In Biotech-Rich Montgomery,

Fairfax County Sees a Partner

Would two counties with a decades-old competition for high-tech companies ever help each other?

Fairfax County has the information technology and telecom companies while Montgomery County has the biotech companies.

Now Gerald L. Gordon, president and chief executive of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, wants Montgomery County to join him in marketing both counties to biotech companies.

Biotech research is becoming more numbers-intensive as scientists catalogue genomes and proteins. The proximity of information technology companies to the biotech concerns in Montgomery would make both counties more attractive, Gordon said.

"By itself, Montgomery doesn't have all the assets," he said. "We have the IT piece. When Boston and Silicon Valley go out to market themselves, they have both pieces. Sure, we're competitors with Montgomery. But we're friendly competitors. And ultimately I'd rather see a biotech company go to Montgomery than Silicon Valley."

On the other hand, Montgomery County, where economic growth has been strong but less explosive than in Fairfax County, has to consider carefully how to share one of its big advantages. The two counties tussled five years ago after Fairfax tried to lure big hotel operator Marriott International Inc. from Montgomery County with its lower tax rate.

Montgomery County, though, says it is interested. "Most people can't name the counties around Route 128 in Boston or in Silicon Valley," said David W. Edgerley, director of the county Department of Economic Development. "That's why building a regional identity for this area makes a great deal of sense."

But discussions with Gordon, Edgerley's counterpart in Fairfax, are still "embryonic," Edgerley said. "And we'd want to make sure that whoever gets contacted as a result of these marketing efforts gets shared with the other county."

Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said: "There will be occasions when it makes sense to work together, since we increasingly operate as a region. And there'll be other occasions when we're going to continue to wrestle them to the ground for a prospect."

Gerald L. Gordon wants

to team up with Montgomery County.