Companies these days prefer to locate where talent is – and this poses both a challenge and an opportunity, the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority’s new president and CEO told the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce Oct. 17.
Victor Hoskins’ idea: Create a pipeline to deliver talent to businesses.
“What we’re imagining is a system where we are able to take internships, apprenticeships and jobs and put them in a huge database in the ‘cloud,’ put talent on top of the database all profiled and allow [artificial intelligence] to figure out who is the best match for these jobs,” Hoskins said.
Hoskins in August succeeded Gerald Gordon, who retired late last year after 31 years at the agency’s helm. Hoskins said is impressed by the county leadership’s forward thinking and foresees an “incredibly bright future.”
“I feel like the luckiest guy in the world,” he said. “Every morning I wake up and I just love being able to go to work in this field.”
The Economic Development Authority will continue its role of attracting businesses and step up “place-making” efforts that highlight communities’ unique attributes, he said.
One possible place for a “cool” new place, akin to eclectic Union Market in Washington, D.C., could be at the 42-acre old Mount Vernon High School site, provided the county finds the right developer, he said.
“The comprehensive plan should not just have an identity that’s unique, but it should have a soul that matches the spirit of the community,” Hoskins said. “If you don’t have that, it’s difficult to attract the talent.”
Hoskins grew up in Chicago, went to high school in Southern California and attended Dartmouth University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology on scholarships.
After working for several private companies and the Baltimore and Maryland governments. Hoskins served as the District of Columbia’s deputy mayor of planning and economic development. Working in an economy that was recovering from a deep recession, Hoskins and his team divided 152 projects into five categories, based on their viability, and focused on the 29 most promising. Hoskins told then-Mayor Vincent Gray he either could do something popular or transformative.
“That’s a choice we all have every day,” Hoskins said. “We can do something, or we can do something great.”
Hoskins in 2015 began doing economic-development work for Arlington County, which in two decades had lost 34,000 jobs because of military Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), budget sequestration and agency reorganizations. The county’s vacancy rate had more than doubled from 10 percent to 22, resulting in lower rents and reduced revenues for governmental services and schools, he said.
Hoskins had fewer resources to work with, having gone from 1,300 employees and a $1.3 billion budget in D.C. to 52 employees and a $10 million budget in Arlington.
“It just goes to show you that a mouse can do what an elephant can do if you have the right strategy,” he said.
Hoskins helped land corporate giant Amazon for Arlington, but now says the company probably should have located in Fairfax County, with its larger, more diverse, pro-business environment. The county’s 120 million-square-foot office market is three times larger than Arlington’s, he noted.
Hoskins fielded questions from chamber members, some of whom asked for his ideas on solving the affordable-housing crunch. Hoskins attributed the problem to basic economics – low supply plus high demand equals increased prices – and said more housing needs to be built across all sectors of the market.