Sunday, November 08, 2009

A look at Fairfax County's globetrotting chief marketer

Economic Development Authority's Gordon travels
the world in search of business

by Gregg MacDonald | Staff Writer

In his capacity as Fairfax County's head promoter, Gerald Gordon lives an exotic life.

As president of the 45-member Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, Gordon, 58, frequently travels both the country and the globe, singing the county's praises and promoting it as a place for domestic, foreign and multinational businesses to set up shop.

"I once lived in a tree for a week in Yap, Micronesia," he told Northern Virginia business leaders at a Tower Club Tysons Corner breakfast last month. "I also spent two weeks in Vieques, Puerto Rico, where the U.S. Navy tests its bombs by dropping them from airplanes. That was cool. It was the only time I ever was assigned bodyguards."

When he's back home, Gordon is generally known for two things: his offbeat sense of humor and his razor-sharp business development acumen.

"If Gerry wasn't the director of FCEDA, he could be one of the original Marx Brothers," said Larry Rosenstrauch, director of the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development.

On a more serious note, Rosenstrauch says he should pay Gordon for marketing the entire region to interested businesses. "When they come to Fairfax County, they are inclined to poke around and see the neighbors," he said, referring to Loudoun. "We tend to think of Gerry and the FCEDA in terms of regional cooperation and not direct competition."

"Gerry Gordon has stood the test of time as one of the longest-serving economic development directors in the Commonwealth," added Jeff Anderson, Executive Director of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the state's economic development marketing office. "He is an accomplished professional who is highly regarded in the economic development community, nationally and internationally."

Gordon, a Citadel graduate with a doctorate in International Economics from Catholic University, has been representing the FCEDA for 26 years and serves at the request of its seven-member board.

Board members are appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and serve four-year terms. The Authority receives an annual $6.7 million budget, which so far has not been impacted by county budgetary issues.

Part of the reason Gerry is such a good fit for the position is his skill at making Fairfax County accessible to outsiders, said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova.

"Gerry is a great communicator and a master at telling the Fairfax County story in a way that attracts business," Bulova added.

For Gordon, working on the ever-changing economy is "pretty simple" — and under his leadership, Volkswagen America, Hilton Hotels Inc., and Science Applications International Corporation have all moved their corporate headquarters in the past few years to Fairfax County, bringing thousands of jobs to the area.

When asked about the effects of bringing more people into a county with already infamous transportation issues, Gordon jokes: "The board of supervisors is product development; I'm marketing."

On a serious note, however, Gordon says the county once offered only two employment options: either "work for the federal government or leave town."

"Since then we have become the place where ‘the next great thing' is done," he added.

Today, Gordon says that translates into a handful of cutting-edge technology industries, such as nano-technology, bio-science and personalized medicine, and bio-technology. "Fairfax County's labor force is well-educated and ready for the next great thing," he said. "The average resident has at least a college education."

According to Gordon, the county's future economic success will also include the development of minority, women-owned and internationally owned businesses. There are already 360 foreign-owned businesses in the county, currently employing 20,000 people, "but we can always use more," he said.

The one thing he says he worries about is a reported trend that federal agencies are cutting back on outsourcing dollars and opting to insource in an effort to keep spending down. "That could hurt Fairfax County," he said.

But overall, the economic future of the county looks bright, according to Gordon. In his best Groucho Marx imitation, he remarks: "The best thing we ever did was to locate ourselves next to Washington, D.C."

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