Technology, Education Drive Counties' Growth

Article excerpt

On a starlit night, the Civil War battlefields of Virginia's Prince William and Stafford counties might seem alive with the ghostly presence of men who fought there. Thousands lost their lives, and heroes were born in Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and the Wilderness. Today, thousands of visitors walk those same battlefields and reflect on this country's past, while other people prepare for the bright future and astonishing growth of the area.

Higher education and the latest in technology are what both counties and their sister cities - Fredericksburg and Manassas - are about. All are courting companies that will support growth and raise incomes of the approximately 400,000 people who also enjoy the area's affordable housing.

The Potomac River flows along the eastern border of both Northern Virginia counties. The 348 square miles that make up Prince William County lie just 35 miles southwest of the District. The county's population of nearly 270,000 earns a median family income of $52,078, according to the 1990 Census.

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY

The county's Department of Economic Development is working to keep growth moving. Three years ago, Prince William purchased 529 acres to build and develop the Innovation business park near Manassas, which will be occupied by technology-oriented companies - those that increase property values and train employees, says Bob Polley, project director at the department.

"Technology-oriented industries pay higher income to their employees," Mr. Polley says. "That assures that we have that kind of education and training in our population. That's the target."

This year, the county lured the bioscience firm American Type Culture Collection, a company that collects and catalogs cells, to the business park. ATCC formed a partnership to share research and facilities with the year-old George Mason University Institute for Biosciences, Bioinformatics and Biotechnology, also located in the business park.

"We have a strong partnership with the ATCC," says Dan Walsh, a spokesman for the university. "There's a lot of joint research and students working at both entities."

Besides the biotechnology facility, the school is nearing completion of an academic building, and construction is under way for a recreation center. The master plan calls for 12 to 14 buildings at the new county campus and anticipates that enrollment will jump from the current 1,000 to 1,500 students to 8,000 to 10,000 students in the next 10 years.

That roaring noise emanating from Manassas is not the sound of Civil War cannons. Instead, it's the cheers of thousands of students who will have Internet access through the city's technology initiative to wire every classroom, says Roger Snyder, director of economic development.

"The literacy test just came out, and we did much better than statewide," Mr. Snyder says.

Technology does not stop in the classroom. Here, too, the city is pursuing high-technology industry. Every day, 500 member organizations file 3 trillion electronic financial transactions using software developed by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications in Manassas. The telecommunications center employs 160 people, and that number is expected to cross the 300 mark in the near future.

The city's biggest coup is snagging the Dominion Semiconductor plant, which employs more than 700 people and is expected eventually to employ 1,200.

"It's bigger than almost anything in Northern Virginia in terms of dollar value," Mr. Snyder says. "That's the centerpiece of our economic development effort."

Jobs are not the only benefit of new industry. The tax revenues generated by Dominion Semiconductor are funding the construction of a new high school that will serve the city's estimated 34,000 residents. …