In the big leagues
Pharma and manufacturing drive growth
Central Virginia continues to attract pharmaceutical companies, advanced manufacturing sites and distribution centers, with 2021 seeing several major deals from companies that will bring large footprints to the region.
Richmond was the leader in the clubhouse, with the city occupying half of the spots on the region’s list of the 10 biggest deals of 2021, creating more than 3,000 jobs with six deals. That includes the mid-December announcement that CoStar Group Inc. plans to expand its presence with a $460 million riverfront campus, adding an estimated 2,000 jobs. The Washington, D.C.-based commercial real estate data and analytics company already has been a major player in Richmond, with 1,000 employees at its research and technology center there, but the expansion will more than double its workers in the city while adding 750,000 more square feet, including the tallest building in the state, a 26-story skyscraper.
Prior to the CoStar announcement, the city’s biggest deal of the year was selling its aging Public Safety Building for $3.5 million to Capital City Partners,
which plans to replace it with a $325 million, 500,000-square-foot building with VCU Health as its anchor tenant.
The city also continues to attract life science firms. Aditxt Inc., a California biotechnology firm specializing in immune system research, announced a new
$31.5 million immune-monitoring facility in Richmond that will create 347 jobs.
And the locally grown biotech firm Grenova Inc. announced a dramatic expansion, creating 250 jobs as it invests $10.6 million in a new site in Scott’s Addition.
One looming question is what will happen to 100 acres off Interstate 95 in the city’s South Side, land owned by Altria Group Inc. that would have hosted the $565 million ONE Casino + Resort, which voters rejected in a November 2021 referendum.
“Our goal remains to sell the property,” says Altria spokesman Steve Callahan. In January, Richmond City Council supported making a second attempt at the casino referendum this year.
2021 was a “banner year” for Henrico County, says Henrico Economic Development Authority Executive Director Anthony Romanello. As of December 2021, the county had tallied announcements for 1,588 jobs and $489 million in new investment.
Last April, Amazon.com Inc. announced it would build a 2.6-million-square-foot robotics fulfillment center on a swath of land just north of Richmond Raceway, a project now under construction. The company is not disclosing the total investment, but it is expected to bring 1,000 jobs to the area. The new facility will be the largest building in Central Virginia when it opens this year, Romanello says: “When you have 2.6 million square feet and 1,000 jobs, that is going to have a substantial ripple effect throughout the economy.”
In July 2021, home security system manufacturer SimpliSafe Inc. announced a new customer security monitoring service center in Glen Allen, creating 250 jobs over the next half decade. Officials estimate that construction on the site will be complete by April. This $3 million investment came just a year after the security firm created 572 jobs in the county with a new customer support center at Willow Lawn.
Meanwhile, county officials granted approval for GreenCity, a $2.3 billion, 204-acre mixed-use development on the former Best Products headquarters property that will feature a 17,000-seat arena. Construction on the first phase should begin in the second half of this year, with completion of the arena, retail and hotel space expected by 2024 or 2025.
With its lower business costs and proximity to Interstate 95, Hanover has successfully focused on wooing industrial companies to the county, says Linwood Thomas IV, director of Hanover’s economic development authority.
In March 2021, Becknell Industrial submitted plans to build a 1.1-million-square-foot distribution center at the former Camptown Races site in northern Hanover. Construction has begun on the East Coast Commerce Center, which is the biggest speculative building currently under development in Virginia, Thomas says. County officials estimate the project will be complete in the fourth quarter of this year.
In April 2021, Maryland-based developer Matan Cos. began construction on a $65 million project that will bring five new buildings with 650,000 square feet of industrial space. The first three buildings are now under construction, with completion set for midyear. The remaining two buildings are expected to be finished by mid-to-late 2023.
In November 2021, Performance Food Group Co. announced an $80.2 million expansion project in Hanover that will create 125 jobs. Meanwhile, the $175 million Wegmans Food Markets Inc. grocery distribution center and regional headquarters is moving ahead, despite two legal challenges to the project east of I-95. (See related story.)
After two years of back-and-forth, Chesterfield finally sealed a deal with online used car retailer Carvana Co. last year, landing a $25 million vehicle inspection and reconditioning facility that’s expected to create 400 jobs when it opens this spring.
The county also lured iFit Health & Fitness Inc., parent company of NordicTrack, which announced in June 2021 that it was leasing a 405,000-square-foot facility to serve as a new distribution center in Chesterfield, east of I-95 on Willis Road. The facility, which opened early this year, generating 40 jobs, serves as iFit’s East Coast hub.
In December 2021, Starplast USA, the U.S. division of the Israeli plastics manufacturer, announced its plans to retrofit an industrial building in Meadowville Technology Park, a $17.7 million investment expected to create 300 jobs over the next five years.
County officials anticipate that more companies like iFit and Starplast will be interested in the county’s 4 million square feet of industrial space on the eastern end of the county along I-95 and state Route 288 that will be coming on the market in coming years, says Matt McLaren, senior project manager for the Chesterfield Economic Development Authority.
“A healthy speculative industrial pipeline allows us to market Chesterfield as a business location much more aggressively,” McLaren says.
Petersburg continues to grow as a hub for pharmaceutical manufacturing, and two of the major players announced new facilities in the city in 2021.
The nonprofit generic drug company Civica Inc. announced a $124.5 million manufacturing facility that will create 186 jobs, and AMPAC Fine Chemicals announced a $25 million production plant that would bring roughly 150 jobs to town.
Civica spokeswoman Debbi Ford says the company anticipates its facility will be operational by the end of 2023.
AMPAC moved into an existing facility and has been producing active pharmaceutical ingredients since 2020. Last year, the firm crossed another hurdle in the regulatory process, successfully receiving a full FDA inspection, AMPAC spokesman Joe Guy Collier says.
The Virginia Biotechnology Research Partnership Authority, a political subdivision that leads a Richmond-based coalition of public and private entities, is among 60 finalists in the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge, which will award 30 groups up to $100 million.
In neighboring Prince George County, aluminum extrusion manufacturer Service Center Metals announced a $101.7 million expansion in September 2021 that is expected to create 94 jobs.
Charlottesville and Lynchburg
Lynchburg-based nuclear components and fuel supplier BWX Technologies Inc. will be bringing 97 jobs to Campbell County through expansions and improvements at a 118,000-square-foot building on an 11-acre site.
One lesson that economic development leaders in Lynchburg have taken from the pandemic is the need to attract an array of industries.
“The health and resilience of our local economy is a direct result of the diversity of our employment base,” says Anna Bentson, assistant director for Lynchburg’s Office of Economic Development & Tourism.
In Charlottesville, half a million square feet of Class A office space opened in 2021, a development that Charlottesville Office of Economic Development Director Chris Engel says is “an opportunity and a challenge to future growth as the nature of work continues to evolve.”
Central Virginia’s recent deals
CoStar Group Inc.
AMPAC Fine Chemicals
Performance Food Group Co.
Source: Virginia Economic Development Partnership