. Fairfax and Loudoun also partnered to suggest the Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon.
While Amazon ended up selecting the newly branded National Landing site as the location of its second headquarters in November, the company’s arrival in Arlington and Alexandria will have economic impacts, both positive and negative, that are expected to ripple throughout the region.
Hoskins says that Fairfax County has not experienced any direct effects yet, but Amazon’s HQ2 location announcement has led to “more urgent” conversations particularly between the county’s economic development authority and companies in the technology sector.
The organization has fielded inquiries from businesses that it had never heard from before, according to Hoskins.
The Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance aims to capitalize on the increased visibility brought by Amazon by tying the identities of individual localities to that of the region and better positioning them to compete with other markets both nationally and internationally.
“We have to be a bigger target,” Hoskins said. “We have to take advantage of the entire housing market, the entire transportation system, the whole package. We have to handle the talent pipeline as a region, organize ourselves to work with universities and the state on the talent issues, and create more destinations for innovative people and companies.”
As a recognized regional economic development organization, the alliance gives Northern Virginia more benefits from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, which grants additional access to site-selection activities, conferences, and company familiarization and attraction tours to REDOs.
Regional economic development organizations represent areas where multiple localities work together.
Virginia already had 16 REDOs, but until recently, localities in Northern Virginia saw less of a need for cross-jurisdictional cooperation than other parts of the state, because they are denser and have more resources to attract companies and build an economy independently, according to Hoskins.
However, the intensity of the national and global competition for talent, as well as a desire to diversify the region’s economy to ease its dependency on the federal government has made Fairfax County and its neighbors more receptive to opportunities for collaboration.
For instance, attempting to poach a company from a neighboring jurisdiction, a common practice as recently as five years ago, is no longer seen as “appropriate” behavior.
“Now, if they move with their own volition, that’s a different situation, but we do not want to motivate them to move to us,” Hoskins said. “…It’s more cordiality. There are these rules of engagement that we feel are appropriate and fair, and really changed how we engage each other.”
The Virginia Economic Development Partnership will provide economic development tools to the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance and work with the organization to create a brand that showcases the region’s talent and benefits to attract businesses, according to the alliance.
“Recognizing that collaboration is a hallmark of successful economic development, I am delighted that localities in Northern Virginia are taking this important step to further regional collaboration in an area of the Commonwealth poised for significant growth,” VEDP president and CEO Stephen Moret said. “…We are excited to now be able to work with the NOVA EDA to help accelerate employment growth and business investment in Northern Virginia.”
Hoskins sees the creation of the NOVA EDA as the latest sign of the greater Washington, D.C., metropolitan area’s growing awareness of the need to think regionally when tackling issues from economic development to housing and transportation.
He likens the alliance to the $500 million deal that Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. agreed to in the spring of 2018 to fund the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metro system or the regional housing targets set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
COG’s board of directors, which features representatives from Virginia, Maryland, and the District, adopted a resolution on Sept. 11 calling for at least 320,000 new housing units in the region by 2030, at least 75 percent of which should be located in activity centers or near high-capacity transit and affordable to low and middle-income households.
“I think it’s realizing that you need a larger solution for the region, not just a local solution for your jurisdiction,” Hoskins said.