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Driving around 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. Within just a few miles you can pass headquarters of Capital One, Hilton Worldwide, Gannett Company and Freddie Mac.
Big-name companies bring local tax revenue and support growth. And the county's Economic Development Authority works hard to court them around the world. Fairfax is the only county in the D.C. region to fund offices out of state and overseas. Fairfax EDA president and CEO Jerry Gordon says the county has been successful, in part, because it hires local business leaders in each foreign country.
"We learned that early on," Gordon says. "Our Korean representative is a Korean businessman who has grown up there, understands how things work in that culture, knows which meetings to go to, knows the right people and so forth throughout our other offices, which are in Munich, London, Tel Aviv and Bangalore."
"We'd like to think that we understand the market pretty well," says Ross Clarke, director of EDA's London office. "I would imagine that if I was transported over to Fairfax or Washington, I would have a difficult time understanding the market as well as the local person."
Clarke says local ties have allowed him to make inroads in the United Kingdom.
"In the early 2000s, it was still a little difficult because there was not the widespread or general understanding of where Fairfax County was and what was on offer there," Clarke says. "But we would like to think that by working with the headquarters staff in Fairfax and through our own efforts here that the profile has been raised considerably."
But not everyone agrees international offices are the best way to draw global economic power. Steve Silverman, director of Montgomery County's Department of Economic Development, says it's more cost effective to work with Maryland's state offices overseas.
"As a practical matter, virtually any foreign company that's looking to locate in Montgomery County's going to have some interaction with the state of Maryland anyway," he explains.
Silverman also says foreign companies looking to set up offices in the D.C. region are few and far between, adding that it makes more sense to focus on companies that are already in the area. 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," Silverman says. "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.
[Music: "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Various Artists from Cool Sexy Jazz 4"]
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