Foreign-owned businesses are booming in Fairfax County despite a flat commercial tax base and anemic economy.
The county's Economic Development Authority runs five overseas offices that brought 343 businesses and 8,742 jobs to the D.C. suburb since 1998. Among its catches were Volkswagen and Siemens Government Solutions from Germany and Rolls-Royce and Cobham Defense Systems from Great Britain, which were drawn to Fairfax because of its proximity to Washington Dulles International Airport, its school system and the local workforce.
Fairfax, the only D.C.-area locality that funds its own overseas presence, has offices in London; Munich, Germany; Tel Aviv, Israel; Bangalore, India; and Seoul, South Korea. Other Virginia localities rely on domestic economic development offices to attract U.S. businesses and on the state's Economic Development Partnership, which runs its own overseas economic development bureaus, to lure international businesses.
The addition of foreign companies in Fairfax helps the county diversify an economy that is heavily dependent on federal spending, particularly defense spending, officials said. It also can help Fairfax weather $85 billion in looming federal budget cuts that could devastate the region and undermine an already tepid economic recovery later this year.
"Their arrivals further diversify our business space and neighborhoods," said authority President and CEO Jerry Gordon. "And they're not always federal contractors, meaning they're not affected [by government spending cuts]."
The addition of new businesses has a ripple effect through the county's entire economy by creating demand for everyday services, Gordon said.
"Fairfax County is committed to providing the tools that businesses need to grow and succeed," said County Board Chairwoman Sharon Bulova. "The services of the [Economic Development Authority] ... help to fulfill that commitment."
Lawmakers say the arrival of new businesses, whether from overseas or elsewhere, allows the county to fill its existing office space and to attract additional large-scale development.
Such growth enabled the planned makeover of Tysons Corner from a midsize office park to the county's new urban downtown, officials said, and will continue to generate enough money to allow Fairfax to expand elsewhere. The authority does not, however, have immediate plans to expand beyond its five overseas offices.
"The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority plays an important role in spotlighting Fairfax County as a dynamic community at the forefront of business growth," Bulova said. "[It] has been tremendously successful in attracting a diverse range of businesses to the area."