Strength and resilience: Fairfax County EDA’s top 10 stories of 2020

In 2020, Fairfax County businesses faced challenges with strength, resiliency and innovation, and we at the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority helped thousands of businesses survive and grow this year. As we look toward an even stronger 2021, we’d like to highlight successes during a demanding and yet often inspiring year.

1. Major companies continued to invest, showing long-term confidence in Fairfax County and Northern Virginia: With two weeks to go until the end of the year, the FCEDA in 2020 has worked with nearly 150 companies that announced creation of at least 11,000 jobs — impressive during any given year, but particularly noteworthy given the national economic toll of COVID-19. Microsoft’s $63 million investment in its new 400,000-square-foot tech hub in Reston for software research and development topped our announcements this year. Volkswagen Group of America’s commitment to a 20-year lease for its 196,000-square-foot headquarters in Reston was a ringing testament from a Global Fortune 500 leader to the region’s strong talent pool and innovative tech industry. Aerotek, Carahsoft Technology and Expel also made impressive job announcements in the county. Thank you to these and every other business that make Fairfax County and Northern Virginia one of the strongest and most diverse in the world.

2. The FCEDA helped businesses secure financial help: The federal and state governments, as well as the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, approved unprecedented assistance for businesses harmed by the coronavirus-induced downturn. Through a combination of surveys, outreach and newsletters, the FCEDA connected thousands of businesses with the county’s microloan and Fairfax RISE programs, the Rebuild VA program, and the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Paycheck Protection Program resources. Of the 4,800 businesses that received more than $52 million in Fairfax RISE grants, all have fewer than 50 employees and 72 percent are woman, minority or veteran-owned. Additionally, Fairfax County businesses received $2.1 billion in PPP funds.

3. For the first time, our region went (virtually) to NYC and the Bay Area to recruit tech talent:  The FCEDA launched a new website targeting talent nationwide, and quickly pivoted to include COVID-19 resources on the site to help connect displaced workers with companies surge hiring during the pandemic. The website’s popularity skyrocketed, generating thousands of sessions from users in New York to California. To speak directly to top talent in target metros, the FCEDA worked with TechCrunch and The Verge to write about the open tech jobs in NOVA and the social good culture in the region’s tech industry.

4. We connected businesses with the resources they needed most: From providing legal assistance and SCORE mentorship to hosting webinars with local leaders, the FCEDA and its partners at the 10-jurisdiction Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance (NOVA EDA) connected businesses with the tools and resources needed to weather the pandemic. For example, the Tech4Growth: Boost with Facebook webinar showcased ways businesses can boost their online presence to connect with more customers. The Pro Bono Services webinar connected small businesses with free legal and financial-assistance services. Earlier in the year, the Access to Capital for Minority-Owned Businesses webinar with U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia highlighted challenges facing minority entrepreneurs in accessing capital, and ways businesses owners can increase their chances of being funded. And the FCEDA’s ever-popular Entrepreneurship 101: Starting a Business in Fairfax County workshops became virtual lifelines.

5. We leveraged new digital tools to connect businesses to top talent: The FCEDA launched a series of three virtual career fairs to connect talent to companies collectively offering thousands of open positions in the region. These events featured more than 100 companies — from Fortune 500 biggies to small and minority-owned firms — and attracted more than 3,100 attendees. To source top talent, the FCEDA worked with more than 30 universities, including many of the region’s historically Black colleges and universities.

6. Bucking the national trend, NOVA’s tech talent pool continued to grow: While tech workers left large coastal metros in droves, Northern Virginia was one of the few regions that actually grew this year for tech job growth. Dice’s Q3 Tech Jobs Report named four NOVA cities in its ranking of the top 50 cities for tech job postings, including McLean, with a 14 percent tech job growth rate throughout the quarter.

7. We demonstrated that regionalism is working in Northern Virginia: The FCEDA collaborated with the NOVA EDA to launch a 12-part “post-COVID” webinar series that was attended by hundreds of local business professionals. Into 2021, the NOVA EDA is presenting a 10-part “Catalyst for Change” webinar series that highlight area case studies illustrating how business leaders can use challenges to create a brighter future for their companies. To continue the momentum, FCEDA President and CEO Victor Hoskins and Stephanie Landrum, president and CEO of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, made the case in the Washington Post that this type of regionalism can (and should!) be replicated across the entire Washington, D.C., area. And now the FCEDA is playing significant roles in crafting local, regional and state recovery strategies.

8. R&D hit record highs: Fairfax County-based George Mason University anticipates more than $200 million in sponsored research expenditures for fiscal year 2020, which would be an all-time high for the university. This 10 percent increase from 2019 contributes significantly towards the university’s strategic goal of $225 million by 2024.

9. Fairfax County gives back: During National Public Works Week, the FCEDA and Fairfax County officials and 18 local food vendors collaborated with local companies Curbside Kitchen and Cureate to serve more than 1,400 meals to public workers across 19 sites throughout Fairfax County in appreciation of their service as essential workers during COVID-19. The effort happened thanks to a generous donation from an area philanthropic couple. The workers recognized spanned multiple areas of public works including solid waste and recycling, landfill, wastewater, stormwater, drinking water, vehicle maintenance and facilities management.

10. Time and time (and time) again, NOVA’s businesses and public sector successfully pivoted to weather the storm: Businesses and organizations in NOVA’s innovation economy continued to show their resilience by successfully pivoting during the pandemic: from dentists 3D printing face masks to a business launching robot delivery to Fairfax neighborhoods; from software companies creating a free COVID-19 Response Management app to others finding new ways to keep their employees safe and keep small businesses afloat. Visit Fairfax launched the FXVA Restaurant Trail to spur business for local restaurants.

This year, the FCEDA’s mission to build the Fairfax County economy and tax base, help businesses start, grow and succeed here, and foster innovation has never been more important to our entire staff. It is our honor to work with the region’s business community and so many partner organizations to make meaningful impacts.

As FCEDA President and CEO Victor Hoskins said many times this year: “When you save a job, you save a household and when you save households, you save communities!”

December 17, 2020