Fairfax County, Va., got religion during the early 1980s when it came to enticing employers into what is now an affluent suburban enclave of the Washington, D.C., area.

A key factor in that ascent was the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA), a 42-person government organization charged with drawing businesses to the county. To do that, FCEDA employees specialize in different business fields and befriend global and domestic companies in those sectors.

The organization maintains external offices in London; Bangalore, India; Frankfurt, Germany; Seoul, South Korea; and Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel. In July 2005, the FCEDA expanded its reach in the technology market by establishing its first U.S. external office in Silicon Valley.

Getting Techies

Technology firms currently account for 4,900 of Fairfax County's 29,995 payroll establishments, according to the FCEDA, and technology workers fill 119,000 of the county's 564,520 jobs.

The FCEDA aims to increase those numbers with its new Silicon Valley office run by Leo Campbell, a local professional hired to pitch the value of expanding to Fairfax County.

"We continue to travel periodically from Virginia to all these markets, but the fact is you can't go to a market occasionally," said Gerald Gordon, president of the FCEDA. "This is a relationship-building business. You have to have somebody who's there, meets people at chamber meetings, bumps into them on the golf course, visits their company, establishes relationships, so that when that businessman or -woman decides they need an East Coast location, or is ready to expand, Fairfax County is on their mind."

Gordon said he wanted to establish a physical presence in Silicon Valley for years but hesitated, fearing charges of stealing companies from California. However, he said, California officials are now more receptive to the idea that expanding to Fairfax makes California companies more competitive in the federal contracting market.

"When we sat down in Palo Alto, [Calif.], we had some conversations with elected officials telling them we're not coming to steal companies; we're coming to offer them expansion opportunities that will bring money back to California so everybody wins," Gordon said. "In fact, we have Fairfax companies that probably want access to the West Coast markets. We can make this a two-way street."

The FCEDA started talking with Silicon Valley companies a few years ago when defense spending surged. Gordon said he expects the recent increase in homeland security contracts and the FCEDA's new California presence to further pique those companies' interest in Fairfax County.

New Kids on the Block

Tom Patterson, CEO of Command Information, a firm offering Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6)-related services, established the company in Fairfax County in 2005. The FCEDA played a significant role in that decision by assisting Patterson and his growing team in becoming Washington, D.C.-savvy.

"They introduced us to the local political scene, helped us figure out who our congresspeople were," Patterson said. "They helped us arrange to have [Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine] come out and do a ribbon cutting on our new training center a month or so ago. They've really been terrific."

After six months of networking at every Washington cocktail party that Command Information executives could fit into their schedules, they announced the company and started business in January 2005. Command Information, which made $50 million in its first year of operation, runs two locations in Fairfax County employing roughly 300 people. "We're trying to hire a person a day," Patterson said.

The FCEDA introduced Patterson to the dean of the engineering department at George Mason University in Fairfax where the company is now recruiting employees.

"I knew George Mason got to the final four," Patterson said. "I had no idea they had such a great engineering department. To be able to just walk in at

Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former staff writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.