For decades, the Washington area was characterized as a “company town,” full of bureaucrats working for, and running, the federal government. Suburbs, like Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, and Fairfax County, were simply bedroom communities, where government workers scurried home to their families, usually by car, at the end of the business day. That all began to change in the 1970s, as the Metro system transformed commuting patterns, and expanded business and commercial horizons outside of the core jurisdiction.
Today’s workers might never set foot in the District of Columbia or, if they do, only for recreational and social events, not work. Global companies – Northrup Grumman, Hilton Worldwide, Volkswagen of America, Capital One, for example – selected Fairfax County for their headquarters because of quality schools, and an educated workforce, not just for proximity to the Nation’s Capital. Diversification of our economy is required to ensure that these multimillion dollar investments, and future generations of workers and residents, succeed and thrive.
Think of a major corporation as an aircraft carrier. The carrier is just one part of a larger fleet that may include a cruiser, destroyers or frigates, an air wing, and 7500 personnel. To support all of that requires on-shore supply businesses, food purveyors, and administrative personnel. In addition, all the services for the families of the sailors, the small businesses, the grocery stores, the shopping centers, and schools are part of the economy that one carrier group brings to a community. Similarly, a corporation brings with it new residents, new customers for existing businesses, and new students, all adding to the diversification of our local economy. As federal government jobs ebb, new industries, especially for technology, will be the linchpin for success.
That still means an educated and skilled workforce, but not necessarily one based on the traditional four-year college degree. Many business owners report that they want, and need, workers with certifications and technical skills to fill the jobs that are available right now. Career and technical education programs at the high school level can produce certified workers ready to step into good jobs after graduation – from high school, not college! Some jobs may require an additional year or two of technical education, and Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) is prepared to meet that need, working with entities such as the INOVA Health System, to align classes with workforce needs in health and allied fields.
It’s an exciting time to prepare for the newly diversified economy and workforce, but the basic skills still apply – work ethic, a full day’s work for a full day’s pay, how to make good decisions, getting along with fellow workers, and respect for your colleagues and their work. One business owner told me that these have been the traditional basics, but added a newer one: computer skills! That was one he didn’t need when he started his business years ago, but it’s imperative now, he said.
So much has changed since President Kennedy’s comment that Washington, D.C. was a “city with Southern efficiency and Northern charm.” Today, the region is a global community, no longer reliant on the federal government, and ready to move forward with untold opportunities.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]