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Economic Development Requires More Office Space

Residents hear from the head of the Economic Development Authority.

Economic development is tantamount to more office space, according to the president of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, a sentiment not echoed by residents feeling the crunch from rising housing costs and longer commutes.

Since the authority was formed more than 30 years ago, it has worked to attract businesses to the county as an attempt to add more office space, which increases county tax revenue.

“That’s the raison d'être of the Business Economic Authority today,” said Gerald L. Gordon, president and CEO of the Authority, which is funded by the county at the tune of $6.6 million this year.

As the county’s population rises — it’s predicted to increase by 250,000 by 2025 — the county will require more money to maintain government services, like education, police and fire protection.

During a presentation Monday at the Reston Community Center at Lake Anne, Gordon said the county seeks to help offset those costs for residents by encouraging businesses to expand or relocate in the county.

In the next 20 years, the county’s total office space is expected to jump from 103 million square feet to 140 million square feet, much of which will occur along the Dulles Corridor, Gordon predicts.

SEVERAL RESIDENTS who attended the presentation wondered if EDA’s definition of “economic development” is too narrow.

Citing the region’s shortages in affordable housing and childcare, Reston Interfaith’s CEO Kerrie Wilson said economic development is a quality of life issue and that the authority should engage “beyond bringing office space to the county.”

Although sympathetic to the county’s other needs, Gordon demurred, saying the county’s other problems are not within the organization’s scope.

“Do you foresee anything that would allow people to live where they work?” asked Rod Koozmin of Reston.

Gordon mentioned increased residential density as one solution. “The problem is with 600,000 payroll jobs in the county, anything you do isn’t going to be enough,” said Gordon. “All the county can do — and the Board of Supervisors — is encourage businesses to locate in the county and encourage [residential] developers to build in certain locations, but they have precious little they can do to make that happen.”

THE AUDIENCE generally supported the authority’s work, but some people wondered if market forces dictate whether or not more businesses relocate to the county.

Joe Stowers, a longtime Reston resident, suggested the authority could be riding the region’s economic ups and downs.

While the authority does not offer incentives of any sort, such as tax breaks, Gordon said his office is like the county’s “sales division.” “We offer an encouragement to businesses that this is where opportunity is,” he said.

“[Gordon’s] point is if you want to be a vibrant economic community, it’s hard work,” said Mike Corrigan, a Reston resident who attended the meeting.