Why Virginia? A Q&A With Secretary Caren Merrick

Caren Merrick, Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade, shares how the commonwealth's strategic ecosystems and strong talent pipeline offer opportunity to companies across many industries.

By the BF Staff
From the September / October 2023 Issue

 

Caren Merrick
Caren Merrick, Secretary, Virginia Department of Commerce and Trade

“Historic investments in site development will enhance the Commonwealth’s infrastructure with more competitive project-ready sites.”

Business Facilities: Tell us about the status of economic development and the business climate in Virginia.

Caren Merrick: Virginia’s economy continues to show positive growth, and as we accelerate talent development, bring down the cost of living, and become even more business-friendly, we can grow exponentially. Virginia has a 10-year high in labor force participation—200,000 more Virginians are employed today than in January 2022—and we are committed to preparing our workforce to acquire in-demand, marketable skills and grow the talent pipeline for our current and future employers.

We are building strategic ecosystems for key industry sectors, improving connections between talent and businesses. Historic investments in site development will enhance the Commonwealth’s infrastructure with more competitive project-ready sites.

We are addressing housing supply shortages, energy costs, and individual taxes to reduce the cost of living in Virginia, modernizing regulatory processes to reduce business costs, and strengthening a statewide culture conducive to entrepreneurship.

These investments and implementation of policies that impact job growth and business investment will ensure Virginia is the best place to live, work, and do business in the U.S.

Caren Merrick
Secretary Merrick gives remarks at LEGO Group’s manufacturing groundbreaking ceremony. (Photo: Christian Martinez/Office of Governor Glenn Youngkin)
BF: Why should companies consider Virginia for relocation or expansion? What are long-standing advantages or recent developments that businesses should consider?

Merrick: Recently ranked the No. 2 Top State for Business in America by CNBC, Virginia offers the environment for business success. A strategic mid-Atlantic location with proximity to key global and domestic economic hubs is magnified by world-class infrastructure.

Located within a one-day drive of nearly half of U.S. consumers, Virginia’s highway network is the second densest in the Southeast and every region has access to at least one of 16 commercial airports.

The Port of Virginia, named the Top Performing Port in North America (S&P Global, World Bank), is in the process of a $1.4 billion modernization and expansion project that will create the deepest, widest, and safest commercial shipping channels and harbor on the East Coast.

Virginia was also ranked the No. 1 state in the U.S. for Education by CNBC. Across industries, Virginia’s workforce is one of the most educated populations in the country, and the Commonwealth continues to raise the bar when it comes to talent development to ensure Virginians are prepared for the jobs of today and the future.
Home to the largest data center market in the U.S., the highest concentration of tech workers in the country, and a varied manufacturing base, Virginia’s industries are as diverse as its geography.

Virginia is strengthening ecosystems around core industry clusters critical to employment growth that encompass knowledge work (business services, software and cybersecurity, financial services, aerospace and defense), manufacturing, and transportation and logistics.

BF: What is a recent project relocation or expansion that reflects the investment activity into Virginia right now?

Merrick: Amazon Web Services plans to invest $35 billion by 2040 to establish multiple data center campuses across Virginia—the largest capital investment in our history.
We have welcomed the global headquarters relocations of aerospace giants Boeing and Raytheon and secured the expansion of Hilton’s global headquarters in Fairfax County. The

LEGO Group is investing more than $1 billion to establish its only U.S. manufacturing plant in Chesterfield County, which will create over 1,760 new jobs.

Plenty is building the world’s largest indoor vertical farming campus in Virginia, representing a $300 million investment. Rocket Lab USA selected Wallops Island, Virginia as the location for its launch site and will invest over $100 million to construct its manufacturing and operations facilities for its Neutron rocket.

These significant wins reinforce the advantages that make Virginia the best location for business in America.

Caren Merrick
(From left to right) Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matt Lohr, Plenty CEO Arama Kukutai, Governor Glenn Youngkin, Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick, and Chairman of the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors Kevin Carroll (Matoaca District) sign an I-beam at the Plenty groundbreaking. (Photo: Christian Martinez/Office of Governor Glenn Youngkin)
BF: Would you highlight an incentive or program that’s having impact on the Virginia business climate? Or, tell us about a recently introduced program.

Merrick: Virginia was ranked No.1 in the U.S. for Customized Workforce Training in the 2023 Business Facilities State Rankings Report.

The Virginia Talent Accelerator Program is a workforce initiative created by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership in collaboration with the Virginia Community College System and other higher education partners, with funding support from the administration and the Virginia General Assembly.

The program accelerates new facility start-ups through the direct delivery of recruitment and training services that are fully customized to a company’s unique products, processes, equipment, standards, and culture.

All program services are provided at no cost to qualified new and expanding companies as an incentive for job creation. Since its launch in 2019, the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program has helped to secure more than 11,000 jobs across the Commonwealth.

BF: What does the future hold for the state’s business climate? And quality of life?

Merrick: Governor Youngkin’s initiatives are catalyzing waves of economic investments and business expansions across multiple industries to invigorate job growth and opportunity in Virginia.

With a competitive cost of living, a mild four-season climate, and a diverse range of natural and cultural attractions, Virginia offers an exceptional quality of life. Vibrant urban centers and picturesque small towns are alive with arts, culture, history, and stunning landscapes.

With a competitive cost of living, a mild four-season climate, and a diverse range of natural and cultural attractions, Virginia offers an exceptional quality of life. Vibrant urban centers and picturesque small towns are alive with arts, culture, history, and stunning landscapes.
Outdoor enthusiasts are within easy driving distance to the scenic shorelines of Virginia’s beaches and rivers as well as hiking trails and mountain vistas.

For these reasons and many others, Forbes ranked Virginia No. 1 in the U.S. for Quality of Life.

Check out all the latest news related to Virginia economic development, corporate relocation, corporate expansion and site selection.

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