A representative from the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority has headed south of the border to participate in meetings with the United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce this week, marking the group's first mission to lure Mexican businesses to the area.
Gerald L. Gordon, the county agency's president and chief executive, said the staff member will be meeting with several Mexican companies and government representatives to introduce to them Northern Virginia and its technology and defense-related industries.
"Mexico came to the top of the list as a place to look next," said Gordon, who added that the agency first conducted research on Mexico's compatibility with the Fairfax economy and identified the country's telecom sector as particularly ripe for expansion. "I think it is a market that is sufficiently hot and advanced and sizeable."
International trade missions are hardly unusual for the local economic development authority. The agency, which is chartered by the Commonwealth of Virginia and fully funded by Fairfax County to the tune of $6.4 million a year, maintains offices in London; Frankfurt, Germany; Tel Aviv; Seoul; and Bangalore, India, and is planning to open an office in California to lure businesses from Silicon Valley. Approximately $500,000 is spent on efforts to get international companies to set up shop in Fairfax County, said officials from the agency.
"We are delighted to have a representative of Fairfax join us on our trip to tell Fairfax County's story to Mexican companies and officials," Albert C. Zapanta, president and chief executive of the United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, said in a written statement.
The county's overtures to Mexican companies are counterintuitive in a way. Following passage a decade ago of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which lowered trade barriers among the United States, Canada and Mexico, many U.S. companies moved operations to Mexico to take advantage of cheap labor. Yet Fairfax now joins other local jurisdictions with large Hispanic populations in seeking to lure investment from companies in Latin America. Back in August, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) headed a trade mission to El Salvador.
According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics, Fairfax County is 12.5 percent Hispanic.
Drawing connections between a local immigrant population and overseas businesses has worked in Fairfax before, said David Callahan, an adviser to the Korea Business Development Center in Tysons Corner.
Funded largely by the Korean government, the center is an incubator for Korean businesses. Fairfax's Korean-oriented churches, stores and newspapers -- as well as its good public school system -- provide a "comfortable cultural base," which makes the area attractive to Korean businesses interested in expanding to the United States, Callahan said. "That all makes a difference when you're deciding where you're going to bring your families to. Businesses travel with families," he said.