How is an Office Building like a Cow?

How is an office building like a cow? — Neither goes to school

How is a cow different than an office building?  – The office building pays higher taxes [and no one ever stepped in an office pie].

This Wednesday, The Greene County Chamber of Commerce hosted Dr. Gerald L. Gordon, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Economic Development Authority in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Dr. Gordon was a delightful speaker and highlighted that Fairfax County is in the top ten nationally for office space.  A minor factoid in his remarks included his Authority, which is completely government funded, operates on a budget of 7 million dollars with about 50 employees. 

The reason Fairfax County continues to dedicate such resources into business development is they can see the return on their investment. 

One question Dr. Gordon is often asked is “How do we achieve the success of Fairfax without becoming, well you know — Fairfax?”  He replied that localities should be selective and aggressive about the types of businesses they wish to locate in their jurisdiction.  He highlighted information technology specialist who could obtain security clearance as a current need in the market. 

Of equal importance, Dr. Gordon highlighted the need for political stability in the locality.  He cited his neighboring county Loudoun which has had huge ideological shifts on their Board of Supervisors every four years creating an unstable environment to place a business.  He considers the relative calm the Fairfax Board of Supervisors has achieved to be a selling point for Fairfax County.  Businesses are looking at a much longer window than 4 years when contemplating an expansion or corporate headquarters move.

I would take Dr. Gordon’s point one step further to suggest that environment that is established by the residents and their elected representatives [read regulatory environment] has a great deal to do with the overall economic vitality of the region. 

Today’s technology has decreased the importance of physical location of a business.  Business owners are freer than ever to locate their businesses wherever they want to live.  This region is a great place to live with a great quality of life.   

Our region is well represented by the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development as the regional economic development catalyst.  Their new Executive Director, Michael Harvey, has initiated a significant strategic planning process designed to involve the majority of stakeholders in determining what type of economic development (if any) the region would welcome.  As a participant in one of these sessions, I was struck by the variety of views of economic development held by stake holders.  In addition I found that the concerns about big business coming in far outpaced the understanding of the benefits of such new business development. 

It is important to note within our region, and within the state, some localities are more advanced than others in being proactive wanting business to come in to their locality and encouraging growth and development of the existing businesses. 

The Free Enterprise Forumbelieves businesses provide far greater rewards beyond the positive tax revenue.  Without fail businesses provide sponsorships for ball teams, all-night-long parties, volunteer hours on non profit boards and much more.  That being said we believe tax dollars spent on economic development must be viewed as an investment and regularly evaluated as such.  We do not forsee the need for a budget the size of Dr. Gordon’s but some government spending on economic development is warrented.

Until voters recognize the significant benefit businesses provide to the community and welcome new and expanding businesses, our region will not be “in the game” for the most adventagous business development opportunities.   

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