More Foreign Firms Calling Fairfax Home

Kiran Gullapalli, above, of India opened his first Rapid Refill Ink store in Herndon in February and has plans for two others. Fairfax County attracts entrepreneurs and foreign companies that want to establish a U.S. presence, such as Waawoo Technology, left.
Kiran Gullapalli, above, of India opened his first Rapid Refill Ink store in Herndon in February and has plans for two others. Fairfax County attracts entrepreneurs and foreign companies that want to establish a U.S. presence, such as Waawoo Technology, left. (Carol Guzy - Twp)

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By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 7, 2006

John K. Yang fiddles with the blue, pen-shaped computer mouse he has spent three years peddling to local stores and national retail chains.

In Seoul, a team of two dozen businessmen and 150 manufacturers work to produce the ergonomic mouse, designed to reduce wrist strain, for customers in Europe and Asia. In marketing it in the United States, though, Yang is on his own.

He won't be much longer. His company, Waawoo Technology Inc., plans to move its headquarters from Seoul to Fairfax County as soon as it finds office space. Fairfax County's respected school system, diverse community and wide array of business opportunities make the area "a perfect fit" for the company, said Yang, immaculately dressed in a dark suit and bright green tie that matched the mouse packages that filled his Vienna office.

Waawoo Technology will join other foreign companies that are expanding their presence in the county, creating thousands of jobs and contributing millions of dollars to the tax base. In 1997, 17 foreign companies had Fairfax-based operations. Today, more than 350 companies from 30 countries employ about 20,000 people in the area.

The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority has aggressively recruited overseas companies to the area for more than a decade. It has opened satellite offices in key markets such as Tokyo, Tel Aviv and Frankfurt, Germany, and fostered business relationships with foreign delegations. Other local economic development agencies have also stepped in to tout the business communities of Northern Virginia, especially Fairfax County.

"We're constantly asked by embassies and trade groups to meet our member companies to try to partner up with them," said Randall Reade, chairman of the international committee of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, a consortium of 1,100 technology companies. "This is the largest concentration of tech firms outside of Silicon Valley, so it just makes sense to come here."

Nestled between Dulles International Airport and the federal government hub of Washington, Fairfax County has attracted a broad mix of nationalities, and many have set up shop in Reston, Herndon and Tysons Corner. Last month alone, 11 companies from Korea, 2 from Japan, 3 from Israel and 1 from the United Kingdom established or expanded offices in the county. Fairfax officials count about 50 Korean-owned companies, up from four in 2000. Four of the county's largest employers are headquartered outside the United States, including U.K.-based BAE Systems.

Gerald Gordon, president and chief executive of the county's Economic Development Authority, said many companies that establish a presence in the county "start with two to four people, get a contract, make a sale, and then they start growing dramatically."

Yang has found success in Fairfax, placing his product on the shelves of CompUSA and negotiating with Best Buy and RadioShack to do the same.

"This is a huge market, close to the federal government and lots of technology companies," he said. "If you want to be a global company, you have to be in the U.S., and we want to be in Fairfax."

Yang's office is housed in the Korean Business Development Center, a small-business incubator in Vienna, financed largely by the Korean government that helps Korean-based companies launch in the United States. Nine companies operate from the center, and the number of applicants has risen steadily in the four years since it opened.

Getting established, though, is not without difficulty. Obtaining work permits, visas and lines of credit is a long process for which many businesses, especially start-ups, are not prepared. Translating legal documents can also be a challenge, and the aggressive business culture of the United States sometimes catches companies off guard.


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