Business Diversity Abounds In Virginia

A solid education system, infrastructure investments, a strong workforce, and resilient business climate are just some of the many reasons why more and more companies choose to call Virginia home.

By Carol Radice
From the May/June 2022 Issue

Encompassing some 42,000 square miles and steeped in history, the state of Virginia (named after Elizabeth “Virgin Queen” of England) is home to more than 8.4 million people, 16 state forests, and often considered Home of the Internet. With West Virginia to its west and North Carolina to its south, Virginia’s geographic diversity and wide range of attractions are hard to beat, from world-renowned beaches and best-in-class hiking to cultural museums and, of course, historical sites.

Business Diversity Virginia
(Photo: Creative Dog Media, 2021)

Its proximity to Washington, DC, means that many government offices are located in the Old Dominion state, including the Pentagon and the U.S. Navy Atlantic fleet. Virginia’s economy is as diverse and balanced as its topography. Industries that call the state home include agriculture, advanced manufacturing, aerospace, seafood harvesting, wineries, tech/software, communications, consulting, and defense contracting, just to name a few. It’s no surprise, then, that so many Fortune 500 companies have decided to call Virginia home.

And, as many reports can attest, the economic recovery that started last year in Virginia is continuing its upward trajectory with signs of growth being seen across the board, growth that state officials expect to continue for the foreseeable future.

Made In Greater Richmond, VA

As the capital of CNBC’s Best State for Business, Greater Richmond, VA, boasts a pro-business and affordable operating environment, a strong logistics network, and a diverse and educated workforce. It’s no wonder why companies have been manufacturing in the region for over 400 years.

Products like aluminum cans, cellophane, and Reynolds Wrap got their start in the Richmond, VA, region. Today, more than 1,100 manufacturing companies are making some of the world’s best-known products here.

Business Diversity Virginia
The DuPont Spruance facility is the company’s largest manufacturing facility in the world. (Photo: Chesterfield Economic Development)

Among manufacturing giants such as DuPont (makers of Kevlar and Tyvek) and Westrock (paper and packaging producers), the region is also home to two major food manufacturing facilities: the largest hummus plant in the world (Sabra) and the second-largest cookie factory for Mondelez (Oreos, Chips Ahoy!, Nilla Wafers, and more).

Sabra Dipping Company keeps growing its operations and its third—and latest—expansion added efficiencies to its 260,000-square-foot facility. The addition will decrease its carbon footprint by enabling freshly packaged hummus to get to stores and to consumers more quickly.

Spinning out 10,000 Oreos a minute, the Mondelez facility continues to expand its operations. The company’s recent investment includes a 68,000-square-foot expansion of the company’s Richmond Biscuit Bakery to support manufacturing operations and enable the site to house a high-speed, modern production line.

Why Richmond?

Located at the intersection of Interstates 95, 85, and 64, Greater Richmond offers manufacturers incredible market access to nearly half of the U.S. population within a one-day drive. Beyond roads, rail, and air, the Richmond Marine Terminal assists in easing supply chain concerns with its regular barge service to the nearby Port of Virginia, the most technologically advanced port in the country.

Both the state and region are business-friendly with welcoming operating costs and industrial electric rates 30 percent below the U.S. average, right-to-work status and fast-track permitting. Competitive tax rates exist with reduced machinery and tools (M+T), R+D and low to no business license tax rate (BPOL).

Made In Richmond

A handful of products made in Greater Richmond, Virginia include: ChapStick, ramen noodles, soy sauce, Sabra hummus, Marlboro cigarettes, Oreos, Kevlar, Tyvek, craft beer, Ritz crackers, Chips Ahoy!, Nilla Wafers, Wheat Thins, Saltine crackers, Trojan condoms, Robitussin, Children’s Advil, Dimetapp, Preparation H, Anbesol, and foil for Hershey kisses.

More than 31,000 manufacturing workers provide the talent that companies are looking for, and there is a strong pipeline of future talent with 2,000 key related degrees awarded annually in programs ranging from certificates to PhD level. Companies looking for custom training solutions and certification programs work with the Community College Workforce Alliance (CCWA). Companies can also work with the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) if looking to partner with academia and government to solve advanced manufacturing challenges together.

And in Greater Richmond companies can easily find the space they need—whether it’s existing, speculative, or build-to-suit. Although industrial space is in high demand, more than 12 million square feet of industrial space is currently under construction—more now than in the past 15 years due to major logistics demand from projects like Amazon’s new 2.6 million-square-foot robotic fulfillment center as well as both Walgreens and Lowe’s facilities.   

Rural Development In Gloucester, VA

Gloucester is the most rural community in the Hampton Roads Region of Virginia. It is a growing community thanks to necessary steps being taken to diversify its small but inviting community. With a population of 39,069 the community has a relaxed environment and exceptional location for small business growth. The real estate tax rate is $0.695 per $100 of assessed value.

When blue crabs migrate up the York River each summer, Gloucester watermen follow. For more than 70 years, their workboats have slipped in and out of the waterways. Aberdeen Creek is the county’s second busiest commercial seafood harbor, landing over $3.5 million worth of oysters and crabs each season. The county is home to two seafood plants and several watermen operations providing an abundance of oysters, clams, crabs, and striped bass each year to their east coast customers. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) is one of the largest marine research and education centers in the United States. Gloucester enjoys 500 miles of shoreline for both the seafood industry and for recreation.

Coleman Bridge
First opened in 1952, Virginia’s Coleman Bridge is the largest double-swing-span bridge in the U.S. and second largest in the world. Spanning the York River between Gloucester Point and Yorktown, the bridge was rebuilt in the mid-1990s at three-times the original size; its current span is 3,750 feet. (Photo: Gloucester County)

Like many rural communities, Gloucester is finding ways to reinvent itself to keep up with demands of the modern economy. They need to prepare for the future, but they are at a disadvantage in that they are more remote with fewer people and less infrastructure. In some ways they have advantages that no big city can beat. Once they understood their assets and resources—such as low real estate taxes, good quality of life, and a safe environment for their residents—they began to put those drivers in action.

There are several steps taking place to improve their economy: fixed wireless for the entire county is in progress with completion by the end of 2023; a strategy is being developed on broadband coverage throughout the community; solar farm development is replacing farm land and providing income to replace lost agricultural revenue; more than 2,000 single family homes are being planned in a single location to create a village concept; public recreational parks, both state and national, have been developed; a large retail center has been developed and is expanding; aquaculture and marine related business is a priority to diversify its economy, utilize its resources, and the pro-business attitude of its Gloucester leadership.

Gloucester has found that the number one rural economic superpower is creativity. Putting all your eggs in one corporate basket is the same mistake that municipalities all over America are still paying for today. Charming cities and towns that fell apart once the textile and furniture mills closed in the early 1990s are reinventing themselves again, so development is now more of a level playing field.

Rural economic development needs to encourage entrepreneurs. Start-ups need access to resources, source of capital and someone to navigate through the launch of the company—like the Small Business Development Center. The biggest growth in jobs comes from new companies and existing businesses that expand. Gloucester has a strong business visitation program to help mentor these businesses and provide a small business incentive program. Slow and consistent growth has proven to be the best for its community and why its development programs continue to be successful.

Port Of Virginia Is In Demand

The Port of Virginia is among the fastest growing ports in the U.S. and its success is being driven by several factors: greater use of technology; a diverse, 21st century port complex; a worldwide reputation for efficiency; and an experienced operations team. All of these factors, working in unison, are driving growth during the most challenging trade environment in history.

The Port of Virginia broke all-time records with 25 percent growth in 2021. During the first quarter of 2022, the port’s container cargo volume is already nine percent ahead of the same period last year. Underpinning this success is an expanding, experienced workforce that includes positions from skilled labor and finance to information technology. Many of these jobs are found inside the gates of the port’s six general cargo terminals.

In 2021, the Port of Virginia saw record activity with 25 percent growth that year. (Photo: Port of Virginia)

There are, however, even more jobs at private companies located throughout Virginia that service the port. These employers include the railroads that haul large blocks of cargo; logistics companies that plan the movement of cargo; the trucking firms that ensure the safe, timely transit of cargo; warehouses, where the cargo lands and gets sorted for its next move; and mechanics needed to maintain the equipment—cranes, railcars, trucks, etc.—used to move the cargo.

A recent study showed that the port and the activity tied to it was responsible for 437,000 full-time jobs and $100 billion in spending throughout the state. Ocean carriers sending big ships with heavy cargo loads to specific ports—those that are most efficient—is the industry’s new normal. This new normal is driving the port to invest $1.3 billion during the next five years to ensure it has the capacity to handle the growing demand. A key outcome of this investment will be job growth. Moreover, Portsmouth Marine Terminal (PMT)—a port-owned terminal—is at the forefront of the budding offshore-wind-to-energy industry that will require diverse groups of skilled professionals to support it.

Portsmouth Marine Terminal
The port-owned Portsmouth Marine Terminal is positioned as an offshore-wind logistics hub. (Photo: Port of Virginia)

PMT is positioned as the U.S. East Coast’s offshore-wind logistics hub. Its first project will be to handle the components to build 176 large wind turbines, 26 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. This investment will require a workforce with diverse skill sets that is readily available, possessing the discipline to learn.

The Port of Virginia, its supporting partners, and the region’s well-established maritime industry—shipbuilding and repair—is fortunate because there are regional training programs and centers for young people seeking maritime careers. Additionally, the offshore wind industry is developing its own training programs.

Given the region’s heavy military presence, The Port of Virginia and regional maritime interests have a unique advantage in that the military provides a steady stream of skilled professionals who are ready for life in the private sector.

The Port of Virginia is in demand because of its track record in handling the new normal and its long-term growth strategy. The success will be led by young professionals with diverse skill sets, training, experience, and education.

The Roanoke Region Of Virginia—Sites That Check All The Boxes

When it comes to choosing a site for business, you don’t want to compromise. Location, cost, utilities—how do you prioritize one over another? “In the Roanoke Region, you don’t have to. With pad-ready sites ranging from 10 to 130+ acres prepared for investment, the Roanoke Region is primed for investment from users ranging from food and beverage, transportation equipment, advanced manufacturing, data centers, and tech/innovation industries,” said John Hull, Executive Director of the Roanoke Regional Partnership.

Roanoke Region Innovation Corridor
Roanoke Region Innovation Corridor (Photo: Roanoke Regional Partnership)

And livability? That’s covered, too. The world-famous Blue Ridge Parkway runs through the heart of the region, and it’s the East Coast Mountain Biking Capital. There are 24 major rivers for paddling and over 30 miles of urban greenway. Dining, breweries, museums, and live performances provide something for everyone.

Utilities. Abundant utility abilities exist throughout the region with water and sewer capacities regionally more than 55 million gallons per day. Food and beverage industry enjoys high-quality water supply and considerable savings on rates, wastewater permitting, and treatment costs. Electrical and natural gas connections are widely available, fueling the energy needs of industry today and into the future.

Location. Sites are all literal minutes from the interstate and U.S. highways, many of which are just a few miles from either Interstates 81 or 64.  Located equidistant between New York and Atlanta on the U.S. east coast with convenient access to five Interstates, the Roanoke Region is a day’s drive to 66 percent of the U.S. population.   

Access. The region is served by the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport currently providing nonstop service to nine destinations. Industry is one stop from anywhere in the world by way of Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport, the fourth largest cargo airport in the Commonwealth of Virginia with UPS and FedEx air freight operations.

Cost of Doing Business. Business costs are conducive to growth. Costs of doing business are rated 18 percent below national average, and the cost of living is 12 percent below the national baseline. “With strong transportation access to the East Coast and Midwest, the cost to ship products is lower here,” Hull said. “The bottom line is that our low costs equal high returns.”

Innovation. With more than 25 colleges and universities within one hour, the region has a higher undergraduate enrollment than Austin, Boston, San Francisco, and the Research Triangle. Research assets at Virginia Tech touch manufacturing, agriculture, food science, innovation/biotech and health, among other fields.   

Workforce Development. Diverse and suitable training programs are available for a range of industry including STEM fields, industrial automation, industrial maintenance, and more. With partnership opportunities through the top-ranked Virginia Talent Accelerator and area community colleges, Hull noted that these programs work to the advantage of companies expanding into the Roanoke Region of Virginia.

The Roanoke Region is ripe for investment with the ideal mix of metro, mountains, innovation, and industry. Said Hull, “It’s a beautiful, vibrant area with the perfect number of big-town amenities and small-town prices, making it the ideal place to set up shop and put down roots. Don’t settle.”