‘We’ll Be Ready For You’: Fairfax County Plans For A Post-Pandemic Future
Fairfax County, Virginia, is preparing for a fall like no other. Fairfax County Public Schools, the largest school district in the D.C. region, will begin the 2020-2021 school year with virtual learning for all students. County voters are expected to request a record number of absentee ballots for the November election. All the while, state and local officials will be closely monitoring the county’s fluctuating number of coronavirus cases.
While the county is well into Phase 3 of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan to reopen the state — which allowed nonessential retail, restaurants, state parks and childcare to reopen at full capacity, entertainment venues to open at 50% capacity and gatherings of up to 250 people — the coronavirus remains a serious concern as the commonwealth surpassed 100,000 cases.
Fairfax County’s positive coronavirus test rate, however, remains around 5.8%, which is still lower than Virginia’s overall positive test rate, which is 7.6%.
Amid all this uncertainty, however, some of the largest parts of the county’s business community continue to thrive. Fairfax is home to a large concentration of government contracting jobs and IT firms, along with 11 Fortune 500 companies, some of which have expanded during the pandemic.
Companies Continue To Invest In Fairfax
In May, Microsoft announced that it would invest $64M to establish a new software development and research and development regional hub in Reston, which is expected to create 1,500 new jobs. Victor Hoskins, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, said the decision highlights the resilience of Fairfax County and Northern Virginia as a business center and home of the type of talent that Microsoft will attract for its new initiative.
But it’s not just major companies like Microsoft that are doing their part to help the residents of Fairfax County. From food drives and fundraisers to individual contributions from small businesses, local Fairfax organizations have been doing whatever they can to assist the community.
The Community Foundation of Northern Virginia has provided $2.1M in grants to more than 111 nonprofit organizations in Northern Virginia that serve those who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The funding was obtained from donations from local companies.
Helping Businesses Survive And Thrive
Fairfax County’s unemployment level was at 8.1% as of July. The hospitality and retail sectors have been hit particularly hard, as they have throughout the rest of the country.
In response, the FCEDA has been working closely with the county and state governments, along with the nine local jurisdictions that are part of the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance, to promote coronavirus response initiatives and resources, including loan and grant programs to support small businesses.
Hoskins is one of 51 regional leaders appointed to serve on the D.C. area’s COVID-19 Strategic Renewal Task Force, which was formed by Connected DMV, a nonprofit regional collaboration, and includes a mix of commercial, academic and community leaders.
To help recently unemployed Fairfax County residents, the FCEDA has added new job opportunities to its talent-attraction website and has also launched a virtual career fair series to help connect job seekers and companies. So far, the fairs have focused on helping everyone from recent college graduates to mid-career tech professionals find new jobs.
Looking ahead, the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance has developed a three-part, 12-session webinar series titled Beyond COVID-19: NOVA Business Resiliency Webinars. These webinars feature experts in government financing, staffing, technology readiness, healthy workplaces and customer retention who will speak on how local businesses can find new business and revenue models to help them succeed as the state moves forward from the pandemic.
"When the pandemic hit in March, we immediately pivoted our operations to focus on connecting local companies of all sizes with the resources and information they need to stay afloat," Hoskins said. "That need was staggering, and we ended up working with more than 5,000 businesses. Now, we look forward to helping the business community work toward a stronger and more resilient future."
Keeping Residents Safe And Entertained
Hoskins said the reopening of retail across Fairfax has been going smoothly, including the reopening of the county’s four major indoor malls: Tysons Corner Center, Tysons Galleria, Fair Oaks Mall and Springfield Mall. Each of these major shopping centers opened with coronavirus safety precautions in place, including following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on cleaning and social distancing.
To help residents feel connected to their community when they can’t leave their homes, Visit Fairfax, the tourism-promotion arm of the Fairfax County government, set up “virtual local sightseeing” opportunities on its website. Now that many local parks are open as part of Phase 3 of the reopening plan, the site has been marketing parks and outdoor experiences residents can enjoy safely.
Visit Fairfax is looking ahead and encouraging people to plan their next visit to Northern Virginia when it is safe to travel, promising tourists that when that time comes, “We’ll Be Ready For You.”