by Joan Tupponce
Shana Lawlor started her first business when she was a youngster. At 6, she ran a neighborhood lemonade stand. From there, she started selling vegetables — tomatoes and carrots from her parent’s garden and green beans from a neighbor’s. Today, Lawler remains in the food business. Her Arlington-based company, Alainn Exporting, exports dehydrated vegetables, organic products and gourmet delicacies around the world.
When Lawlor opened the business in 2007, she combined her passion for natural and organic foods with a love of international travel. “This company is very much a part of who I am,” she says. Before starting her company, she was a business consultant for several large international conglomerates in the Arlington area.
One of the benefits of locating in Arlington was the area’s proximity to three major airports and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.
Alainn, which in Gaelic means beautiful, exports more than 400 gourmet, natural and organic products made in the United States. Currently Lawlor represents 18 manufacturers. They include Virginia-based Feridies Peanuts and Mom Made Foods, which makes organic meals for children.
Lawlor targets small- to medium-size businesses that want to expand their reach internationally but need help from an outside source. “These companies don’t want to spend their resources to open a branch so Alainn becomes that branch,” says Lawlor.
She educates suppliers on the steps needed to get U.S. products into the hands of international consumers. “This is a growth market,” she says. “The market for organic food is strong, growing globally 20 to 25 percent a year.”
Since starting her company, Lawlor has received help and advice along the way. She has been involved with both the Southern U.S. Trade Association and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.
Lawlor moved to Arlington eight years ago and has enjoyed exploring the county’s communities. Arlington has nine urban villages, including Shirlington, Rosslyn and Ballston.
One of the area’s most visited destinations is Arlington National Cemetery. There visitors will find the Tomb of the Unknowns and the eternal flame at the grave of President John F. Kennedy. Two of Arlington’s newest memorials also draw visitors. The three stainless steel spires of Air Force Memorial are easily visible from Interstate 95, and the nearby Pentagon Memorial is a sobering reminder of the events of 9/11.
Arlington is also home to the Arlington Arts Center and a growing theater community.
The county’s economy
Arlington appeals to businesses for a variety of reasons. The county offers access to Washington, D.C., which is easy to reach by the Metrorail system. Arlington also has a highly educated work force. More than 60 percent of Arlington’s adults have at least a bachelor’s degree; 25 percent have advanced degrees. Top employers include Virginia Hospital Center with 2,354 employees; the Corporate Executive Board, 1,534; US Airways, 1,472; and Lockheed Martin Corp., 1,453. Arlington’s Ballston area has the highest concentration of scientific research agencies in the country. They include the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Companies that do business with government agencies are prevalent in Ballston as well. Another economic driver is tourism, with more than 40 hotels and more than 10,000 hotel rooms in Arlington.
Where to stay
Arlington is filled with hotels, from the Hyatt Regency in Crystal City to the upscale Ritz Carlton in Pentagon City. The Mobil four-star Ritz features the Ritz-Carlton Club level with a private lounge that offers continuous food and beverage selections throughout the day. Another perk is a fitness center with pool and sauna that has indoor access to The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. One of Arlington’s newest hotels is the Hotel Palomar. The boutique hotel, part of the Kimpton Hotel group, features upscale amenities and views of neighboring Washington.
Where to eat
Shana Lawlor likes the fact that many of the restaurants in the Shirlington section of Arlington have a local flavor. “They know your name when you walk in,” she says. A real foodie, Lawlor likes to frequent the Carlyle on Campbell Avenue because “there’s always something different on the menu.” She likes Mexican fare at Guajillo on Wilson Boulevard and particularly enjoys its Burro Dormido (vegetarian burrito) and Tostada Salad. Other favorite restaurants include the Thai restaurant Bangkok 54 on Columbia Pike, the Vietnamese restaurant Saigonique and Harry’s Tap Room on Clarendon Boulevard, which specializes in organic and naturally raised ingredients.
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