Every city, county and town in metropolitan Washington, in a search for painless tax dollars, is beckoning to industry. But FairfaxCounty is the only jurisdiction that has been willing to spend big money to make big money.
While most other localities have been conservative and even stingy in allocating funds to entice industry, Fairfax has been spending with the fervor of Madison Avenue marketeers. Through its peripatetic economic development authority, the county has been spending $800,000 a year to sell itself to businesses considering relocation or the establishment of branch operations.
There have been full-page ads in The Wall Street Journal and Fortune magazine, hard-sell presentations to assembled (and wined and dined) corporate executives in New York. There has been a contract with a New York firm that specializes in placing articles about Fairfax and its we-like-industry image.
No doubt mindful of taxpayer curiosity about these big bucks for public relations, the authority has estimated that its $1,549,000 investment for 1978 and 1979 brought a return of 1,156 percent, which beats any of the killings made by gold or silver bugs.
That estimate was made recently by the authority's new chairman, Charles Gulledge, who is also president and chairman of Dynalectron Corp., a professional-services contracting firm that recently centralized some of its operations in McLean.
Gulledge's presentation was so bullish about Fairfax that you had to wonder if there were any crumbs left over for suburban Maryland or the District.
Some of his points:
During 1979, $257 million worth of building permits for business-related projects were issued in Fairfax -- more than for Montgomery County and the District combined.
This construction, together with the $193 million worth of building estimated for 1980, should bring a total of $18 million in new taxes -- the source of Gulledge's estimate of a 1,156 percent return on investment.
Despite the recession, which has cut deeply into construction, non-residential building permits worth $60 million were issued in the first four months of fiscal 1981 (July through October).
During fiscal 1979, the first year of the Fairfax Economic Development Authority's greatly expanded advertising program, responses jumped from 275 to 3,703. In fiscal 1980, the responses went up to 3,795.
In fiscal, 1980, 43 firms announced they would locate in Fairfax or expand present operations -- which would mean a total of 4,700 new jobs and total new taxes of $3 million a year.
In one of the most significant figures, the building permits for new industry accounted for about one-third of the total value of construction in the county. In the past, industry has accounted for only about 13 percent of this increase in the tax base, with the balance coming from residential construction.
To any local government, the proportion of the real estate tax base that comes from housing and from industry is a critical barometer. If the ratio is tilted in favor of housing, that can mean the locality is paying a heavy price for its tax dollars. Too many houses can create a heavy demand for services such as schools, libraries, fire and police -- and the cost of these services can more than wipe out the revenues from taxes.
Fairfax's goal is to put the ratio of industry to housing in the real estate tax base at 25 to 75 percent. Despite its recent successes, as detailed by Gulledge in his presentation to the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, the county still has a long way to go from its present 13 percent. Some local officials think the effort might take another 20 years, and that's assuming Fairfax continues to attract industry with the same success it is enjoying now.
One of the county's major problems, once Tysons Corner -- its industrial showcase -- is totally built up, will be finding land that is attractive, convenient, suitable for construction and does not generate overwhelming opposition.
The county has numerous job centers, but only a few are considered blue-chip locations. There are thousands of industrially zoned acres around Dulles International Airport. However, poor road access, along with the failure of Dulles to thrive, has not made the land very attractive, except to speculators who are counting on future planned toll lanes to boost the area's potential. However, Reston, a few miles east of Dulles, has recently been able to attract two major computer-research firms. In both cases, the proximity of Dulles was a factor, as well as the new town's "quality of life," officials of the firms said.
Some efforts are under way to redevelop the Rte. 1 corridor, a gritty string of fast-food franchises and commercial clutter, and make it attractive to offices and related businesses.
Also under way is an ambitious program to develop a master plan for the I-66/Rte. 50 area west of Fairfax City that would provide a combination of residential, commercial and industrial developments, along with the proposed Fairfax governmental center.
In both cases, supporters talk fondly about the possibility of extending Metrorail down Rte. 1 and out I-66. With the completion of the presently planned 101-mile system uncertain, the chances of future extensions would appear to be slim.
Moreover, with choice industrial land in Fairfax being used up, an intriguing question arises:
Will Arlington, Montgomery and Prince George's counties and the District, with a strategically located Metro system either in place or under construction, be in better competitive positions than Fairfax to attract future industrial development -- especially to such Metrorail areas as Ballston in Arlington and Bethesda in Montgomery?