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  • Sophia Zheng

Case Study: Growing Economic Development initiatives with Bludot in Fairfax, VA

The City of Fairfax, Virginia has roots dating back to the colonial era, but has been rapidly expanding to the future. I met with Christopher and Matthew to learn more about the city, what initiatives they’re doubling down on, and how implementing Bludot allows them to support their expanded portfolio in the Fairfax Economic Development Department.

1. Tell us a little more about Fairfax and your roles.

Christopher: I am the Director of Economic Development and have been with the city of Fairfax now for 6.5 short years. In that time our economic development efforts and our economic development work has exploded! When I joined the city, economic development was a program of 1 person – we [now have] 12 people working on economic development work in the city.

Matthew: I'm the Assistant Director for Economic Development. I think I've probably seen the most growth in my two years here.

2. Can you tell us more about the initiatives that have been successful for your department and your relationship with business owners?

Christopher: We launched a Restaurant Week in the city in 2018 and it was hugely successful but it wasn't anything that I was gonna write home about. Then, we looked at what the fiscal impact of it was and realized it was many millions of dollars injected into the local economy just for a two-week period. And what we realized, for some businesses, that might be the make or break for them in a very slow winter or a slow summer. So we started really leaning into what restaurant week was and how it could work and now it has turned itself into a business retention project that we are working to support the existing restaurant participants. We were really able to provide a really good program that actually builds up these small, locally owned, and independent restaurants, and allows them to grow within Fairfax City.

Matthew: What [Christopher] has described was making us pivot to more of a thoughtful office in the way that we are developing economies.

3. Can you share more about the Mason Enterprise Center?

Christopher: One of our strategic partnerships is the city’s small business incubator that we have in cooperation with George Mason University. It's the Mason Enterprise Center – Fairfax. In 2020, it was coming up at the end of the agreement and we realized that it contributes a significant amount of investment into Fairfax City and also helps us attract other businesses that want to locate near those existing businesses.

So, we doubled down on that – moved them from the old office building that they were in, into a Class A office space in the city and we signed a new 10-year commitment with them. We really reinvested in what that program should be. In doing that, we actually launched our largest business retention project that Fairfax City has ever had, keeping somewhere between 55 and 65 businesses in the city with the move.

4. How do you collaborate across such a big department?

Christopher: We are very much a department in transition, both staffed but also operationally. We're hoping that Bludot helps us zero in on this and to a degree it has already. There's a lot that falls through the cracks and I think actually where Bludot is coming in. It's taking our relationship management and it’s like the safety net that catches all the stuff that falls through the cracks.

5. Could you tell me a bit more about how you are using Bludot and which features benefit you most?

Christopher: The portfolio of the agency has expanded throughout the pandemic – before, we were doing more traditional economic development work and we had to pivot really quickly to small business support. As we started going through that process, we picked up another CRM, Salesforce. At the time, we thought it was the only option and so we made do with it. Pretty quickly, we realized that it didn't actually respond to the needs of what we were trying to do and it was not exactly intuitive or user friendly. So when we began pivoting back in 2022 towards more traditional economic development…we also wanted to find a tool that was more useful to us – that's where Bludot comes in.

It has allowed us to really step up our business investment game and our business attraction and retention program. We've been tracking relationships and assigning projects and actually building that out a lot. It has represented a shift in our priorities over the last 6 to 12 months and it's the direction that we're going.

6. What advice do you have for others?

Christopher: Having a plan thought out and keeping organized or remaining organized is the best way to incrementally measure your advancement or achievement of that plan. We are learning from our mistakes, in that we had a very ad-hoc economic development plan. Honestly, it worked out well sometimes, but this has allowed us to allocate resources in a thoughtful, but strategic and methodical way. [Bludot] allows us to, in a way, slow down the process and figure out what needs to happen, in what order, so that we can guarantee the highest possible likelihood of success.

Matthew: We move at a very fast clip in economic development but there are certain aspects of our processes that I feel like we need to slow down to create better organization while remaining at that clip. Bludot is a good tool in that way because maybe it's not slowing us down but it is allowing us to better organize and we're able to see that organization happen in real time.

7. What initiatives is your city going to be working on in the upcoming year?

Christopher: We are working on a project to identify commercial office space that is vacant and we are launching a grant program to attract businesses to lease those commercial office spaces. That's something that I'm really looking forward to having us get up and launch!

I will say there are a number of projects in Bludot that we are working on that are potentially representative of the largest new business investment in the city's history and I think it's probably more unlikely than not that it moves forward – but the fact that we are able to play in that sandbox now is a huge advantage for Fairfax City.


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