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Fairfax Looks Afar To Fill Vacant Offices

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 18, 2004; Page B01

Fairfax County is hoping to counter the exodus of U.S. jobs to other countries by persuading overseas companies to open branches in Fairfax.

The county's Economic Development Authority opened offices this summer in the high-tech hubs of Bangalore, India, and Tel Aviv to recruit foreign firms eyeing U.S. markets, hoping that they will help fill millions of square feet of empty office space in Fairfax and establish a trend in outsourcing.

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"We looked around to see where the hot technology markets are and how compatible they are with us," said Gerald L. Gordon, president of the economic group. "We're targeting as many as we can get. We tell them, 'You can do business here.' "

Gordon said 21 Israeli companies that specialize in biotechnology or security have asked for details about office space in Fairfax. Potential federal contracts for defense and homeland security are strong draws, he said.

Meanwhile, Bangalore, dubbed the Silicon Valley of India because so many U.S. companies have hired low-wage, high-skill workers there, is producing its own crop of information technology firms seeking to expand into the United States. Fairfax says its efforts could help quell an increasingly bitter political debate over the migration of U.S. jobs to India.

"There is a great concern that high-end jobs are going to India because the costs are less," Gordon said. "We're reversing that trend. We're bringing Indian companies here to create their jobs here."

Nine Indian companies and 15 Israeli-owned companies already have settled in Fairfax, recruited less formally before the authority opened its newest satellite offices. They include Spacenet, a McLean-based subsidiary of a Gilat Satellite Networks, a Tel Aviv company that makes satellite equipment.

Spacenet, with about 200 employees, serves as Gilat's marketing arm; the equipment is made in Israel. That is likely to be a pattern of many of those from Fairfax's new markets: a merger with a U.S. firm and an overseas workforce -- a reverse offshoring.

"What we tend to lose sight of in the whole discussion about globalization is that trade is a two-way street," said Bob Cohen, spokesman for the Information Technology Association of America, an Arlington-based trade group. "An enormous amount of employment and investment is attributable to overseas employers setting up shop in this country."

The authority's Bangalore and Tel Aviv offices join those in London, Frankfurt and Tokyo, which have lured about 300 foreign firms to Tysons Corner, which has 5.1 million square feet of vacant office space, as well as the Dulles-Reston area and other parts of Fairfax.

Using employees hired locally, the authority promotes Fairfax's proximity to the federal government, its existing technology presence and its large immigrant population, officials said. Gordon said the staff goes the extra mile for Indian companies, whose executives and spouses sometimes need "a lot of hand-holding" to adjust to American culture.

"The county was very helpful in finding us office space, getting us into contact with lawyers, and they helped me find my own house," said Shameem Hameed, who launched the North American headquarters of his company, Software Fusions, on Route 7 in Tysons in December.

For nine years, Software Fusions has produced shipping-company software in Cochin, south of Bangalore. Hameed said he flew to Northern Virginia about three years ago for a computing conference and saw how heavily the authority was promoting Fairfax to foreign firms.

He noted that most Indian firms head to Silicon Valley in Northern California. "But I felt the West Coast was very crowded," he said.

Now he is scouting out business with shipping firms in Baltimore. When it comes, he plans to hire Americans. "It would be foolish to hire only Indians, because Americans can be our bridge to this country," he said.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company