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More Jobs Than People In Fairfax

By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 30, 2007

Over the next 25 years, the number of new jobs in Fairfax County will far exceed the supply of qualified workers to fill them, according to a projection released last week.

By 2030, Fairfax County, which has become the region's primary employment center, is expected to add 729,000 jobs, an 89 percent increase over 2005. But the county's population is expected to grow only 44 percent, or 454,000. The disparity will force many companies to import nearly half of their workforces from other areas and could impair the county's ability to attract employers, according to Stephen S. Fuller, director of George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis.

The forecast, which was presented at a program by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, stirred long-held concerns about the area's crowded roads and expensive housing. Fairfax no longer has the identity of a suburb providing labor for a central city, said Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

"Now Fairfax County is the city," he said.

Fairfax has become a job magnet over the past 15 years as outsourced government work fueled the growth of private-sector companies, especially those that do work for the Defense and Homeland Security departments. Its proximity to Washington Dulles International Airport also boosted the county's development.

In 2005, Fairfax accounted for 24.2 percent of the area's economic production, Fuller said. By 2030, the George Mason study predicts, that share will rise to 32.3 percent, as the county produces $251.9 billion in goods and services.

About $41.5 billion of that will leave the county because workers will be living in other jurisdictions, Fuller said. In addition, companies based in the county will largely bear the local tax burden, rather than residents.

Although incomes are expected to rise faster in Fairfax than in other parts of the region, average housing prices will also continue to soar, "making it harder and harder to both live and work in Fairfax," he said. "The balance has tipped between being a place to live to now being a place to work."

The county Economic Development Authority has been aggressive in its efforts to attract businesses, but local business leaders fear that it will lose ground to other communities that can offer a more desirable lifestyle, such as Loudoun and Prince William counties or even more distant places such as San Jose, Denver and Raleigh, N.C.

"With the unemployment rate as low as it is in Northern Virginia, will new companies continue to move here given the challenges they face?" said David Hunn, president of SkillSource Group, a Vienna nonprofit organization that helps local employers find workers.

Hunn said retaining service workers for retail stores, hotels and restaurants will also be difficult. "But in many cases regions like ours should target high-end workers, and the services will follow."

Robert Whitfield, a Fairfax County real estate agent, said bringing in new jobs and filling office space shouldn't be the only concern. Making the area desirable for young, diverse professionals is also essential to ensure its future economic viability.

"We've got to attract and incubate companies with growth potential," he said.

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