Manufacturing, pharma lead area deals
If you ask economic development officials in Central Virginia about 2022, they might respond with a familiar slogan: “Everything is awesome.”
With almost 5,000 announced jobs and $1.6 billion in capital investment, the Richmond region had one of its best years
in the last two decades.
By October 2022, the region recovered 100% of jobs lost during the pandemic, says Greater Richmond Partnership President and CEO Jennifer Wakefield, but the recovery was lopsided. The IT, finance and insurance sectors continue to lag, she explains, “but we’re looking to attract more companies in these areas since they include high-paying wages.”
Heading into 2023, the region may look to build on megadeals such as the June 2022 announcement that Danish toy maker Lego Group had picked Chesterfield County for a $1 billion manufacturing plant. (See related story, Page 15.) In September, San Francisco-based Plenty Unlimited Inc. announced plans to invest $300 million to build the world’s largest indoor vertical farm in the county, bringing 300 jobs to Meadowville Technology Park.
“We’ve never seen this volume of megaprojects before,” says Henrico Economic Development Authority Executive Director Anthony Romanello.
In November 2022, Washington, D.C.-based commercial real estate data and analytics provider CoStar Group Inc. broke ground on an expanded research and technology campus on the downtown riverfront. The $460 million expansion will bring nearly 2,000 employees to the city. The project, announced in December 2021, is expected to be complete in early 2026. The company also purchased a 117,500-square-foot, $20 million office building across the river in the city’s Manchester area in May 2022.
“Having a new corporate campus shows that companies are still investing in office projects and creating jobs in Richmond,” says Richmond Director of Economic Development Leonard Sledge.
Between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022, the city landed $552 million in capital investment, creating an expected 2,237 jobs. Those projects include an expansion by Massachusetts-based Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., which in March 2022 announced it would invest $97 million to expand its clinical research operations by nearly 150,000 square feet while adding 500 employees in the Richmond area during the next three years. The project is a joint one with Henrico County, and while much of the investment will be there, including two labs, Thermo Fisher will add significant space to its operations in the city at the
VA Bio+Tech Park.
Also in March 2022, Pennsylvania-based warehousing and logistics company A. Duie Pyle Inc. announced it would invest $20 million and add 75 jobs to establish three cross-dock service centers in Manassas, Roanoke and Richmond, where 25 of those jobs will be located.
Meanwhile, Richmond’s city government has been sparking some of the region’s largest projects ahead. In September 2022, Richmond selected the RVA Diamond Partners LLC development team, led by Thalhimer Realty Partners, to develop the Diamond District, a $2.44 billion neighborhood redevelopment project. Being built on 67 acres along the Interstate 95 corridor, the mixed-use project will include 2,800 residential units and a new baseball stadium for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, expected to open for the 2025 Minor League Baseball season.
Additionally, in December, the Richmond Economic Development Authority and the Greater Richmond Convention Center Authority received five development proposals for the City Center Innovation District, a 9.4-acre mixed-use downtown redevelopment project that will include demolishing the closed Richmond Coliseum and adding a hotel.
Henrico had not landed a $1 billion economic development project since Facebook announced a data center there in 2017. That changed in 2022 when the county saw a record six $1 billion-plus projects, says Romanello. Henrico saw total economic development investments of $264.2 million, adding 1,271 jobs, in fiscal year 2022, which ended June 30, 2022.
“What made 2022 unique was the number of advanced manufacturing and data center megaprojects that came to us,” Romanello says, “and we continue to work dozens of projects, from the megaprojects to small businesses and everything in between.”
Last year marked a year of expansions in the county as well.
Boston-based SimpliSafe, a producer of DIY home security systems, announced in July 2021 it was investing more than $3 million to expand its Henrico operations, adding 250 jobs. The company opened its first customer service call center in Willow Lawn in 2020; it opened a second location in Innsbrook last year. “They liked us so well, they doubled down and made a second investment,” says Romanello.
On the sweeter side, snack food maker Mondelez International Inc. opened a new distribution site in Henrico in November 2022, part of a $122.5 million investment and expansion in the county, creating about 80 jobs. The company produces brands such as Oreo, Ritz, Wheat Thins and Chips Ahoy!
Additionally, EAB, an education research, technology and marketing company, announced in June that it would invest $6 million and add more than 200 jobs in Henrico during the next five years, relocating and consolidating from two area locations into a 70,000-square-foot space on West Broad Street.
Aside from its massive, headline-generating Lego factory announcement, Chesterfield County scored big wins in agriculture and pharmaceuticals in 2022, tallying a record $1.47 billion in investments and 2,658 jobs during fiscal 2022.
Announcements from agriculture company Plenty Unlimited Inc. and nonprofit drugmaker Civica Rx in September 2022 added to the county’s gains. Plenty is slated to open the first phase of its 120-acre $300 million indoor vertical farming campus, billed as the world’s largest such facility, late this year or in early 2024. Civica is investing $27.8 million to construct a 55,000-square-foot laboratory testing facility in Chesterfield to support its Petersburg pharmaceutical manufacturing operation. The project expects to create 51 jobs.
Also in the works is a $108 million, 179,000-square-foot renovation and expansion of Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center, near Midlothian.
Hanover Director of Economic Development E. Linwood Thomas IV says the county has seen “significant demand in manufacturing and logistics space, and we are seeing emerging growth taking place in the bio and life sciences segments of our local and regional economy as well.”
For the 12-month period ending June 30, 2022, the county added more than 1,960 jobs across all industry sectors and announced more than $243 million in new projects.
In February 2022, Walgreens Co. announced an investment of $34.2 million to establish a pharmaceutical micro-fulfillment center at Atlee Station Logistics Center. The project will create 249 jobs and is scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of this year. That was followed by a July 2022 announcement from Toronto-based Unilock, which manufactures concrete paving stones and segmental wall products. The company plans to invest $55.6 million to establish a manufacturing campus in Doswell, adding 50 jobs. Construction is expected to begin this year. Finally, Pennsylvania-based Lutron Electronics announced in September 2022 that it will invest $28.3 million to build a 145,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, adding about 200 jobs.
Lynchburg and Charlottesville
Lynchburg continued to capitalize on its LYH Loves You branding campaign, which launched in summer 2021. The campaign, part of the city’s five-year strategic plan, aims to attract business investment and talent, says Anna Bentson, the city’s assistant director of economic development and tourism. In 2022, Lynchburg’s economic development authority directly supported expansions by Flowers Baking Co. and Bausch & Lomb, resulting in $65 million in investment and 94 new jobs.
Meanwhile, Charlottesville continues to see growth as an innovation hub for technology and life sciences, says Chris Engel, who directs the city’s Office of Economic Development.
In January, the University of Virginia announced it will build a $300 million biotechnology institute funded in part by a $100 million donation from Charlottesville investor Paul Manning and his wife, Diane. Expected to open around 2027 at U.Va.’s Fontaine Research Park, the Paul and Diane Manning Institute of Biotechnology will focus on translational medical research to produce new treatments — such as cellular and gene therapies, nanotechnology and immunotherapy — that are expected to treat many different diseases. UVA Health is recruiting researchers who will work for now in the system’s existing facilities.