What happens when Northern Virginia jurisdictions stop competing for new business and start working together?
One shining example: Amazon's National Landing. The tech giant chose Arlington for its new headquarters in November 2018 after a collaborative effort from the region's economic development leaders to showcase Northern Virginia.
A year later, a group of 10 Northern Virginia jurisdictions have joined forces to launch the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance, a consortium to formalize and expand cooperation among jurisdictions in wooing economic development prospects to the region.
Encouraging a shift from competition to cooperation among local governments has been a major focus for the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce in recent years.
“We really need to get away from the idea in Northern Virginia that these borders and boundaries exist,” Chamber Chairman Todd Rowley said recently. “They are really meaningless in our efforts toward getting this region the momentum it needs to move forward.”
Stephen Moret, who heads the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, predicted that the new alliance will “help accelerate employment growth and business investments” in Northern Virginia.
“Collaboration is a hallmark of successful economic development,” Moret added.
The NOVA EDA includes city and county managers and economic development directors from Alexandria, Arlington County, the city of Fairfax, Fairfax County, the city of Falls Church, Fauquier County, Loudoun County, the city of Manassas, the city of Manassas Park and Prince William County.
“The new Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance gives all of our members the opportunity to truly practice what we preach, namely, that the economic health of our region reflects all of our efforts to attract, retain and grow businesses,” said Miles Friedman, Director of Economic Development for Fauquier County. “This kind of collaborative effort has been a long time coming, but after 40 years in the business, I have been impressed by the commitment of this group to building and promoting the strength and diversity of our regional economy.”
Many of the alliance representatives already have regional experience and have hop-scotched among jurisdictions -- most notably Victor Hoskins, the former Arlington County economic development director who in July was named president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.
For Hoskins, the move, fresh from leading the effort to bring Amazon to Arlington, was all about a new challenge after a career-defining win.
“When I came to Arlington, the mission was to tackle the [office] vacancy rate and bring jobs back … I feel like the challenge in Arlington has been met with one of the biggest wins in the history of economic development,” Hoskins said.
“One reason I was attracted to Fairfax County is its size,” he added. “It’s the largest jurisdiction in the commonwealth, actually one of the largest in the entire mid-Atlantic region. That size makes the magnitude of problems more complex, and I like dealing with complex problems.”
Hoskins brings with him former Arlington interim economic development director Alex Iams, who in December was named executive vice president for the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.
In mid-December, Arlington announced Hoskins’ replacement, Telly Tucker of Danville. Before his position in Danville, Tucker served as the assistant director of economic development in James City County, as well as an economic development specialist for the City of Lynchburg. Tucker will step into the Arlington role in mid-January.
Christina M. Winn, another alum of Arlington County Economic Development, left her post as Business Investment Director on the heels of Amazon's decision and joined Prince William County as Economic Development Director in June.
“I have always been impressed by Prince William County's diverse workforce, strong business climate, and entrepreneurial spirit. This is a dynamic community with great promise, and I am excited to be part of the community,” Winn said at the time.
Winn and Hoskins, now working for two different counties, are among the 10 local economic development leaders on the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance, which officially launched in September.
In recent years, localities in Northern Virginia have occasionally banded together on projects or marketing missions when an opportunity arose. These efforts were sporadic and unstructured, but led to the branded, joint bid for Amazon in 2017.
Stephanie Landrum, president and CEO of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, worked closely with leaders in Arlington and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to put together the package that lured Amazon to the area.
“The need for a tech talent solution was something we identified early on,” Landrum said, “and then along comes Virginia Tech and its Innovation Campus. It was like having a gift dropped in our laps.”
The result of the collaboration on Amazon created the first Northern Virginia regional slogan – “Innovation Lives Here” – a brand that the new alliance plans to grow.
“Ultimately, the regional pitch to Amazon resulted in Northern Virginia winning the biggest economic development project in modern history,” the alliance said in a statement. “Additionally, it bolstered the case for creation of a Northern Virginia regional economic development effort, proving that Northern Virginia localities are stronger together.”
The NOVA EDA plans to focus on four main strengths in selling Northern Virginia to the international business world: Tech talent, leading public and private sector innovation, a global and inclusive region, and a stable and competitive state partner.
Winn says the alliance is formalizing what many leaders across the region have done for years.
“When I was in Arlington, I had started to work closely with Alexandria,” she said. “One of the things we had learned, Arlington and Alexandria essentially were marketing the same thing. Instead of competing against each other, we started working together, telling the same story.”
Employers generally look at markets first, before starting to eliminate areas where they may set up shop. They’re looking for a match to their workforce needs and, especially in the Washington area, where you work isn’t always where you live, Winn said.
“The biggest win out of the whole Amazon site selection process was they didn’t say they’d picked metro D.C., they said Northern Virginia,” Winn said. “We’re now considered our own market.”
The alliance plans to focus on fostering Northern Virginia’s talent pipeline, recruiting new talent and keeping talent the region has. Another goal will be showcasing how the region can fulfill different needs incoming businesses may have.
As an example, Winn cites Lidl’s move to bring its U.S. headquarters to Arlington, while building a distribution headquarters in Spotsylvania County. Working with the Fredericksburg Regional Alliance, Arlington economic development leaders took a marketing trip to the U.K. and Ireland to pitch the idea.
“We’ve been doing this on a smaller scale,” Winn said. “The NOVA alliance creates a vehicle in which we can even amplify that.”
Fairfax’s Hoskins said he’s seen a shift in economic development over the past 10 to 15 years, with competition going international, not just local or even regional.
“The only way you can really win in this competition is by working as a region — by functioning as a region. We have 6 million people in this area with 3 million in our workforce,” referring to the entire Washington region. “If we can harness that power and work as one we will have no competitors.”