A ‘golden unicorn’
Chesterfield lands $1 billion toy factory
Chesterfield County Economic Development Director Garrett Hart and Managing Director Matt McLaren had no idea which global client a site selection consultant was representing when the county was approached in November 2021 to discuss a potential major economic development megaproject.
“All we knew is that they were in manufacturing, and it was around a $700 million project,” and that the company wanted to include a large a solar energy component and for the project to be carbon-neutral, Hart recalls.
And he also knew that Chesterfield was one of a handful of localities short-listed by the global client company during its seven-month nationwide site selection search.
During their first in-person visit, the client company’s executives didn’t speak to anyone, Hart says, because “they didn’t want us to hear their accents.”
Finally, during one of the last virtual meetings, each member of the mystery client’s team changed their screen background, one by one. A Lego figure was behind each executive.
“And then, someone had the Lego emblem behind them,” Hart says. “That’s when we knew who they were. It took a few minutes for us to speak again. To have one of the most beloved toy manufacturers making toys in Chesterfield was beyond my comprehension.”
The deal would go on to be announced by Gov. Glenn Youngkin in June 2022: The Billund, Denmark-based Lego Group plans to invest $1 billion over a 10-year period to build a 1.7 million-square-foot, carbon-neutral manufacturing facility on a 340-acre site at the county’s Meadowville Technology Park, creating more than 1,760 jobs.
“This is not just the unicorn; it’s the golden unicorn of economic development,” Hart says.
The Chesterfield factory, which will include molding, processing and packing operations plus a high bay warehouse, will be Lego’s seventh manufacturing factory worldwide, and the only one in the United States. Lego produces as many as 36 billion of its brightly colored plastic toy bricks annually.
“They are currently designing the building and working with a lot of groups to figure out how they can best design the building for the future,” says Hart. “They are considering building designs such as mass timber construction, rainwater collection, and an onsite solar farm to lessen their carbon footprint.” (That extends to planting replacements for the 4,500 trees that were cleared from the factory site.)
The county plans to finish work on the site’s pad in March, and Lego “would like to be in production at the end of 2025,” Hart says.
The toy company has also leased a building in the Interchange Walthall Industrial Park, housing its temporary offices.
As of February, Lego had hired 15 salaried positions for the Chesterfield facility, and planned to make 60 production hires by June. Lego will send the first group of workers to train at its Mexico production facility in July, according to Karra McCormick, Lego’s head of talent operations in the Americas. And the toymaker plans to hire 500 workers at Chesterfield within a year.
Until its new campus is complete, Lego will assemble toy kits in its temporary facility, using bricks manufactured at other facilities. “They will be available to purchase at Christmas,” Hart says.
The area’s community colleges and the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, a workforce initiative created by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership in partnership with the Virginia Community College System and other higher education partners, helped put Chesterfield over the top to secure the Lego megaproject.
Lego also loved the site and its central East Coast location.
“We would not have been in the competition if we didn’t have Meadowville and a site that was project-ready,” Hart says. “Having ready sites is important.”
Lego is already planning a visitor center for its new site and aims to be part of the local community. “They want to be very visible to everyone,” Hart adds.
Discussing their goals for the new factory, Lego executives said that “they wanted their employees and the company to be successful,” McLaren says. “They wanted to understand what our community was about, what issues our community faced, and if they could be of help. This company and their facility will be a wonderful highlight of our community and region.” ν
Assistant Editor Katherine Schulte contributed to this story.