He helped lure Amazon and Google to Northern Virginia. Here’s how he’s retaining talent during the Great Resignation
Victor Hoskins, President and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority knows a thing or two about attracting talent.
Hoskins began in his role in August 2019 after nearly five years as Arlington County’s director of economic development, where he led the team that brought Amazon’s HQ2 to Northern Virginia. The $2.5 billion deal, with which Hoskins is largely credited, is expected to create at least 25,000 local jobs, the Washington Post reported, and generate up to $4.8 billion in revenue for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Hoskins has spent his career revitalizing different pockets of the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area. Before Arlington, he led economic development efforts in Prince George’s County, Maryland, was deputy mayor for planning and development in Washington, D.C., and led Maryland’s Department of Housing and Community Development.
Since Hoskins took the helm, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Volkswagen, among other conglomerates, have made million-dollar deals to bring their business to Fairfax County, a suburb outside of Washington, D.C. In 2019, with 10 Northern Virginia jurisdictions, Hoskins established the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance, which helps the region gun for other large projects.
They’re in good company; Fairfax is currently home to 11 Fortune 500 companies, including Capital One, Hilton Worldwide, Leidos, and Northrop Grumman. But its population of 1.1 million residents skews older than those of neighbors Arlington and Washington, D.C. Hoskins is attempting to change that by making it an attractive hub for young professionals.
Shortly into his tenure, the FCEDA launched a program aimed at attracting younger workers to the areas through digital outreach. With the program, and in his capacity as CEO, Hoskins has prioritized helping local businesses of all sizes to recruit, hire and retain skilled workers, particularly younger workers, as well as attract new talent who may be switching industries or graduating from local universities.
“That young knowledge capital is extremely critical for our future,” he told Fortune on Monday. “We have 90,000 graduates coming out of the 60 universities in our region every year; we need to do a better job of retaining them.”
The Great Resignation has not spared Fairfax, where Hoskins says “a lot of people have decided, ‘okay, I’ve done enough work and I’m financially set.’”
Hoskins calls millennials, and particularly Gen Z, the “fuel for our future because, within five or ten years, they’ll be 75% of the workforce.”
To pull off the county’s most ambitious initiatives, each of which require several millions of dollars and months of planning, Hoskins relies on the same tenets he prioritizes for Fairfax businesses: a healthy workplace dynamic that employers have no interest in leaving.
“Everyone has a special talent, and it’s their leader’s job to find that,” Hoskins said. “I usually talk to everyone [at FCEDA] one-on-one over a 30-day period, and after that period, I search for the things that excite them.”
Hoskins has a particular interest in helping each of his employees find their special talent, and nurture their growth. Few FCEDA employees have been involved in any kind of leadership program, he said. “I tell my directors they need to grow their replacements. We’ve probably put seven or eight people through a leadership program; that’s the difference between leadership and management.”
Long-term success and commitment at work has proven vital for new entrants to the job market. When selecting a job, Gen Z job candidates surveyed in October 2021 by recruitment software company RippleMatch were found to rank both professional development and upward mobility as more important than compensation.
In executing on large-scale projects, it’s “extraordinarily important” for managers to understand and monitor specific key performance indicators (KPIs) and manage their people accordingly. But that’s not the whole picture, Hoskins said.
“One of the things managers don’t always do is make sure their people are focused on the right things,” he added. “Part of that you do directly; part of that you do by coaching.”
Once a manager rises to the executive level, or what Hoskins calls the “leadership level,” his or her day can be spent more on coaching than on tracking metrics.
“I’ve learned I have to teach my managers that they’re growing people,” he said. “It’s exciting to work on an expansion or relocation project with 400 employees involved. When you’re in upper management, you want to hold onto those things. But when you’re a leader, you want to give those things away to your team, so you can grow their talent.”
The difference between management and leadership, at any company, is that leaders recognize the value in giving a project they love away to their team members who may stand to gain significantly more.
“Leaders are more concerned with the thinking of their people, and making sure they’re getting the assignments that feed their passion, so they can grow and one day replace them,” he said. “I love when my mentees take over my job. I try to create an environment my team doesn’t want to leave.”
As the standards of a post-pandemic workplace emerge, Hoskins is preparing for his leadership demands to transform.
“It’s impossible for anyone to say they’ll manage exactly like they did pre-COVID,” he said. “You can’t operate the way you used to; my expectations are just to accommodate my teams and our clients.”
But in a work setting with few reliable rules, Hoskins relies on three key leadership traits: collaboration, customer focus, and trust.
“I believe if you can find a good strategic partner, your capabilities are larger and your expectations can grow,” he said. “20 years ago, I was far more competitive, but I’ve learned that collaboration is so much more powerful than always competing.”
Hoskins believes in the significance of handing off projects to capable team members, even if they’ve yet to lead something of such consequence.
“I want to get people’s trust, and I want to trust people,” he said. Recently someone questioned why he’d given a huge assignment to a young staffer. Can they handle it? He says he trusts that if the employee runs into something they can’t handle, they’ll reach out for help. “We set up the guardrails we need to set up, and then we have to trust our people and their judgement, and that they’ll do the right thing.”
Without a trusting environment, he said, “I don’t know how you could attract greatness.”
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