Tech Talent Focus Cited For Helping Lure Amazon to Northern Virginia

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Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus in Alexandria will be a “vibrant magnet for talent – not just for the East Coast but for the world,” President Tim Sands told an audience of 3,000 people in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

Sands joined Holly Sullivan, director of worldwide economic development for Amazon, and Matt Kelly, CEO of JBG Smith, on the opening keynote panel of the Urban Land Institute’s fall meeting. Jason Miller, chief executive officer of the Greater Washington Partnership, moderated the discussion focused on the process leading Amazon to bring its HQ2 to Arlington.

Amazon’s Sullivan said Virginia’s $1 billion plan to bolster the tech talent pipeline – which includes the Innovation Campus – was key to the company’s decision to pick a combined Arlington-Alexandria bid over proposals from 237 other localities who responded to the company’s call for submissions. Sullivan led the effort for Amazon’s HQ2 search.

“We need talent on Day One, but we also need the robust partnerships of creating a talent pipeline,” said Sullivan, stressing the need not just to create and attract new talent but to retain what’s already there.

The Washington, D.C., metro area already produces a lot of tech talent, Sullivan noted, but there wasn’t a catalyst in the region to keep it from leaving.

“It became apparent that if we could harness more of that talent, and also diversify the type of talent here … that we could create a new talent pool for the entire region,” she said.

Sands noted that Virginia Tech computer science graduates often pursue jobs in California’s Silicon Valley because they perceive greater opportunity in that region. “We now have the opportunity to change that perception for our recent graduates,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to keeping more Hokies in the neighborhood, and I think this is going to do it.”

JBG’s Kelly stressed that regional cooperation between localities was key to attracting Amazon and that it will continue to be a key to maximizing the impact of the jobs and talent pool that are created.

Virginia Tech will partner with Lionstone Investments to build its Innovation Campus in Alexandria as part of a new 65-acre mixed-use development and innovation district in National Landing, about a mile from Amazon’s planned campus and just steps away from the future Potomac Yard Metrorail Station.

“The joint force of Amazon with the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus will be a global beacon of public-private partnership that will set a new standard for creating an amenity-rich environment that will truly drive this local economy,” Lionstone President Jane Page said in introducing Wednesday’s keynote panel at the ULI conference, which also included separate sessions featuring Brandy Salmon, managing director of the Innovation Campus, and Steve McKnight, vice president at Virginia Tech.

And ULI wasn’t the only large conference in the D.C. region this week to showcase the Innovation Campus’ role in spurring economic development.

On Thursday, Dwayne Pinkney, senior vice president for operations and administration and chief business officer, presented at the Global Workspace Association Conference on a panel titled: “The Ripple Effect: Amazon HQ2, Virginia Tech Innovation Campus and the Future of the Region.” Pinkney stressed the “crucial” importance of partnerships to the success of the Innovation Campus and the region.

“We are creating the space to build partnerships both private and public and engaging with our alumni in the region,” he said as part of a panel that also included Alexandria City Councilman John Taylor Chapman.

The Innovation Campus will focus on the intersection between technology and the human experience, Sands said at ULI, leading the way not just in technical domains but also looking at the policy and ethical implications to ensure that technology doesn’t drive inequity.

“There’s a huge potential that this region will be the leader of paving the way toward that future, where the prosperity is shared by all,” Sands said. “It’s a grand vision … but we have an opportunity to figure that out right here. That’s really exciting.”