In the United States, there have been six major corporate headquarter relocations in the past three years. Four of them came to Fairfax County: CSC, SAIC, Volkswagen North America, Hilton North America; and Northrop Grumman also chose Virginia, with a final decision on the site to be made soon. We spoke to Dr. Gerald Gordon, head of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, to find out how Fairfax has achieved this impressive track record.
“The first part of the answer is that we started being not only aggressive but unabashedly aggressive about attracting new business in the community thirty years ago, and we have been consistently aggressive about not only bringing businesses from around the United States but from around the world,” he said. “Whatever it takes to get jobs here in Fairfax County – we’ve been doing it for thirty years.”
He says that the way in which the FCEDA has been aggressive is by using its $6.7 million budget to maximum effect. “Another way that we’ve been aggressive is Fairfax County is the first community in the United States; city, county or state to advertise in print for economic development to encourage businesses to know more about the county and consider us as a location. We were the first in the Wall Street Journal. We were the first on television. We were the first on National Public Radio. We continue to have one of the largest and perhaps the largest advertising budget; it’s about $1.5 million annually for economic development.”
Also, Fairfax County is unique in that it maintains overseas offices, “which no other county has. No city or county has anywhere near the number of offices or the breadth of our reach as does Fairfax County. Very, very few states – you can actually count them on one hand the number of states with six external offices. Our offices in London, Frankfurt, Seoul, Tel Aviv and Bangalore are active in sending people from those communities to us who are ready to expand into the United States and have the relevant technologies and are properly financed and planned. We also have an office is Southern California that does the same thing.”
This aggressive push has paid big dividends, “we now have at this point; after having done that for many years we now have 355 companies that are foreign owned. They engage somewhere around 25,000 people here in Fairfax County.” Also, those offices in Southern California seem to have been doing their job, as SAIC announced their plans to move to Fairfax County in September, 2009, and Northrop Grumman announced their plans to move earlier this month.
“We’ve been headquartered in Los Angeles since 1939, and it is home to much of what we do,” said Wes Bush, CEO of Northrop Grumman. “We have about 30,000 employees across California, so our decision to move our corporate office to Washington is not a decision to leave California. . . . But as we thought about our corporate office and our ability to serve our customer, it became very clear we needed to be here. This is where our customer base is headquartered. This is where the key decisions are made that influence the things we care the most about.”
As the old real estate maxim goes, the three most important things to a buyer are: location, location, location. Dr. Gordon offers, “the Fairfax County School System is arguably the best public education system in the United States. Business Week published the top 50 High Schools in America and fourteen of those fifty were in Fairfax County. Another feature is that we are the safest community in the United States of 100,000 people or more; by far the lowest crime rates in the country. We are virtually all the land between Washington Dulles International Airport and the nation’s capital. You can get in and out of town easily and we are in close proximity to the Pentagon and to other government sources of funding and contracts. There is something to be said for momentum and for what a number of our recent prospects have referred to as buzz. This is the place where it is happening.”
Walt Havenstein, CEO of SAIC, agreed, explaining that SAIC’s “move will formally relocate the corporate executive leadership team closer to our federal government customers enabling us to better respond quickly and efficiently to their critical needs, while maintaining a significant presence in San Diego.”
The push to win SAIC’s business was a team effort between state and county boosters, with former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine approving a $1.5 million grant from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund to assist Fairfax County with the project. He also approved $7 million in funds from the Virginia Economic Development Incentive Grant (VEDIG), and the Virginia Department of Business Assistance is providing training and training assistance through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program.
“As one of the largest employers in Northern Virginia, SAIC already has a significant, positive impact on communities in the Commonwealth,” said Governor Kaine. “By expanding its investment in McLean, SAIC not only joins a growing list of FORTUNE 500 companies who call the Commonwealth home — it confirms Virginia’s status as the ‘Best State for Business in America.’”
Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA), whose district includes Fairfax County, began his political career in the Fairfax County Government before he was elected to Congress. He said, “During my tenure as Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and Chairman of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, we put the fundamentals in place to create a robust pro-business environment in Fairfax County and across our region.
He continued, “this decision by Northrop Grumman was not an accident. It is the product of the strong economic growth, low taxes, and educated workforce that I and other Northern Virginia leaders have always championed. We are seeing the payoff of those efforts with the relocation of Northrop Grumman’s headquarters to our area, as well as the headquarters of Volkswagen of America, Hilton Hotels, and SAIC.”
“The Northrop Grumman relocation will mean much more to the region than the corporate jobs it will bring to our area. It also means more jobs and more economic gain for our area from the subcontractors and other area businesses that will service and supply the company. It is noteworthy that while other parts of the country are unfortunately suffering economically, we continue to bring economic development to Northern Virginia. Whichever site Northrop Grumman chooses in Northern Virginia, I am confident the entire region will benefit.”
Keith Fimian, candidate for the Republican nomination for the 11th District of Virginia, responded in a statement “as a small business owner and entrepreneur, I know how we can rapidly turn our economy around, but first, politicians must start doing good. This includes reducing income tax rates, freezing government spending, eliminating the capital gains tax on startup companies, suspending the federal unemployment tax, cutting payroll taxes by half for small businesses, and approving new free trade agreements, just to start. By taking these steps, and replacing the career politicians in Congress, we can get our economy moving again and begin getting the American people back to work.”