Microsoft expansion burnishes diverse tech ecosystem in Northern Virginia; businesses going to Phase 1 of recovery

When Gov. Ralph Northam revealed yesterday that Microsoft Corp. will invest $64 million and create 1,500 jobs as it establishes a new software development and R&D regional hub in Reston, it was just the latest in a string of announcements by name-brand tech companies that have chosen Fairfax County and Northern Virginia to expand their footprint.

Microsoft will occupy 400,000 square feet in Reston Town Center for its future software development efforts, and will keep the space it already has in the town center as well. Consider these announcements in the last two years:

  • Facebook signed a deal in October 2019 for office space in Reston Town Center, its first location in Fairfax County.
  • In June 2019, Amazon Web Services inked a deal to lease an office building in the town of Herndon as it continues to expand its presence across Northern Virginia.
  • Google announced in February 2019 that it was greatly increasing the size of its Reston operations, moving to Reston Station (at the Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station), as part of $13 billion U.S. expansion plan.

And that is just in Fairfax County. Elsewhere in Northern Virginia:

  • Aperiomics, a biotech company that has been developing COVID-19 tests, announced in May 2019 that it selected Sterling in Loudoun County as its corporate headquarters.
  • Amazon announced in November 2018 that it would locate its “HQ2” in Arlington County. This project is creating up to 37,500 jobs and spawned creation of a Virginia Tech Innovation Campus in Alexandria and a George Mason University Innovation Campus in Arlington.
  • Micron Technology announced in August 2018 that it would increase computer memory production at its operation in Manassas, creating 1,100 new jobs in one of the largest manufacturing investments in the history of Virginia.
  • Aurora Flight Sciences, a pioneer in unmanned aircraft and autonomous flight that was acquired by Boeing in 2017, announced in July 2018 it would expand its operation in Manassas. The plans, which include a manufacturing unit and a research and development lab, created 135 new jobs.
  • Discovery, Inc., a worldwide leader in real life entertainment, announced in June 2018 that it would expand its global technology and operations hub in Loudoun County.
  • Loudoun County is the world’s largest and fastest-growing data-center market, welcoming 4.5 million square feet of new space since 2018.

These business deals also were happening as CNBC in July 2019 named Virginia the top state for business.

“These companies really can choose from any number of technology hubs for their operations, and it is a real testament to the kind of diverse and innovation-focused tech ecosystem we have worked hard to create and expand in Fairfax County and all of Northern Virginia, everything from cloud computing to high-tech manufacturing,” said Victor Hoskins, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.

“It speaks to how many things we can offer companies throughout the region: an incredible wealth of tech talent, customers in the private and public sectors, great infrastructure and transportation connections,” Hoskins said. “It also speaks to what we can offer employees: everything from city life in D.C. to the countryside in Fauquier County and everything in between, from Old Town Alexandria to the rapids at Great Falls, nearly 20 free Smithsonian museums in Washington, breweries, wineries, distilleries, you name it. This area is a great match for a company’s talent needs as well as its business goals.”

In a statement accompanying the announcement yesterday, Microsoft general manager Terrell Cox highlighted the regional technology strength: “We’ve had a presence in Reston for many years now, and this expansion will allow Microsoft to deliver even more solutions from a region known for its innovation and passion for technology.”

Microsoft, headquartered in Redmond, Wash., and with 156,000 employees worldwide, has had a presence in Reston since 2002. The company will be leasing about 400,000 square feet of space at 11955 Freedom Drive (Two Freedom Square) in the town center and plans to occupy the space beginning in summer 2021. The company will retain the 153,000 square feet of space it occupies at 12012 Sunset Hills Road.

“One of Microsoft’s core principles is actively listening to our customers, so we can build and improve our technology based on their feedback. Being close to our customer base is extremely important to our ongoing collaborations,” Cox said.

Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill thanked Microsoft for its vote of confidence in Fairfax County and noted that he and Jeff McKay, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, have made diversification of the local economy a priority.

“We are very excited about Microsoft’s expansion in Fairfax County,” Hill said. “This investment further strengthens our reputation as a business-friendly community and showcases our ability to attract the country’s top companies, even in these turbulent times. Chairman McKay, the Board of Supervisors and I are thrilled with this news, as we continue to work to diversify our economy.”

Forward Virginia: Phase 1 regulations for businesses 

Fairfax County will begin the first phase to reopen businesses tomorrow, May 29. Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that Northern Virginia can enter Phase 1 under the state’s Forward Virginia plan.

The Forward Virginia plan provides guidelines that all businesses must follow in the first phase but eases previous restrictions on restaurants, fitness facilities, barbers and beauty salons, other retail businesses and houses of worship.

Movie theaters, concert halls, bowling alleys and other indoor entertainment businesses remain closed. Social gatherings of more than 10 people continue to be prohibited and residents are still advised that they are “safer at home.”

Business Reopening Guidelines

In general, the first phase eases restrictions as follows:

  • Restaurants: Restaurants, breweries, distilleries and wineries may serve dine-in customers at tables outside, at 50 percent capacity of their normal indoor capacity. Tables must be spaced six feet apart and no more than 10 people may sit at a table. A restaurant’s indoor bar area must remain closed. Disposable menus are required and servers must wear cloth face coverings.
  • Fitness Facilities: Gyms, recreation centers, sports centers and pools may open for outdoor activities only. Customers, trainers and instructors must stay 10 feet apart from each other and equipment also must be spaced 10 feet apart. Exercise classes are limited to 10 people. Outdoor swimming pools may be open for lap swimming only, with one person per lane. Indoor pools, hot tubs and spas, and outdoor basketball and racquetball courts must stay closed.
  • Personal Care: Beauty salons, barbers, spas, massage centers, tanning salons and tattoo shops are limited to 50 percent of their normal capacity and customers must make appointments to come in. Customers and employees are required to wear face coverings. These businesses must keep a record of all clients served, including name, contact information, date and time of service.
  • Retail: Other retail businesses may reopen at 50 percent capacity and employees must wear face coverings. Essential businesses such as grocery stores should follow the state’s guidance for all businesses.

Business owners should consult the state’s mandates and best practices for specific industries to get more detailed information.

In early May, Northern Virginia’s localities asked the governor to delay this first phase. But leaders now say that based on health data, the region is ready. Elected officials sent a joint letter to Northam on Monday supporting the transition to reopening, based on four key metrics:

  • Downward trend in positive COVID cases during the past 14 days;
  • Downward trend in hospitalizations during the past 14 days;
  • Increased testing; and,
  • Adequate hospital bed and intensive care capacity.

The governor signed another order on Tuesday requiring Virginians to wear face coverings in public indoor settings starting Friday to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. He directed the Department of Labor and Industry to develop emergency temporary standards to prevent workplace exposure to COVID-19.

Here are the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Guidelines for All Business Sectors for best practices for physical distancing, cleaning and disinfection, and workplace safety.

As the reopening of various industries and sectors is phased in, here are some additional resources posted by the Fairfax County government.

For more information on best practices for businesses, click on Frequently Asked Questions and visit the Covid-19 Business Resources pages on Virginia.gov and FairfaxCounty.gov.