Tough year for some sectors, but region sees progress
In a difficult year haunted by the coronavirus pandemic, the Central Virginia region persevered — and in some cases made economic progress.
Henrico County led all other localities with a blockbuster endorsement of a $2.3 billion project, GreenCity, that would promote environmental sustainability and bring a 17,000-seat arena to the area.
The 204-acre property off Interstate 95 would also include 2,400 housing units and two hotels in the state’s first ecodistrict.
“It’s been a year like no other. We had some phenomenal activity and very strong growth in key sectors, while at the same time we’ve had substantial challenges for the hospitality community,” says Anthony Romanello, executive director of the Henrico Economic Development Authority. Nonetheless, he adds, “I’m reluctant to take victory laps because we’re still dealing with [high] unemployment, and many businesses continue to struggle.”
By its own scorecard, Henrico tallied 2,500 jobs from new or expanding companies and an investment of $117 million in calendar year 2020, even before GreenCity came into public view at a December 2020 news conference.
The county also marked a signal event when the Facebook data center went online in August 2020 at White Oak Technology Park. Facebook has invested well over $1 billion in the center so far, and the park is home to the QTS data center, which has had several expansions.
The largest jobs announcement among Henrico’s list of wins was from wireless network operator T-Mobile, which is moving its customer service center from western Henrico to a site in the eastern part of the county, spending $30 million to renovate a former Sam’s Club while saving 800 jobs and adding 500 more over three years.
Two companies announced they were moving their headquarters to Henrico in 2020: Kroger, which is relocating its mid-Atlantic headquarters from Roanoke and bringing 77 jobs with it, and ASGN Inc., a Fortune 1000 recruiting firm that moved from Calabasas, California, to Henrico in October 2020.
ASGN is creating more than 700 jobs — including 121 in Henrico — across the commonwealth, including Roanoke and Virginia Beach.
“These are really good-paying jobs with an annual wage of over six figures working out of Innsbrook, our premier office park in western Henrico,” Romanello says of the ASGN headquarters, which shares space with Apex Systems, a Henrico-based ASGN subsidiary. Salaries for ASGN’s headquarters employees average $106,000.
ASGN plans to invest $12.4 million in the relocation, with $5 million devoted to its new headquarters facility.
Another big job producer for Henrico was SimpliSafe, a leading producer of self-installed home security systems that built a customer support center in the Willow Lawn shopping center employing more than 570 people with an investment of $5.5 million.
Even more good news could be coming. Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas says, “We have a pending economic announcement where we’ll have more than 2,000 jobs in only one location.” He did not disclose further details.
In May 2020, Richmond-based drug manufacturer Phlow Corp., which incorporated in 2020, received a $354 million, four-year contract from the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to manufacture generic medicines and pharmaceutical ingredients for COVID-19 treatments.
The startup was part of a January economic development announcement with Utah-based pharmaceutical nonprofit company Civica Inc., which plans to invest $124.5 million to establish an in-house manufacturing operation in Petersburg, creating 186 jobs.
Civica has partnered with the Medicines for All Institute, AMPAC Fine Chemicals and Phlow, and the four-year contract could be extended to be worth $812 million over 10 years. Last year, Phlow CEO Dr. Eric Edwards said the company expects to create 350 jobs and that the partners will develop the nation’s first Strategic Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients Reserve.
Two state agencies began their move to Hanover County last year. The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority broke ground in February 2020 on a $91 million, 40-acre headquarters complex that will employ 500 and is expected to open in 2021.
Also, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science, including the central laboratory and the chief medical examiner’s office, has announced plans to begin construction soon on a 283,000-square-foot facility near Atlee Station that will generate 300 jobs.
This was good news in light of the pandemic-driven closing of Kings Dominion, which opened only for a few weeks in late 2020 and is one of the county’s biggest economic drivers. The park hires about 4,000 seasonal workers, and visitors spent $258 million in Hanover in 2018.
Linwood Thomas, Hanover’s economic development director, also is optimistic that Wegmans Food Markets Inc. will receive the necessary permitting to build a $175 million middle office and distribution center near Ashland that would create 700 jobs.
However, community members and some state lawmakers have raised concerns about the placement of the 1.7 million-square-foot center near Brown Grove, a community settled by freed slaves after the Civil War. The state Department of Environmental Quality delayed its approval of permits last year after receiving public comments about the project’s potential environmental and historical impacts. A decision was expected in February.
DuPont Spruance, one of Chesterfield County’s largest employers with 2,000 workers, announced in January 2020 it will add 60 jobs with an investment of more than $75 million. It also had a big production year due to the pandemic.
Although the plant has long produced Kevlar, Nomex and Tyvek materials for body armor, firefighters’ suits and weather-protective gear, DuPont ramped up production of Tyvek for protective suits for health care and emergency responders working with COVID-19 patients.
Over the years, Chesterfield has earned a reputation as one of the nation’s leading logistics sites, beginning in 2015 when the Boyd Co. Inc., a corporate site-selection firm, awarded Chesterfield the No. 1 ranking as the most logistics friendly location in the country.
Devon USA, a development firm based in Richmond, has made good use of the county’s logistics potential, building speculative warehouses and then leasing them.
Edward Mitchell, Devon’s managing director, says his company has found the county to be an ideal location for warehouse distribution centers because of its interstate highway infrastructure and easy access to major population centers.
The company has developed four distribution centers at its James River Logistics Center on Bellwood Road near Interstate 95 in Chesterfield, including a 321,000-square-foot facility that has been leased to Amazon.com Inc., creating 100 full- and part-time jobs. A 133,000-square-foot warehouse that will be leased by DuPont is coming to the property, Devon announced in October.
Although the hospitality industry has suffered during the pandemic, Chesterfield-based Shamin Hotels, the largest hotelier in Virginia, opened a 111-suite Residence Inn by Marriott last June. Shamin’s Short Pump Hilton in Henrico went into receivership in January, but CEO Neil Amin said in December the company has new properties in the works for 2021, including two hotels in Short Pump.
Charlottesville and Lynchburg
Although the Charlottesville area saw high unemployment in 2020, a bright spot amid the gloom was an October announcement that Silk City Printing LLC will be relocating its corporate headquarters from Paterson, New Jersey, to Fluvanna County, investing $5.7 million to establish a silk-screened apparel plant, creating 93 jobs.
Also, the Quirk Hotel Charlottesville, which hosted its grand opening in early March 2020, reopened in June with COVID protocols in place. Its managers say that the boutique hotel is already booked for the University of Virginia’s graduation weekend this May.
In Lynchburg, global eye health company Bausch + Lomb announced last July it is expanding again, with an investment of $35 million and 79 more jobs over the next several years. The 190,000-square-foot facility will be the company’s main distribution point in the U.S. for its medical device products, primarily contact lenses.
In nearby Bedford County, Custom Truck One Source expanded its manufacturing operation in Forest, adding 61 employees.
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