washingtonpost.com
Businesses Find Room To Grow In County
Tech Companies Lured By Workforce, Schools

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 24, 2008; PW01

James Bounds said he saw something special in Prince William County almost 10 years ago.

Although remnants of the county's agricultural history remained, pockets of growth began to show through as a university invested in the community and office parks emerged, said Bounds, president of Logis-Tech, a Manassas-based engineering company.

Those signs of growth, he said, led officials to make Prince William the company's home.

"When we were growing out of our Fairfax office, I looked at Prince William and said to my boss, 'Hey, check this place out,' " Bounds said. "My boss said it looked like a farm [community] still, but I said, 'Here is a financial opportunity to invest in a community.' . . . I saw the growth that was and would continue to occur out here."

Logis-Tech officials moved the company's headquarters to Innovation at Prince William Technology Park seven years ago, building an 83,000-square-foot facility.

They haven't looked back, Bounds said.

"This is a progressive, very forward-thinking environment, and it has really benefited us," he said. "In Fairfax and Alexandria, sometimes you feel like you're more on the outside looking in, but here, everyone makes you feel like you are part of the community."

Bounds shared his story with about 100 guests Wednesday at the monthly luncheon of the Prince William Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Representatives of Power Loft and Covance spoke, as did the county's economic development director, Martin Briley, who discussed economic growth and advantages of doing business in Prince William. Power Loft specializes in developing data centers; Covance is a drug development services company.

"There are 12,000 economic development offices across the U.S. trying to compete for only a handful of business opportunities," Briley said. "We're competitive, though, and there's no doubt about that. We have the right people, the right climate . . . and it gets better every day."

Briley said the county prides itself on its infrastructure, schools and educated workforce.

Housing life sciences facilities for George Mason University and having a local government that supports business growth also bodes well for the county, he said.

"In 2002, we bought our first site out here, and we were so happy with Prince William that we bought a second and a third," said James Coakley, president of Power Loft, which also has an office in Innovation park. "This community has a cheap power grid, very fiber-rich environment and educated workforce that understands how these facilities are put together."

The county's tax system also draws large companies, Briley said. The business personal property tax is $3.70 per $100 of assessed value. About 10 years ago, the county created a separate tax for programmable computer equipment, $1.25 per $100 of assessed value. It appeals to companies housing servers, computers and other programmable equipment.

"Most jurisdictions only have the personal property tax, but we break out the programmable equipment, so there is a substantial tax savings when looking at companies like data centers that have $3 million in equipment," said Jason Grant, communications manager for the county's economic development department. "This gives us a competitive advantage."

John P. Grzejka, Manassas revenue commissioner, said the city also has a special computer tax, $1.25 per $100 of assessed value. Manassas business personal property tax is $3.25 per $100 of assessed value.

Mona Terrell, spokeswoman for Covance, said Prince William was attractive for several reasons, including the $3.7 million the company received in county and state tax incentives, along with the skilled labor force and quality of life.

Covance plans to open a $1.7 billion facility in the county by 2011, transferring 450 employees from its Vienna-based testing facility and hiring 100 others, Terrell said.

"The Vienna facility limited us, and here we will have the flexibility for growth in the future," Terrell said. "Covance is a good fit for the county."

Briley said his department also tries to attract companies by marketing its fast-track policy, which moves applications of certain companies through the planning department within 30 days.

"They helped us through everything and got us in a lot quicker," said Bounds, of Logis-Tech.

Briley said the county targets companies such as Logis-Tech and Power Loft as well as defense contractors and biotechnology and life sciences businesses because they offer jobs that residents are commuting north for.

About half of the roughly 207,000 people in Prince William's civilian labor force leave the county for work, data show.

"I looked at the county demographics, and all our workforce was out here with the good schools and affordable housing," Bounds said. "We were able to hire local people who were well educated and happy to come to work for us because we were close."

The story is similar in Manassas, said Debi Sandlin, the city's economic development director. About 60 percent of the roughly 25,500 people in the city's labor force commute for work. Manassas officials are focusing on similar companies and are investigating the fast-track system to ensure they deliver what they promise, she said.

"We are doing an internal audit now to find any gaps in our process and to make sure if we say we'll fast track it that we do," she said. "I'm happy our City Council wanted to take a look at this and make sure we deliver. Not too many elected bodies do that."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company