Seeking young workers

Technology, autos and call centers generate jobs in Central Virginia

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Richmond’s ability to attract millennial workers contributed to it landing a major employer last year.

Owens & Minor, a Mechanicsville-based Fortune 500 distributor of medical supplies, chose Richmond for a client engagement center after considering more than 60 other cities.

Of the center’s projected 500 workers, 300 will be either new hires or employees transferring from the company’s various distribution sites. In addition, about 200 workers will move downtown from the company’s headquarters.
Cody Phipps, Owens & Minor’s president and CEO, said the company wants to attract millennials — who soon will represent more than half the U.S. workforce. And millennials tend to want to work in cities such as Richmond.

Millennials have fueled a rebound in Richmond’s fortunes after seeing its population decline for decades. From 2010 to 2016, nearly 13,000 new residents moved to Richmond, increasing its population to an estimated 223,170.
With several colleges and universities in the region, including the more than 34,000 students at Virginia Commonwealth University, Owens & Minor believes it will have a pipeline of college graduates for jobs in customer service, purchasing and sales plus various financial management functions at its engagement center.

“Companies focused on a very young technology workforce are drawn to Richmond,” says Barry Matherly, president and CEO of the Greater Richmond Partnership, an economic development organization that serves the city and Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties.

Owens & Minor is not alone in tapping into the Richmond region’s millennial workforce. Thomson Reuters, an international media and information company, established an internal cybersecurity operations center in downtown Richmond last year with more than 60 employees.

‘Middle-office’ jobs
Another trend that has been rapidly developing is the creation of “middle-office” jobs, which in the past had been based at a company’s headquarters operations.

Middle-office IT jobs, for instance, can range from pay and receiving functions to research and analysis, software design and back-office operations.

“These are professional jobs, college-degree, high-paying jobs,” Matherly explains. “We’ve been focusing on the middle. We’re trying to evolve in that middle.”

The technology company that made the biggest splash in the region last year was Facebook (see related story on Page 17). The California-based social media giant is making a direct investment of $750 million in building a data center in the White Oak Technology Park in Henrico.

Hundreds of millions of additional dollars will be spent building solar facilities across the state to provide the data center with 100 percent renewable energy.

At build-out, Facebook is expected to become Henrico’s largest taxpayer.

Matherly says Facebook’s decision to locate in the region raises its profile in attracting other corporate prospects.

Auto-related cluster
In the Charlottesville region, Central Virginia Partnership President Helen Cauthen says that although there were no huge announcements last year, there was still good news.

“An atypical automobile-related cluster is developing in our region,” she says.

The charge is being led by Perrone Robotics, a Crozet-based company focused on software development for autonomous vehicles and robotics.

Last year, the company added 127 jobs, as the development of autonomous vehicles has become one of the hottest fields in the automobile industry.

Also in the automobile mix is Continental in Culpeper. In 2015, the company announced that it would begin investing significantly over three years in its Culpeper facility, which is focused on product lines providing stability control to motor vehicles, including the brakes and suspension.

Another element in the auto-related cluster is a vehicle research center in Ruckersville operated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Among other programs, the institute evaluates crash avoidance systems in vehicles.

Also related to this trend is the Center for Applied Biomechanics at the University of Virginia, the nation’s largest, university-based injury biomechanics laboratory in the world.

It was started by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 1989 and now operates a 30,000-square-foot facility that analyzes how the human body responds to injury.
Lynchburg call centers

In Lynchburg, the big employment news of 2017 was the arrival of Convergys, a customer management company.

The Cincinnati-based company plans to create a call center in Lynchburg hiring more than 600 customer service representatives and other workers over three years.

Call centers are big business in Lynchburg. In 2016, Pacific Life Insurance Co. announced that it was going to establish a call center, with a staff that would eventually number about 300.


Central Virginia’s recent deals

Company Location #Jobs
Convergys Corp. Lynchburg 600
Owens & Minor 1 Richmond 300 Inc. Hanover County 300
Envera Health Richmond 122
Perrone Robotics Albermarle County 127
Facebook Henrico County 100
Thomson Reuters2 Richmond 68
2nd Life Inc. Richmond 66
IMPREG International Henrico County 60
Sigora Solar Charlottesville 50
1 300 new hires or employees transferring from various distribution sites. 200 employees also will be transferred from Hanover County.
2 Company has headquarters in another country.                        
Source: Virginia Economic Development Partnership, 2017

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