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Push underway to lure conference center, biotech firms to Fairfax County

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 13, 2011; 12:03 AM

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon S. Bulova intends to push for a new conference center in Tysons Corner and for luring more biotech firms to Northern Virginia, the centerpiece of an agenda that will include redistricting for the board and absorbing a huge influx of workers as part of the nationwide consolidation of military bases.

The focus on identifying and fostering new industry in Fairfax comes as the region's economic powerhouse struggles to regain its footing after the worst financial downturn in generations.

But Bulova (D), who will outline her view Thursday in the annual State of the County address, said she thinks the county is poised to attract businesses in such fields as genomic medicine, which uses breakthroughs in deciphering the human genome to diagnose and treat conditions.

"Fairfax County is always in the process of reinventing itself," she said in a draft of her prepared remarks.

Fairfax is the economic engine not only of Northern Virginia but arguably the D.C. metropolitan area. Last year, despite a vigorous pitch from Maryland and other jurisdictions, Northrop Grumman decided to move its corporate headquarters to Fairfax, joining Science Applications International Corp., Volkswagen, CSC and Hilton. The county's ambitious plans for transforming Tysons Corner from a suburban crossroads into an urban hub, with a new Metrorail line running to Dulles International Airport, are underway.

Compared with Montgomery County, its comparably sized Maryland rival, Fairfax has a higher median household income, and its residents are taxed less. Despite Fairax's reputation for snarled roads, county residents spend less time in traffic than Montgomery's, according to a report compiled last year for the Montgomery County Council.

Among recent accomplishments Bulova will cite are the completion of the Fairfax County Parkway, which allows travelers to go from Reston to Fort Belvoir without interruption. The segment was complete with an infusion of federal stimulus funding, but Bulova noted that the county used $10 million of its own money on Telegraph Road and other roadway improvements. The Silver Line project should meet its goal, on time and within budget, of allowing Phase One service, with four stops in Tysons and one stop in Reston, by 2013, Bulova said.

Yet Fairfax's challenges are serious. Noting that almost 1,000 county residents are facing foreclosure and 30,000 are out of work, Bulova said the county will be forced to close a $50 million spending gap - a shortfall that would double if the county unfroze pay for its public employees. Last year, the county closed a $257 million gap by freezing employee salaries, cutting $90 million in spending, raising the property tax rate slightly, trimming school funding and reinstating a car-registration fee.

Besides hammering out another difficult budget, Bulova said, county officials this year will also rejigger the boundaries of its magisterial districts, a process usually conducted with a minimum of partisan rancor. Traditionally, the board has not redrawn the districts in a way that bumps existing supervisors out of their districts.

The Hunter Mill, Springfield and Mount Vernon districts have grown faster than other parts of the county. Although some residents in the southern part of the county around fast-growing Lorton have expressed interest in creating a new district with a seat on the 10-member Board of Supervisors, Bulova said preliminary census data suggest that there are not enough people there to justify a new district.

Bulova, who presides over a 10-3 Democratic-to-Republican majority on the board, said in an interview that each district should eventually have about 117,000 people.

Supervisor Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield) said Wednesday that he hopes Bulova will address how the county expects to fund the transportation infrastructure in Tysons Corner and elsewhere when the state's transportation funding has dwindled. He said county officials must also deal with the consequences of an estimated $1.3 billion shortfall to complete Phase II of Metro's Silver Line extension to Dulles and Loudoun County; the extension is funded mostly by tolls from the Dulles Toll Road, and those will probably be increased.

Herrity also said he hopes Bulova will explain the board's interest in possibly buying the Lorton incinerator for about $400 million or more, when such money might be better used building and renovating schools. The board began closed-door discussions last year on the possibility of taking back the trash-to-energy facility from Covanta Energy, a private contractor.

Further, Herrity expressed concern about the local effect of expected cuts in federal spending and jobs.

"With the pending cuts to federal government spending and the federal workforce, we might be looking at serious challenges in Fairfax County," he said.


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