Regional, statewide economic development collaboration take center stage in Tysons

Regional and statewide economic development collaboration took center stage at a panel discussion at the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) 14th annual NoVA/DC Joint Small Business Conference at Capital One Hall in Tysons on February 24.

Victor Hoskins, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority was a panelist, along with Telly Tucker, director, Arlington Economic Development; Christina Winn, executive director, Prince William County Economic Development; and Vince Barnett, vice president of business investment, Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP). Selena Lo, president of SAME’s D.C. post, served as the moderator.

“Economic development is a true team sport, so from a state perspective or a regional perspective, or at the local level, it really takes a village and these are all truly friends and colleagues on stage,” Barnett said.

Top, left to right: Victor Hoskins, president and CEO, Fairfax County Economic Development Authority; Vince Barnett, vice president of business investment, Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Above, left to right: Telly Tucker, director, Arlington Economic Development; Christina Winn, executive director, Prince William County Economic Development. (FCEDA photos)

Hoskins, Tucker and Winn represented three of the 10-member economic development organizations of the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance (NOVA EDA), which was formed in 2019 so economic development jurisdictions could work together collaboratively to promote the Northern Virginia region as an ideal location for business investment and talent.

While Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William counties work to promote business investment in their localities as well as regionally, the VEDP approaches business development from a statewide perspective.

A key takeaway from the discussion was that collaboration among the Northern Virginia localities and the Commonwealth has grown dramatically during the pandemic.

I have the privilege of working with these three individuals and about seven others in Northern Virginia to actually bring business here,” Hoskins said. “During COVID, all of us designed grant programs to give money to companies… Fairfax County had never done that before but ending up giving $52 million to 4,800 companies in the county. And then we started another program, $16 million for another 1,000 companies.”

“Prince William County and Arlington County both did the same thing and so did the other jurisdictions,” Hoskins added. “So we’ve been learning from each other, the way we did our application processes, the way we qualified our companies, the way that we helped them. And then on the technical assistance side, there have been free workshops and seminars online, and we want to continue that in person.”

As everywhere, COVID has presented some significant challenges throughout Virginia.

Cultivating business relationships was a bit of an initial challenge when the world pivoted to a virtual platform, Barnett noted, “but we certainly have all overcome that.”

Positive upturns and opportunities at the state level have given Virginia the opportunity to compete for some historically large projects in several parts of the state, Barnett said.

In Prince William County, three of the county’s targeted industries — data centers, e-commerce distribution and big pharma — grew in the last two years, Winn said.

“So while our small businesses were suffering and challenged, we actually experienced quite a big boom in activity and development,” Winn said.

She also highlighted growth of startups focused on COVID-related issues. “And so we’ve been really focused on being in a position to help attract kind of the advanced manufacturing and fabrication of that entrepreneurial technology,” she said.

“In the times of disruption and chaos that’s when innovation is born,” Winn said.

In Arlington, construction of Amazon’s “HQ2” has stayed on track. The first phase of construction — about 2 million square feet of office space — is about two-thirds complete, Tucker said. And many other businesses were able to keep moving forward too.

“Thankfully, many of our businesses were able to pivot seamlessly and work from home during the pandemic,” Tucker said.

“Even more post-pandemic than when it was pre-, those companies that can adapt to that change and be flexible will be those that recover most quickly,” he said.

“Innovation Lives Here” was the tagline that the state and Northern Virginia localities used in their HQ2 pitch in 2018. Tucker noted that AT&T and JBG Smith signed an agreement to build Virginia’s largest 5G “smart city” at National Landing, where HQ2 is rising.

Close by, Virginia Tech investing $1 billion in an Innovation Campus in Alexandria. George Mason University is investing $500 million in an Innovation Campus in Arlington as well.

“They’re all talking about what 5G is going to do to change our lives, Tucker said. “How does that affect business? How do we use spaces in a community that that we want to make sure stays attractive and ‘sticky’?”

One thing all the Northern Virginia localities discuss with businesses is talent, Tucker said. Companies want to know where they can find talent today and in the future.

This concern was why the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors funds the FCEDA’s Work in Northern Virginia website that highlights more than 145,000 open jobs around Northern Virginia and spotlights the region’s diverse lifestyle offerings.

Despite the pandemic, economic development has successfully continued here because “when you have a great product, it’s really easy to sell, even during COVID. And Northern Virginia is a great product,” Hoskins said, referencing the region’s outstanding educational systems, safe communities, access to Metro, data centers, innovative companies, and more.

Thinking collaboratively is critical in economic development, Hoskins emphasized.

“People live in a region,” he said. “So what we’ve done is we’ve basically collected our aces and then we just market them.”