Lusk launches effort to bring tech accelerator/co-working space to highway

Richmond Highway near the Gerry Hyland Building

New sources of economic development have sprung up all over Northern Virginia in the past two decades. In Reston and Tyson’s Corner, for example, office space for multinational corporations fills as soon as it is built, and that area has become the center of the cloud computing revolution on the East Coast.

More recently, Amazon has designated parts of Arlington and the City of Alexandria to become their new “HQ2,” promising vast amounts of investment in the local infrastructure and economy.

But what about the southeastern part of the region? The Richmond Highway Corridor, in particular, has lagged behind the rest of the county economically.

New Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk has some ideas how to change this, and last Tuesday the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a proposal by Lusk to begin laying the groundwork for the development of a technology accelerator and co-working facility on the Richmond Highway Corridor.

“The project that I am proposing would be a public-private-partnership focused on the development and demonstration of emerging technology, providing both a ‘maker’s space’ as well as a coworking component designed to accelerate government contractors and entrepreneurs in emerging technology sectors,” Lusk said in a press release about the plan. “As tenants’ operations expand, add employees, and eventually outgrow the space, we would work with our partners at the Economic Development Authority to place them into existing or new spaces along the Corridor, or other strategic locations in Fairfax County.”

Two days later, Lusk held his first Facebook Live town hall to answer questions about the new project. Lusk noted it would provide several unique opportunities for area residents. First, the chance to live and work in the same place. Second, it would expose kids to new and emerging technology and third, the increase in wages twould help residents of the Corridor move up into the middle class.

Lusk and chief-of-staff Matt Renninger fielded questions during the town hall via Facebook’s comment section. Several questions were asked about the project’s impact on youth and education.

“We’re going to give our kids along the Corridor an opportunity to see what they can do in tech … and they might even be able to work there as well,” Lusk said.

He expanded on this later to say that his office is already talking with local educational institutions to partner with them and provide a platform for students to learn the skills that will be needed to take full advantage of the tech accelerator. He also said it would provide opportunities for continuing adult education, veterans and others.

A town hall participant asked if the program had been tried anywhere else in the county or the region. Lusk outlined three major differences between other tech accelerator programs and his proposal.

“We want to flip [normal tech accelerators focused on one sector] on it’s head … we want to have a broad panoply of technologies we can target and grow,” Lusk said, adding that this proposal includes a “maker’s space” or work-sharing facility and that unlike other incubators he’s heard of this would have a focus on emerging tech.

Other questions wanted to know about the process and timeline of this project.

“It is not going to happen tomorrow, unfortunately,” Lusk said. “We will have to research and bring back recommendations to the Board of Supervisors … in that research we will identify a location, and operator, and the cost and how we will pay for it.”

Finally, Lusk said he wants companies to look at the Richmond Highway Corridor as an “innovative place” where they will want to put down roots in. With the location between Amazon, the new Virginia Tech campus, and Fort Belvoir (the largest employer in Fairfax County) he sees the Corridor as an ideal location for emerging start-ups.

Mike O’Neill is a freelance writer and three-time cancer survivor who lives in the Kingstowne section of Lee District.