Doing business in Virginia

Know the difference between Hoos and Hokies

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When it comes to doing business, states have distinctive personalities much like countries. For instance, in Japan the exchange of business cards and small gifts is an expected part of the etiquette.

So, what does it take to be successful in Virginia? While situated in the mid-Atlantic, the “dos” and “don’ts” can get sticky in a place that reveres history, high technology and a well-baked ham.

To find out, Virginia Business consulted three pros: Hugh Keogh, president emeritus, Virginia Chamber of Commerce; Mark Kilduff, retired executive director, Virginia Economic Development Partnership; and Dave Dickson, former director, Virginia Department of Business Assistance.
Collectively, they have more than 100 years of experience in business and economic development in Virginia.  Here are their top 25 tips on how to do business in the Old Dominion.


  1. Quickly learn the difference between Hoos and Hokies. Insensitivity to the state’s top sports rivalry between the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech could cost you a major deal.
  2. Pursue Virginia schools for partnerships. Increasingly relationships between business and four-year institutions are playing an important role in business development, such as James Madison University and SRI International; U.Va./Virginia Tech and Rolls-Royce.
  3. Don’t forget Virginia’s 23 community colleges. They provide businesses with work-force training.
  4. Brush up on your ABCs by establishing a business relationship with a K-12 school. It’s good for the community and for companies in need of a skilled work force for the 21st century.


  1. Bone up on Virginia’s charming geographic idiosyncrasies. Winchester is “down the Shenandoah Valley” even though it’s at its northern end, and the Northern Neck has nothing to do with body parts.
  2. Be especially careful when wagering on the state’s geography; the tip of Lee County really is west of Detroit.
  3. Obtain guidance when pronouncing Staunton, Fauquier, Botetourt and Wythe.
  4. Take advantage of Virginia’s strategic location in the midpoint of the Atlantic seaboard. It provides easy access to major domestic markets and serves as a gateway to international markets.
  5. Protect the state’s signature geographic assets: the Chesapeake Bay, Blue Ridge Mountains, James River, etc.  They enhance Virginia’s quality of life.

Global economy

  1. Consider global markets. In 1968, Virginia was the first state to open an office in Europe to recruit foreign direct investment. Today Virginia’s business and port development offices dot the globe.
  2. The burgeoning Hampton Roads port complex and Washington Dulles International Airport make it easy to tap into foreign markets.
  3. In 2009 Virginia companies exported $26.9 billion in goods and services. You can join their group by participating in state programs such as Virginia
  4. Leaders in Export Trade (VALET).
  5. On the flip side, “imports” is not a dirty word in Virginia, which holds a rather sophisticated view of the value of two-way trade in the 21st century. Use this view to your advantage. 

Business climate

  1. Predictability is a chief characteristic of doing business. The 6 percent corporate income tax rate hasn’t changed in nearly 40 years. Understand that what we value today will be valued tomorrow.
  2. Know your stats. Virginia was named the No. 1 state in the nation for business by for four years in a row.  (It’s now No. 2, behind Utah.)
  3. Virginia is one of 22 states with a right-to-work law and is the state closest to the Northeast markets so endowed.
  4. In the past, marketing professionals sold Virginia with a solid dose of boyish charm and an occasional bottle of Virginia Gentleman. Today Virginia boasts an array of financial incentives. Use them. 
  5. Tell your manufacturing friends about Virginia’s perks.  The state doesn’t tax personal property or the inventory of manufactured goods, exempting them from the BPOL tax and allowing separate classification of machinery and tools for local taxation.


  1. Virginia’s governors have set the tone for business development since Mills Godwin traveled to Europe in 1967. Other highlights include John Dalton bringing Virginia into Asia in 1981, Jerry Baliles launching the “Year of Trade” in 1987 and George Allen declaring “Virginia is open for business” in 1994. Current Gov. Bob McDonnell wants your business. Call him.
  2. Virginia’s reputation as a pro-business state is a product of continuing respect for free enterprise by the Virginia General Assembly. Get to know your legislators; they can be helpful to you.


  1. Every business needs a customer. Virginia is home to arguably the largest one in the world, the Pentagon, tucked away on the west side of the Potomac River in Arlington. Consider whether this could be a market driver for your company.
  2. Don’t forget about the state’s Virginia Tobacco Commission. It was created to provide assets that facilitate investments in rural and distressed Virginia.
  3. If your business is nautically oriented, remember that the world’s largest naval base and the only U.S. shipyard capable of constructing a nuclear aircraft carrier are both located in Hampton Roads.
  4. In meeting with prospective business partners, be punctual and respectful of people’s time. And don’t keep checking the Blackberry.
  5. Finally this: Thomas Jefferson remains the patron saint of Virginia. He has a quote for every situation, regardless of your business sector or political persuasion.  Invoke him often, and many heads will nod. 



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