MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We turn now from political power to economic power. We've all heard the saying that money makes the world go round. Right? And in our region one county is quite literally taking a global approach to economic development. As it hires staff in various corners of the planet to try and woo corporations to set up shop here. Rebecca Blatt takes us on a bit of a global journey, one that begins with a road trip right here in our region.
MS. REBECCA BLATT
Driving around our Fairfax County, Va., it's clear economic development is happening in a pretty big way. Office buildings are going up, roads are under construction and the beginnings of a new Metro line stretch overhead. To understand why so much economic power is concentrated here, I went for a ride around Tyson's Corner with Jerry Gordon, president and CEO of Fairfax County's Economic Development Authority. Where are you taking us this morning?
MR. JERRY GORDON
We're going to ride over to the Hilton Hotel which is here in Tyson's Corner. And right next door to the world headquarters of Hilton Worldwide.
And why have you chosen to take us there?
Well, this part of Tyson's Corner has not only Hilton, but also a lot of government contractors. It's a very diverse economy and you'll see a lot of that diversity here.
We pass shopping centers and office buildings. There are 26 million square feet of office space in Tyson's Corner alone. Gordon pulls into a parking lot with high rises on three sides.
This is the Hilton McLean Hotel. On the other side of the building is the corporate headquarters for Hilton Worldwide. Right to our right here is the Capitol beltway and on the other side of the Capitol beltway, you can see the headquarters of Capital One. That's their global headquarters.
These companies generate local tax revenue and support growth. And Gordon's economic development authority goes out of its way to court them. Fairfax is the only county in our area to fund offices out of state and overseas. They're staffed by business leaders who are local to those communities. So if you call the office in Los Angeles you'll get a message like this...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1
Hello. You've reached the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. We're unavailable at this time. Please leave a message.
But try the Munich office...
Or the Tel Aviv office...
And you get a different message. Ross Clark directs the Authorities London office.
MR. ROSS CLARK
We would like to think that we understand the market pretty well. I would imagine that if I was transported over to Fairfax or Washington I would have difficulty understanding the market as well as the local person.
Clark has been working in the London office for more than a decade.
The early 2000s, it was still a little difficult because there was not the wide spread or the general understanding of where Fairfax County was and what was on offer there. But we would like to think that by working with the headquarters staff in Fairfax and through our own efforts here, that profile has been raised considerably.
But not everyone agrees that international offices are the best way to draw global economic power. Across the Potomac there's a lot going on in Montgomery County, Md. too. Choice Hotels is building a new international headquarters in downtown Rockville. It's right next door to Montgomery County's Department of Economic Development. Steve Silverman directs the department and says he works with the state of Maryland which does have overseas offices to bring in companies from around the world.
MR. STEVE SILVERMAN
We find it to be much more cost effective and as a practical matter virtually any foreign company that's looking to locate in Montgomery County is going to have some interaction with the state of Maryland anyway.
Silverman says the county has been able to attract some foreign companies over the past few years, including the Chinese pharmaceutical company, Tasly. But he says there just aren't that many foreign companies looking to move here.
There's a perception that there are hundreds of companies in China, Korea, India, Israel that are waiting to establish beach heads in the United States. That really isn't the case.
And he says it makes sense to focus on supporting the companies that are already in our region.
The more we can put programs in place to provide technical assistance for small businesses to start to expand, the more we can focus in on IT and cyber security, life sciences, government contracting, the more we'll be able to distinguish ourselves.
But sometimes Silverman says, key factors in corporate decision-making are outside the county's control.
It's really landlord versus landlord in terms of the company decisions about where to locate. In reality if someone's going to get a much lower rent across the river, we may not be able to keep them here or get them here.
It turns out in the competition for global economic power, sometimes the most influential people are the ones right here at home. I'm Rebecca Blatt.
Time for a quick break, but in just a minute, who wins and who loses when a neighborhood changes.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2
I consider gentrification an attitude. It's the idea that you are coming in as a planner or a developer or a city agency and looking at a neighborhood as if it's a blank slate.
That and more is just ahead on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5
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