WHO: Lara Fritts, executive director, Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation
WHERE: Home in Fort Washington, Md.; office on Richmond Highway in Alexandria
WHEN: Born in Green Bay, Wisc., as Lara VandeWalle, she earned a masters degree in urban studies from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Fritts went on to lead the revitalization efforts in her hometown before moving to the Washington area ten years ago. While living in Rockville, Fritts ran the Greater Rockville Partnership, an organization dedicated to growing technology companies and revitalizing the Rockville Town Center. Three years later, she was appointed to her current position with the 25-year-old Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation (SFDC). The public-private nonprofit group works to revitalize the seven miles of Richmond Highway between the Capital Beltway and Fort Belvoir. The SFDC brochure rhetorically asks prospective developers Why Richmond Highway? The brochure information reveals that planned expansion of Fort Belvoir could mean 4,000 more jobs around Richmond Highway by 2011. By 2010, Fritts claims, All households within five miles [of the Highway] will make $100,000 or more. Since Fritts joined SFDC three years ago, developers have responded with investments in the hundreds of millions.
Fritts listed about 25 commercial projects already underway. They include two new Walgreens pharmacies, at Richmond Highway and Boswell Avenue and Richmond Highway at Beacon Hill Road Walgreens had realized that there was a huge market leakage for pharmacies within five miles of the highway, Fritts explained. For these projects, she helped the business owners obtain the needed permits. The SFDC also manages a grant program for Fairfax County to freshen up building facades.
Fritts often works with both sides of the transaction, first searching for the developers and then advocating for them with the government. As her marketing and communications manager Anne Richardson explained, She puts them in contact with the people they need to be in contact with.
The networking aspect of the job meant a trip to the International Council of Shopping Centers at the D.C. Convention Center this March. If visitors were looking for possible investments around the Highway, Fritts was quick to ask if she could help them with their plans. Three or four of these potential investors have been looking at available space.
WHY: Fritts enjoys her job because she like[s] being able to provide more tax revenue to allow for greater services for our community residentsand I also enjoy the people I get to work with.
WHAT: She lives in Fort Washington with her husband, Mike, a federal employee, and their dog, Rascal, who, she insists, is aptly named. In her rare spare time, she tries to volunteer for nonprofit organizations, most notably Junior Achievement, which helps promote financial literacy among young people. I have been involved with them since I was in high school, she said. And I help coordinate evening programs with classroom volunteers. In addition, she is on the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce board of directors.
WHICH WAY: Fritts expressed her optimism by saying, I think there are still so many opportunities on Richmond Highway, with new business development encouraging others to look at the area. We have accomplished a lot with much more to come.