Merrifield leaders still working to build sense of community

Greater Merrifield Business Association president Billy Thompson describes some of the group's successes and initiatives during his annual "State of the GMBA Union" address on Feb. 12, 2020. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

Greater Merrifield Business Association (GMBA) leaders want to foster a community atmosphere in Merrifield, but know they’re at a disadvantage compared with long-established communities such as Vienna, Fairfax or Falls Church.

“Hardly anybody lives in Merrifield, so we have a challenge to build that hometown feel that other people have,” said association president Billy Thompson during his annual State of the GMBA address to members on Feb. 12. ”But we’re going to keep knocking away at it and we’re going to be able to do it.”

The association’s goals include recruiting younger members, developing new leaders and generating new ideas. GMBA recently improved its Website and continues to beef up its technological efforts, Thompson said.

“For too long a period, we’ve been trying to grow [the association] and serve the community, but we’ve been doing it with our old, outdated methods,” he said.

GMBA this year will start new marketing, non-profit, citizens and public-policy committees, Thompson said. The non-profit committee will be hosted by First Baptist Church of Merrifield.

The association also will build on its relationship with the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, partaking of its resources and knowledge, while still providing traditional offerings such as mixers, sponsor packages and special events, Thompson said. One of the new activities will be a miniature-golf outing, he said.

In addition, association leaders in coming months will reach out to the burgeoning medical field in Tysons, Fairview and the biggest of them all, Inova’s operations just south of Merrifield.

“We’d like to brand kind of a health area, because you’ve got Inova, you’ve got more orthodontists than there are teeth in Merrifield, and dentists and eye doctors,” said GMBA executive director Peggy James. “It’s a really great, dynamic area.”

While focusing on those health institutions, association leaders also will honor Merrifield’s heritage by promoting businesses in its industrial zones, Thompson said.

“We don’t want to forget those people,” he said. “If you’re building a house, everything you need is in these industrial parks.”

Local businesses should know the benefits of joining the association, including free advertising on its Website, Thompson said. By holding mixers, members can extend their network of contacts and garner recognition for their companies, he added.

 “It all comes back to you,” Thompson told GMBA members at the luncheon. “Get involved, attend events, host a mixer, get to know the board members, get on a committee.”

Thompson urged GMBA members to consider Merrifield businesses first when they need products or services, and Terry Zaccarino, president of Communications Electronics of Virginia, supported that sentiment.

“Everybody has something to sell, whether you’re a doctor, an attorney, a business or whatever,” Zaccarino said. “We all forget sometimes what’s right in our own back yard. Give the local people a shot.”

GMBA needs to emphasize that Merrifield is more than just its popular Mosaic District, James said. Association leaders are pondering pop-up offerings, small festivals and activities around the industrial areas and shopping centers to draw the public into the other parts of Merrifield.

“We need to build community in Merrifield, because we don’t have that,” James said. “We’ve got Millennials who are renters. Renters do not have the same engagement in the community. Also, the people who own the businesses here don’t live in Merrifield, for the most part, so you don’t have that buy-in as well.”

Hiring James was one of GMBA’s best decisions in recent years, Thompson said.

“Peggy is dynamic. Peggy is the best,” he said. “I’ve been in organizations like this for 35 years and nobody has the vision, the energy, everything that Peggy has.”

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