Victor Hoskins: FCEDA priorities for 2020

Victor Hoskins became president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development in August. Five months into his tenure and with a new year starting, E-Bird Extra sat down with Hoskins to give him a chance to talk about FCEDA priorities for 2020. He talked about keeping talented workers here and attracting new ones, and telling the story about how Fairfax County and its economy is changing to attract and retain those workers.

Victor Hoskins talks to E-Bird Extra about his priorities for 2020 in his office at FCEDA HQ in Tysons. (Photo: FCEDA)

E-Bird Extra: When you started, you talked about the need to focus on talent issues: retaining, retraining, growing and attracting talent that our companies can hire. Now that we’re in a new year, have your thoughts about what we need to do changed?

Hoskins: When it comes to talent, those are still the same areas. What’s different is that I understand them better, understand the challenge better, and we have some very specific actions that we are going to take in the next 12 to 18 months.

We hired a talent manager, and when it comes to retention there are some things that we are working on with the [Fairfax County Public Schools], with Superindendent [Scott] Brabrand.

Ultimately what we would like it to do is help us get students to be more connected to the Fairfax community. We’re working on a system in which they will receive job opportunities, internship opportunities and apprenticeship opportunities. Even if they’re not in the region, even if they decide to go to college outside the region, we would like them to come back here. Having so many jobs here really gives us a leg up in retaining our talent in this region, but also bringing the talent back.

We’ve made an investment in their education — some of them from kindergarten all the way through high school. That’s about $200,000 of an investment, and this is a way for the county to get its investment back. I mean, every 10 students is probably $2 million. That’s a lot of investment.

E-Bird Extra: So you really see this as more than job opportunities for college graduates?

Hoskins: We’d really like to keep young people here or get them back, even if it’s an internship, even if it’s an apprenticeship, at least one of those two things. We all want our kids to have job experiences because that helps them decide what they’re good at, figure out what they like and also what to study. I think that it will serve the students well. It will serve the schools. It will serve the community very well — and the companies. Everybody wins in this scenario.

Also, we believe that the kids want to be connected to their families, to their community that they grew up in. I talked to a gentleman today who grew up here in Fairfax County. He went to American University, and then he went to New York for a number of years, for like 13 years. And now he’s back in his region working. And he said he is so happy to be back home. I think that’s how a lot of people feel. But a lot of times they go because the job opportunities in another place. The sooner we can get them connected to the employers, the better.

So that’s one effort with the schools. There’s another effort that we’re working on with [Northern Virginia Community College]. It’s a little bit more complicated, and it also will also involve the [school system]. As much as possible, we’d like to see students be able to get some community college credits while they’re in high school. This reduces their cost of a university education or a community college education. There are some things that we can work on particularly in the area of credentialing, like in cloud computing. This is where we’re headed.

E-Bird Extra: What about attracting new talent to the area? You have many companies saying that they could do more business, win more contracts, if they had more qualified workers.

Hoskins: For attraction we’re going to undertake a branding campaign that is going to make a huge difference in how people perceive Fairfax County and this region.

I think that 10 years ago you would have people would have viewed Fairfax County as a kind of a suburban community, period. That’s difficult to say right now. There are parts of Fairfax County that are suburban, and there are parts of Fairfax County that are definitely urban. That transition is not well known.

I think that 10 years ago, you could have said this economy in Northern Virginia overall is really a government-based economy. After sequestration and a series of other things related to defense spending, we’ve had some transformations. – like Amazon coming to this region – that are going to impact the entire region.

E-Bird Extra: Landing Amazon in Northern Virginia is really the key to getting more diversified employers and more talent here, isn’t it?

Hoskins: Amazon is the biggest indicator. But if you back up and you look at Nestlé, you look at Gerber, you look at AWS here in Fairfax County, you look at some of the other corporate decisions that have been made for this region, these are not government companies. These are private companies and they are growing fast.

You have to really look at what’s happened in the overall region to understand that we have changed. We need to let people know we have changed. And that’s what this branding and the marketing are about. Some of that will be through digital communications, some of that will be through micro-influencers in social media. Some of that will be through special events that we may sponsor in other markets.

We are transitioning to a more diversified economy and more diversified life experiences where you can live, work, play and learn in the same place, where you can take mass transit to and from work, where you can actually walk your dog on a lake in the evening and in the morning be working in a tower – all in the same neighborhood. That’s possible now. We need to let people know that. And that’s really part of what’s going to be our attraction strategy.