This month marks the first anniversary of a coalition created to support regional prosperity: the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance, made up of 10 jurisdictions working across borders on business recruitment and marketing efforts. The joint pitch by four Northern Virginia jurisdictions that ultimately won the Amazon HQ2 bid in 2018 gave rise to the first NoVa regional brand (along with concrete proof of collaboration’s regional success), followed by the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance agreement.
What does regionalism look like? Already, we’ve launched a website highlighting the region’s collective assets, embarked on marketing missions together, shared information and data, and commissioned a research program that surveyed our mutual target markets to discover their perceptions of Northern Virginia.
When we established the alliance last fall, we had no idea that the year ahead would be dominated by the storm that is the coronavirus pandemic, or that our organization would be crucial for weathering it. Our approach to regional collaboration went from nice to necessary almost overnight.
We know that “resiliency” for our business community needs to be more than a buzzword. It requires a nimble plan and achievable goals, so we have been focused on connecting businesses with resources and information they need to bridge this economic crisis. The Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance has worked to help businesses regionwide take advantage of federal, state and local grant and loan programs. More than 20,000 Northern Virginia businesses were approved for federal programs, and more than 8,000 businesses are on track to participate in local grant and loan programs.
The alliance launched a 12-session webinar series called “Beyond COVID-19: NOVA Business Resiliency Webinars.” These presentations have provided access to the latest and best possible information from experts on issues such as government financing, staffing, technology readiness, new business and revenue models, and customer retention.
Alliance partners had been working on a new website, workinnorthernvirginia.com, to market the region to talent in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and elsewhere. More than just a job board, this platform tells the Northern Virginia story: It’s a fantastic place for high-value living and a top location to further careers. The pandemic, however, made it obvious that we needed to pivot the website to connect laid-off or furloughed residents, especially in the service industries, with businesses doing surge hiring, especially in the grocery, distribution and warehousing industries.
We launched a series of virtual career fairs designed to reach new graduates searching for jobs, highly trained tech workers and the recently unemployed. These virtual fairs fostered more than 1,000 conversations between job seekers and our region’s hiring companies, including Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise.
To achieve our ultimate economic goals, the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance is the first step on a path toward a true economic development collective among D.C., Maryland and Virginia. This can be achieved if our colleagues from the District and suburban Maryland band together at unprecedented levels to collaborate and communicate. We must identify and play to each of our many and different strengths.
We all agree that a win for one is a win for all when it comes to economic recovery and long-term regional prosperity. We learned that with the Amazon pursuit. While HQ2 will physically be in Arlington, its value in terms of job creation, innovation and trail of businesses to follow will be felt throughout the region, and it will make this entire region more competitive economically.
That is critical, because we aren’t just competing with other American metro areas for jobs, talent and innovation. We are competing against the mega regions of the world, such as London, Shanghai and Mumbai. To do that, we need a bigger team. Armed with a proof of concept in Northern Virginia, we have an opportunity to win for this region like never before.