Virginia plays host to international businesses

  •  | 
Print this page Julie Rothey
Article image
Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe greets Loretta Lee, founder of Merchant House International.
Courtesy Bristol Herald Courier

Virginia’s Southern hospitality extends into the business world. The state hosts more than 750 foreign firms, according to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP).

And that has a big impact on the Virginia economy. In the last five years, VEDP reports that Virginia has brought in more than $5 billion in international investment, creating more than 18,000 jobs. About 35 percent of that investment came from China, followed by Japan at 12 percent. Companies based in the United Kingdom created the most jobs during that period — almost 3,000.

Foreign firms expand to Virginia for many reasons, including its skilled workforce and mid-Atlantic location.

Here are the stories of four international companies that recently announced new investments or major expansions in the commonwealth.
American Merchant Inc. is investing almost $20 million to open its first U.S. location in Bristol, where the company will manufacture bath towels.  American Merchant is a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Merchant House International.

“We wanted to come back to America because of the fact there’s an abundance of cotton, and there’s a very strong energy grid,” says Robert Burton, chairman of American Merchant. He says the company chose Virginia because of its proximity to cotton-spinning facilities and skilled labor.

Then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe approved a $300,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund for the project. The company also received $590,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and will receive support for job training. “That made Virginia a little more attractive and gave it the nudge over other places that we were looking at,” Burton says of the incentives.

The company also considered locations in North and South Carolina.

The project is expected to create 400 jobs. Burton says the company will hire locally and from Virginia when possible, as well as reach out to veterans. “When you take a look at what a midshipman does on an aircraft carrier or a boat, we have a lot of the same types of infrastructure,” he says.

The company plans to have equipment in place by October and begin production in January.

Another foreign firm, Sweden-based Volvo Group recently made a big investment in Pulaski County, where the company operates its largest Volvo truck manufacturing plant in the world. In December 2017 the plant finalized a lease with the Pulaski County Industrial Development Authority for 221 acres next to the current facility. Volvo Trucks North America also acquired 49 acres from the county as part of a previous performance agreement. The company plans to extend its 1.1-mile customer experience track, but says they have no further plans for the land.

“Volvo’s land acquisition and the option agreement on the more than 220 acres contiguous to their current operations has the potential to be one of the most transformative investments the county has recently embarked on,” Jonathan D. Sweet, county administrator, said in a statement at the time of the announcement.

In October, the U.S. division of Japan-based Ariake announced it would spend $17 million to expand its manufacturing plant in Harrisonburg. The manufacturer of stocks, bases and seasonings will add 20,000 square feet to its facility, creating 22 jobs. Ariake USA has been manufacturing in Harrisonburg since 1990 and has expanded several times. McAuliffe approved $75,000 from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund.
Muhlbauer Inc. late last year completed a 52,000-square-foot expansion of its facility in Newport News, where it has operated since 1992. The German company produces technology for smart cards, RFID chips and solar back-end industries.

The 51,200-square-foot expansion, named the Smart Factory Competence Center, contains a showroom and additional assembly capacity.

International employment by country (2013-2017)

Country Jobs created
United Kingdom 2,990
China 2,881
Germany 1,965
Switzerland 1,543
India 1,390
Japan 1,237
France 1,002
Hong Kong 855
Sweden 669
Canada 636



International investment by country (2013-2017)

Country Investment (millions)
China $2,051.10
Japan 692.20
Germany 528.50
France 381.90
United Kingdom 377.60
Switzerland 281.40
Sweden 274.20
Spain 260.50
Luxembourg 224.30
Canada 131.60

Source: fDi Markets 3/2/18. fDi Markets data based on publicly announced projects.


showhide shortcuts