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Fairfax County, Virginia

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Tony Castrilli,
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Fairfax is Growing into an Innovation Hub

News Highlights

  • University and medical research activities are transforming Fairfax County into an innovation hub.
  • Innovation hubs produce new jobs, businesses and economic activity, and the county is actively working to foster these hubs as part of its strategic plan to boost economic growth.


Fairfax County is turning into an innovation hub in the D.C. region due to the growth in scientific research happening here, say officials.

This is critical to grow and diversify the county’s economy, and Fairfax is working to create innovation hubs as part of its strategic economic plan to kick start greater growth.

Officials point to recent developments that demonstrate the area’s emergence as a technology and biotechnology center.

For example, George Mason University received the highest ranking for research activity from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. One of the reasons for this top classification was its increase in research spending, driven by a growth in science and engineering dollars.

Virginia Tech is working on expanding its role as an innovation hub in the region, and it plans to play a leading role in promoting regional innovation, entrepreneurship, technology transfer and translational research. The university is looking to grow in the areas of cyber security, genomics and other emerging fields.

“We’re looking at doing that in the National Capital Region specifically because of its importance to the Commonwealth, so places like Fairfax and the surrounding counties are very important for us to consider as we look forward in that plan,” said Steven McKnight, Virginia Tech’s vice president for National Capital Region.



Private sector players like Inova Health Systems are playing a major role too. At Exxon Mobil’s former 117-acre campus in Fairfax, the health care provider will be creating a center for personalized medicine. It includes an advanced cancer care and research center, research labs and a biotech incubator.

At this new campus, Inova will focus on genomics and bioinformatics research, and the institution entered into a partnership with George Mason University at the end of last year. Two shared research facilities will be based at the campus, and Mason’s researchers will bring their expertise in proteomics, the study of proteins.

This is focus on biotech is central to the state’s new economy, Governor Terry McAuliffe has said.

Biotech and six other knowledge-based industries accounted for 800,000 jobs in the D.C. metro area in 2014, according to an analysis by the 2030 Group. This area coalition of universities, business leaders and others found that these seven industry clusters grew by 15 percent from 2003 to 2014—compared to 9 percent for the region’s economy as a whole.

Economists have found a strong link between research and economic competitiveness. Universities and other research institutions help to generate the innovations that can lead to new jobs, industries and economic expansion.

Clustering this activity geographically helps to create knowledge networks that spark innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Innovation districts represent the new geography of research in the United States,” says Scott Andes, a senior policy analyst at Brookings. “They’re dense cores where there’s an unusual amount of activity, both residential, real estate, commercial activity, but then also research occurring inside transit-accessible areas that are connected with broadband and other amenities.”

These districts are usually anchored by university, medical center or other major research facility, says Brookings.

Outside the county, a good example is Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. Originally founded by three universities, RTP is now home to more than 200 companies and over 50,000 experts in micro-electronics, biotechnology and more. The park produced more than 1,500 companies since 1970, according to a Duke University study. And since 1976, more than 3,500 patents have come from work done there.

Because of their outsized economic impact, Fairfax County is actively working to foster innovation hubs across the county in places Tysons, Reston and elsewhere.

“Innovation districts are an opportunity to create unique places throughout the county where innovation, which is directly correlated to diversifying our economy, can take place,” said Fairfax County Deputy County Executive Rob Stalzer.



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