Hilton Move Gives Fairfax A Big Boost

Monday, February 9, 2009

Every county in the Washington area wanted to be the site of Hilton's new headquarters -- but Fairfax won out.

One person behind that move was Gerald L. Gordon, chief executive of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, who has been promoting the county since 1983. Winning the headquarters battle was important for the county, Gordon said, because it's a "shot in the arm" in the midst of so much economic uncertainty. The hotel company's new headquarters, which will be located in Tysons Corner, means a boost for the county's economy and image, Gordon said in an interview.

In the past two years, two other major companies have chosen Fairfax as home base. Volkswagen opened its U.S. headquarters there, as did CSC, formerly Computer Sciences Corp. Gordon said winning headquarters elevates the buzz around the county.

"It is important on several different levels. The first one is obvious: It provides jobs, it provides an opportunity for the construction industry to do some build-out when those jobs are hard to find; it comes at time when the housing market is depressed and several hundred people will be coming in from California buying homes," Gordon said. "All of these things are good, not only for us, but for the entire region."

Gordon said he learned shortly before Christmas that a big company was looking for a new headquarters and worked with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's office to develop the $4.6 million incentive package that was ultimately offered to Hilton. That beat out Maryland and Montgomery County's offer by more than $2 million. Kaine (D) put up a $1 million grant from the Governor's Opportunity Fund, matching $1 million in incentives from the county. The governor also used $2.5 million from the Virginia Economic Development Incentive Grant program.

Beyond that, Gordon said, Hilton was interested in Fairfax because of its business climate, with its many networking events and opportunities to trade business cards. Fairfax also offers easy access to Dulles International Airport, which was important to the company, he said.

Fairfax has been the epicenter of Northern Virginia's commercial building boom, with many speculative office buildings -- those constructed without tenants lined up -- particularly along the Dulles Toll Road. That pushed the county's vacancy rate up to 14.9 percent at the end of the year, according to the commercial real estate firm CoStar of Bethesda. Asked if expectations during the boom were too high for what Fairfax would ultimately become, Gordon answered "no."

"You want a 10 to 12 percent vacancy rate," he said. "So it is a little bit high, but it's not the end of the world. When you have a company like Hilton coming in, they take some of that space, as do their suppliers and contractors."

-- Alejandro Lazo

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