Attracting new business to Fairfax County appears to be a paradoxical proposition.
The Northern Virginia suburb's greatest asset for attracting business - its proximity to the nation's capital - also turns out to be its greatest liability.
This is one of several opinions on business conditions in Fairfax County contained in Fairfax County contained in a recent report by a Richmond-based market research firm. The firm conducted two panel discussions by 35 county businessmen on the pros and cons of doing business in Faifax County.
The report by Southeastern Institute of Research Inc. is the first phase of an intensive campaign by the county to lure major new commercial and industrial growth.
The county now is assessing its image in the business community across the nation through telephone surveys. Advertisements enticing business to the county will appear in major business publications, including the Wall Street Journal, starting June 29, said David Edwards, executive director of the county's Economic Development Authority (EDA). He said he would not disclose the theme of the advertising campaign until June 9.
Other significant obstacles to drawing business to the county, as viewed by the cross-section of executives who have done business there for between 2 and 20 years, are traffic congestion, high costs, lack of blue collar labor and obstructions to development by local government.
The panel determined that the county's image could stand some improvement because problems associated with Washington's image carry over to Fairfax County, including pollution, inefficiency, racial problems and poor schools.
"Folks out there don't see this as being Fairfax County," one businessman was quoted in the draft report. "To them, this is Washington. It's a disadvantage you have to unsell them on, persuade them they're not going to be in Washington but in Northern Virginia."
On the other hand, the executives noted that the county's proximity to Washington is "indispensible" for firms or organizations that depend on government contracts and contacts with regulatory agencies, foreign embassies and government technical information. This proximity is probably the county's greatest advantage for drawing business, the report stated.
The businessmen also said they felt the county is regarded as a bedroom community for Washington, with a no-growth attitude toward business and industry.
Earle Williams, an EDA commissioner and President of BDM Corp., said the county business environment "is undergoing significant change." The businessmen's opinions regarding no-growth attitudes and the county's obstacles to business growth through lengthy development procedures resulted from their past business dealings, he said.
"You don't turn an image around overnight," Williams said. "Fairfax County has recently proved itself committeed to the business community through a lot of significant actions, one of them being their investment of tax dollars in this advertising campaign. Business is beginning to feel it is wanted in the county, which wasn't always the case."
The board of supervisors gave a $558,647 budget this year to the EDA, an agency that in the past has carried little clout in the county. Almost half of that sum is paying for current market research and advertising efforts, Edwards said.
Other advantages the county presents for business, according to the report, is its availability of skilled white collar labor, convenient access outside the county, Virginia's conservative state government and plentiful cultural and recreational attractions.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman John F. Herrity, who said he would like to see the Dulles Access Road corridor develop industrially like Montgomery County's I-270, listed a series of steps taken by the county as business incentives.
"There's no way the board of supervisors from a policy standpoint can make a significant dent in some of the problems, like blue collar labor or high costs," Herrity said. "Lack of blue collar labor means factories can't come in, which is what we had in mind anyway, and the whole metropolitan region is affected by high costs."
But he noted that the county this year has streamlined the development process for larger firms, allocated county funds for road improvements "for the first time in history this year," and is lobbying the state to open parallel lanes to the Dulles Access Road. That road is now closed to traffic not using the airport, preventing business use of undeveloped land in that part of the county.
The county's drive to attract new business is intended to relieve its large disparity between commercial and residential contributions in real estate taxes.
Business and industry's real estate taxes accounted for 16.8 percent of the county's tax base in 1972, and slipped to 14 percent last year.
County officials note that the portion of commercial tax is somewhat distorted, because market values on homes are increasing at a faster rate than commercial values.
The EDA has established a target for the year 2000 that business and industry account for 25 percent of the county's tax base.