There is an old cliché about real estate site selection that lists the most important factors as location, location, location. And while that remains true to a large extent, if we’ve learned anything from being a finalist for the Amazon HQ2 project, it’s that priorities have changed. In today’s world, a more accurate list of priorities would likely be workforce, workforce, location.
Recently, Holly Sullivan, the head of world-wide economic development for Amazon, said that the number one recommendation she has for communities is to lead with the talent pipeline. And this is not unique to Amazon or the tech industry as a whole. We hear from companies and site selectors that the availability and sustainability of the workforce is the most critical location factor they consider.
Almost 40 percent of American employers say they cannot find people with the skills they need. In Loudoun County, Virginia, we have taken these lessons to heart and have created a proactive workforce program that is focused on the training, attraction and retention of the talent needed to drive the future of our economy.
Starting Early Is Critical
The new age of Loudoun’s workforce is upon us: we are taking bold and necessary steps toward building programs to prepare our students and better connect them to the knowledge, possibilities, innovation and skill demands of tomorrow’s business environment. A newly created workforce development position in Loudoun Economic Development will build connections and solutions to meet the growing and dynamic employment needs within the county’s diverse tech and industry environment.
Loudoun County schools are doing their part to make sure there’s a pipeline of talent ready to join the workforce ranks. The county is equipping the next generation of workers early. Kindergarten students are learning to code in the system’s computer science immersion schools; it’s imbedded in the class curricula and in after-school enrichment programs.
The Academies of Loudoun, a newly opened, three-story, world-class education facility on 119 acres in Loudoun County, is dedicated to inspiring student scholars to explore, research, collaborate and innovate in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Experiential learning is also a vital component which allows students to benefit from direct experience outside of the traditional academic setting, in areas such as internships, apprenticeships, job shadowing, mentorships and practicums identified by community businesses.
As new technologies and industries develop, workforce strategies are evolving to meet new needs. Recently released reports on the demand for tech talent in the greater Washington, D.C. area indicate that employers are challenged in finding qualified talent with the necessary skill or competency experience and continue to struggle to find candidates with soft skills competencies like problem-solving and critical thinking. Employers also stated they are more willing to hire candidates without a traditional four-year degree as long as it’s not required by their customer. And higher education leaders are responding.
Recently, the Northern Virginia Community College’s Loudoun campus announced it was partnering with Amazon Web Services on an I.T. and cloud computing specialization — one of the first in the nation offered by a community college. AWS also teamed up with the college to launch its only East Coast apprenticeship program.
The ADVANCE program, a new partnership with Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University, provides targeted assistance for students to make every credit count by dedicating success coaches to help them obtain their degrees.
In Loudoun, we also recognize that quality of place is an important differentiator in attracting and retaining talent. Today’s workforce is attracted to areas that meet their needs beyond working, including entertainment, cultural, shopping, dining, and recreational opportunities. Loudoun is capitalizing on this live, work, play and learn trend by creating curated mixed-use communities along new Washington, D.C. commuter train stations, and elsewhere through the county.
Many great companies already call Loudoun home, from divisions of multi-national corporations like Google, Discovery, Raytheon, and Verizon Business, to local success stories like Neustar, K2M and Telos. Loudoun boasts one of the most educated workforces in the country (almost 60 percent have at least a bachelor’s degree) and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country at just over 2 percent. But in many ways, we’re just getting started. By combining a cutting-edge workforce development program with a world-class community, Loudoun continues to build a unique location with a thriving business base and an environment for healthy and happy individuals and families. It’s what we call #LoudounPossible.
If your company or client needs a highly skilled, highly educated tech workforce, and values diversity and an unparalleled quality of life, consider Loudoun County, Virginia.
To discuss Loudoun's advantages and opportunities, contact Loudoun Economic Development's Executive Director Buddy Rizer at 1-800-LOUDOUN, or by email at Buddy.Rizzer@Loudoun.gov.