As the 1990's began, the Chamber was preoccupied with the economic condition in the county. In addition to 1989's downsizing, some citizens had launched a tax revolt at the close of the previous decade, citing the fact that county revenue grew twice as fast as inflation and five times faster than population increases between 1980 and 1989. Amidst this clamor, the frenzied building pace of recent years produced a glut of speculative office space that drove down rents and weakened the strength of real estate investments.
The business climate in late 1990 was very grim due to the recession, so I thought we needed to have some fun. So we held a black tie and Bermudas Chairman's Ball. A hotel guest saw Senator Clive Duvall walking in green shorts and his tux and exclaimed to his wife, "That poor man forgot his pants!"
-L. Burwell Gunn, Chairman, 1990-1991
Indeed, the first eight months of 1989 saw 27 percent less office space leased than the same period a year earlier and lenders were beginning to foreclose on property in Fairfax. The Washington Post reported that to attract tenants building owners offered as much as eighteen months of free rent on a ten year lease.
In early 1990, declaring that "the magnitude of transportation issues in Fairfax County and Northern Virginia has paralyzed the region's political leadership," the Fairfax County Chamber announced an ambitious ten-year $1.5 billion transportation plan. Tolls on I-66, a local gas tax, and county government contributions were proposed to widen Interstate 66, complete the Fairfax County Parkway, and undertake other improvements. Chamber President Gary Hevey told the Post that this was a "pragmatic, doable program, which can be accomplished over the next 10 years." Indeed, the paper editorialized that it was a "proposal that the politicians would do well to digest and then execute." However, the weak economy ultimately short-circuited this plan.
The Chamber's advocacy on behalf of the business community also involves federal lawmakers. Here, the Chamber's leadership team, led by Chairman Gary Hevey (center) pays a visit to Capitol Hill,, where they met with Senators John Warner (center right) and Chuck Robb (center left) and Congressman Frank Wolf (third from left). (Photo, Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.
As 1990 drew to a close, the Chamber produced a professional evaluation of the business community's role in local economy and civic life. The "Fairfax Futures" report was meant to counter the misconceptions of citizens and political leaders about business growth. "We must not lose sight of the good things happening here. And we need to understand who is paying for them," the report urged. It cited research by George Mason University economist James T. Bennett that showed businesses providing a disproportionate share of taxes and donating much time and money to local charities.
As the Chamber's public relations effort was implemented, and as the entire nation suffered economically, the county suffered its worst post-war recession. Real estate values, especially those of high rise office buildings, continued to plunge. Nearly a quarter of Fairfax County's office space was vacant in January 1991, and unemployment was increasing. "It is obviously a very painful time for employers and employees across the board," Chamber President Judith Forehand told the Washington Post.
"The deal-closing, scene-making, dream spinning days aren't likely to return."
Fairfax County Government Center Complex (photo courtesy of theFairfax Office of Public Affairs)
By 1992, more than 7,300 jobs had been lost in Fairfax, an unprecedented occurrence in a jurisdiction that added nearly 180,000 jobs between 1980 and 1990. The "deal-closing, scene-making, dream spinning days aren't likely to return. An era of diminished expectations has arrived," declared the Post. Newsweek magazine termed the county government "financially troubled" and highlighted the perceived excesses of the new county government headquarters under construction in Fair Oaks. The Fairfax County Chamber urged economy in the building's completion and other county expenditures. It also sought a reversal of the County's development restrictions.
Of the 1991 local electoral choices, the Chamber said, "[p]erhaps at no other time in our history has this decision been more critical."
Tysons Corner has been a popular retail location since the 1960's, but now is known worldwide for its concentration of corporate offices and tech jobs. Tysons Corner has 22 million square feet of office space and McLean is ranked seventh in the U.S. for computer software jobs. (Photo courtesy of the Fairfax County Public Library Photographic Archive.)
"For the last four years, a series of actions by the county government has served to alienate and discourage the business community. Some political leaders have tried to polarize the county by pitting the business community against the residents. They seem to forget that the businesses in Fairfax County are residents too." After several incumbents were turned out of office and the new Board of Supervisors proposed a tax on restaurant sales to address a budget deficit, the Chamber also argued against that levy. The Chamber, however, supported merit pay for school teachers and otherwise continued its active commitment to public education.
In August 1991, in recognition of the increasingly significant role that high technology companies played in the local economy, the Northern Virginia Technology Council became legally independent of the Chamber at a ceremony featuring Lieutenant Governor Donald Beyer, Jr. Within a few years, it became one of the nation's most successful and visible technology organizations.
In 1995, under new President Lorraine Lavet and Chairman Joel Birken (titles since bestowed upon the professional head of the organization and the leader of the Board of Directors), the Chamber played the lead role in another effort to abolish the gross receipts tax levied by localities.
During the year, the Leadership Fairfax program became independent of the Chamber. In addition to many industry executives, by 1999 two members of the Board of Supervisors, the Sheriff, one member of the House of Delegates and other elected officials had completed the program.
Chairman Ed Bersoff tells a White House audience, including President Bill Clinton, that business will benefit from reduced government paperwork requirements during the 1995 ceremony to sign the "Paperwork Reduction Act" into law. (Photo, Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce)
In 1996, when a series of local tax increases were suggested, the Chamber worried about the potential of hampering economic recovery. It ran radio ads to push first for reduced county spending. Raising revenue without other adjustments would be another "reflection of our unwillingness to say no to nearly any new spending program over the past several years," Chairman Edward H. Bersoff told the Board of Supervisors.
The Fairfax County Chamber is the only chamber of commerce with two full-time lobbyists representing the Northern Virginia business community in Richmond and before the Board of Supervisors. �Wayne K. Hill, Jr.
By the end of the decade, the circumstances had changed and so too the Chamber's position. With the economy booming, the Chamber pushed for new school construction and transportation improvements. Among other projects, it pushed for a new 12-lane Woodrow Wilson Bridge to replace the forty year-old span that had long exceeded its design capacity. The county's inadequate infrastructure was seen as a result of the state's continuing practice of allocating insufficient money for Fairfax's needs.
Virginia Governor James S. Gilmore, III promoted his transportation package for Northern Virginia, at the Chamber's Board of Directors meeting in October, 1999 (Photo, Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce)
Because state and local government responsibilities had grown and changed over past years while tax collection mechanisms remained the same, the Chamber began to call for an overhaul of the tax system to better coordinate revenue sources with service requirements. In the meantime, because Fairfax's economic successes had allowed the state to enjoy extraordinary revenue gains, the Chamber pushed for the state to share some of its tax dollars with localities. With only fourteen percent of Virginia's population, Fairfax County businesses and residents provided twenty-four percent of the Commonwealth's income tax revenue. Chairman Todd Stottlemyer and President Judy Gray urged the Board of Supervisors not to reduce taxes in 1999 because doing so might make the situation seem less acute and therefore make state leaders even more reluctant to direct revenue to Fairfax County.
The 1990's closed out with the swearing-in of the Chamber's first African-American Chairman, attorney James W. Dyke, Jr. Building upon the work of previous Chairmen, Dyke and the Chamber's leadership brought renewed attention to Northern Virginia's transportation needs. "So far, only the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce has stepped into this leadership void, by calling for creative discussion with the governor of potential transportation solutions and funding sources," wrote the Washington Post. Due largely to the Chamber's advocacy, the 2000 session of the Virginia General Assembly was dominated by the transportation issue, and a $2.6 billion, six-year plan emerged to fund infrastructure projects around the Commonwealth.
The Valor Awards, now in its 22nd year, is the business community's way to say "thank you" to the public service heroes of Fairfax County. (Photo, Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce)
By its seventy-fifth year, the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce has grown to become "The Voice of Business in Northern Virginia." Its leaders have been called upon to discuss pressing business issues with the President of the United States. A former dairy community of about 23,000 residents is now home to nearly one million citizens.
No longer a suburb of Washington, D.C., most Fairfax County residents work here as well. Indeed, the county has the fifth largest amount of office space in the United States today.
Fairfax's businesses, many at the forefront of the new technology-based economy, are known worldwide. The County is home to about 2,000 technology companies with 60,000 local employees. Over half of the world's daily Internet traffic flows through the county. No doubt those founders who had gathered at the courthouse years before would be pleased and proud.
In the Chairmen's Words...
1990 was the year that the real estate market crashed and the area entered into the worst recession in years. The Chamber persevered, and led the country in changing from a predominant no growth attitude to supporting EDA efforts and otherwise opening back up for business. It was a very tough but rewarding year for the Chamber and set the stage for the prosperity we see today.
L. Burwell Gunn, Chairman, 1990-1991
The best part of my 15+ years (and still counting) association with the Chamber has been meeting hundreds of people I would not have otherwise met. I have received much more from the Chamber than I will ever be able to give back.
Dale Peck , Chairman, 1991-1992
My year as Chairman followed some difficult times for our country and the economy as a whole. The year was one of continued recovery, a more positive business climate and growth. We recognized Fairfax County as "The Region's Pride, The Nation's Envy." What a great year!
Michael Anzilotti , Chairman, 1992-1993
For 75 years, the Chamber of Commerce has shown that the concern of our business community is not limited to just commerce. It also includes the business of education, the business of art, the business of government, and the business of growing strong families and individuals.
Ed Bersoff , Chairman, 1995-1996
The Chamber has a consistent track record of promoting and advocating for the best interests of its member companies and the over 650,000 businessmen and businesswomen they employ. It is truly the voice of business in Northern Virginia.
Terrie G. Spiro, Chairman, 1997-1998
The Fairfax Chamber has been and continues to be the leading advocate for our County's and our region's continued economic prosperity and outstanding quality of life. The Chamber is second to none in its strong representation of the interests of business.
Todd Stottlemyer, Chairman, 1998-1999