Chairman Bulova reflects on her career — and the evolution of Fairfax County
Sharon Bulova wraps up 31 years on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors this month. She was first elected in 1987 as the Annandale District (now called the Braddock District) supervisor, and was first elected chairman of the Board of Supervisors in 2009.
As chairman, Bulova has been a steadfast proponent of economic development. The E-Bird Extra visited her in her office in the Fairfax County Government Center to ask about how her views on growth and development have evolved, what the county government does to make the county an attractive place for businesses to begin, expand, locate and succeed, and what the county needs to do to attract a talented workforce.
E-Bird Extra: Can you talk about the evolution of your thoughts on growth?
Sharon Bulova: I actually was first elected on and swept into office on a slow-growth platform. People were angry and scared about growth. During that first term in office, a recession happened and I sure learned during those four years that you don’t want to stop growth, that growth is important.
The way growth and development are happening today is to provide a more walkable community, more transit-oriented communities. That’s what the business community wants. That’s what the millennials want, that’s what your retirees and your empty-nester wants. This is a better way of developing.
It’s important that we protect our single-family neighborhoods, but we also need to provide more lifestyle choices for people during different times in their lives.
The commercial sector, they want things to be close for their employees. They want their employees to be able to, you know, to go to a restaurant or get something to eat or to work out and have athletic opportunities during the day. So we’re trying to bring things more closely together. That is the way we’re focusing on our current and future growth and development.
Extra: You can see that focus all around the county.
Bulova: Right. You can see what we’re doing and Tysons – that’s big and that’s exciting. But, you know, but there are smaller examples of that kind of mixed use, transit-oriented, walkable, the Mosaic at Merrifield, definitely the Reston area, areas around the new Silver Line stations, and the new frontier I like to say is Richmond Highway. If I were an investor, which I’m not, I would be buying a property in the Richmond Highway area.
At the top of Richmond Highway, in Arlington County, is where the new Amazon headquarters is going to be. I think that’s exciting. I see Amazon as being a huge advantage, not just to Arlington and Northern Virginia, but specifically for Fairfax County and for our efforts to revitalize a part of Fairfax County that is in need of being redeveloped.
Extra: Many communities have to put up lots of money to get business to come. You’ve done that by investing in the budget and every public service that the county provides.
Bulova: Absolutely, we put on the table a great school system, safe communities and safe streets, public safety, environmental stewardship, clean air, clean water. Those are things we focus on. You know, Fairfax County is a place where you can have fun, where there are parks and wooded areas. We’re a healthy community. And that is what we are able to put on the table.
When we adopt a budget, we are adopting the priorities of the community and we are funding those priorities. Our board has been very stable and has been very responsible over the years. That is something that the business community expects and relies upon. That continuity – that’s important. People know that they can invest in their companies, invest in Fairfax County, and that they’re going to see more of responsible governance.
Extra: It’s no secret that one of the great challenges will be maintaining a skilled workforce. Can you talk about Fairfax County’s efforts to attract and retain a sufficient workforce to supply the employers coming our way.
Bulova: If we’re going to attract business to Fairfax County, if we are going to continue to bring a corporate presence to Fairfax County, it’s important that we make sure that we continue to have the workforce that those companies and those businesses are going to need. Other assets in Fairfax County include our school system and also higher education.
Our schools partner with Northern Virginia Community College, and we partner with the business community to identify what they need to make sure that we are preparing our students to be able to take those jobs. George Mason University is one of our greatest assets. And also, we’re attracting other institutions of higher education— the University of Virginia to the Inova Center for Personalized Health site, for example. Education has to go hand-in-glove with economic development.
Extra: Can you talk about our diversity and why that is attractive to the business community?
Bulova: Fairfax County is a very, very diverse community, way more so than when I first was elected to the Board of Supervisors. Something like I think 181 languages are spoken by families in our school system. Wow! You know, in our schools, our students have the opportunity to know each other and to experience really that the cultures of folks throughout the world.
The business community considers our diversity an advantage. In some places that diversity might be considered a challenge. In Fairfax County, our diversity is our greatest asset. And we’re a welcoming place, we’re an interesting place, we’re a place where people feel comfortable. And that is a tremendous asset for us.
Extra: Looking back on your career, what are you most proud of?
Bulova: I’m proud of the culture that has grown in Fairfax County and that I’ve had a role in helping to create. We are a welcoming community, we’re a creative community, we’re a forward-looking community. And, you know, and I would like to think that I’ve had some role in helping to develop that kind of culture.