Lusk aims to leverage emerging technology partnerships to transform lives
During his nearly 25 years of helping recruit companies to Fairfax County at the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk saw most businesses heading to the northern and western parts of the county.
“I could not get businesses to headquarter here on the [Richmond Highway] corridor,” Lusk told attendees of the 2022 Economic Outlook Summit held April 7 by the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce and the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation. “They wanted to be close to their suppliers and customers.”
While Lusk concluded that the corridor couldn’t easily draw companies in certain industries like software development, he saw an opportunity for growth in another area: emerging technologies. With that in mind, the newly elected supervisor set out in 2020 to achieve three goals: create a center on Richmond Highway focused on innovation and technology; identify an operator to run it; and find funding for it.
“It’s taken two years, but we’ve done all three of those things,” said Lusk.
The Workforce Innovation Skills Hub (WISH), part of the new community center in Lee District and tentatively scheduled to open in the June/July 2022 time frame, is designed to enable members of the local community to upskill into higher paying jobs, so they can afford health care, homes and college. Noting that many residents of the area around the community center – where the average income is reportedly $51K/year compared to the county-wide average of $124K – were some of the first to lose their jobs in the retail, leisure and hospitality industries during the pandemic, Lusk said that the county has a responsibility to help these individuals “who have been suffering for many, many years.”
As such, Lusk’s team is negotiating with companies like Amazon and Dominion Energy, as well as companies in the building trades, to provide apprenticeship training and employment opportunities for WISH participants. While Amazon will enable trainees to help construct or manage a new data center, Dominion Energy has proposed opening up opportunities for line maintenance workers and for the operations and maintenance of its new wind and hydro program.
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Lusk said his team is committed to doing everything they can to deal with inequity and provide opportunities for community members to move upward into the middle class.
“We are going to change the trajectory of their lives,” he said.
Besides helping residents of the Richmond Highway corridor, Lusk sees WISH as becoming “a launchpad for the diversification of the economic base along the corridor.”
Leveraging partnerships with companies like Amazon and focusing on emerging technologies will be a central part of that strategy, according to Lusk.
“You need to do stuff differently to get different results,” he said.