Signs of promise
Corporate headquarters drive development
A second year of COVID came and went, but 2021 proved more fruitful and less uncertain for businesses in Northern Virginia, where vaccination rates were the highest in the commonwealth.
Work on Amazon.com Inc.’s $2.5 billion-plus HQ2 East Coast headquarters in Arlington County is forging ahead, and economic development officials say they continue to see signs of promise, even if some businesses tapped the brakes on adding large expanses of office space.
The region has continued to “grow and expand,” says Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Julie Coons. Though the hospitality industry is continuing to experience challenges, professional services throughout the region, already enabled by technology and accustomed to telework, have been able to scale up and adapt amid the pandemic.
“Suddenly, our professional services companies had more work in their pipeline than ever,” Coons says.
When travel shut down in 2020, Loudoun used money it may have spent on economic development travel to India — a focus of its tech recruitment efforts — and instead hired Herndon-based data center consulting firm InterGlobix LLC to represent the county, says Buddy Rizer, the county’s executive director for economic development.
In March 2021, the county announced that Zasti Inc., an Indian health care analytics firm, would invest $5.9 million to establish its U.S. headquarters in Loudoun, bringing with it 60 jobs. Rizer calls it a sign of progress in the county’s work to increase its life sciences sector, alongside its well-cemented reputation as the world’s “Data Center Alley.”
Life sciences “plays really well into Loudoun County, with our dense fiber and all of our data centers,” Rizer says.
Another signature win for Loudoun came last July, when defense contractor Raytheon Technologies Corp. renewed its lease at the former AOL headquarters in Dulles, retaining more than 1,700 jobs and adding 175 more. In September 2021, DXC Technology Co., a Fortune 500 IT consulting firm, announced it was leaving Tysons and moving to smaller offices in One Loudoun in Ashburn, as the company shifts toward more remote work. The move is expected to bring 125 jobs and a $1.5 million investment, according to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.
Victor Hoskins, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, says that while the county’s 2021 announcements may not have been as splashy as in previous years, “they’re just as important.”
Guidehouse was a big headline for Fairfax last year. The global management consulting firm invested about $12.7 million in a new headquarters in Tysons it opened in January for at least 1,500 workers. (See related story.)
But instead of leasing 250,000 square feet to support that workforce, the company rented about 75,000 square feet with fewer dedicated offices and more collaboration spaces, signaling Guidehouse’s support for remote and hybrid work models.
Another highlight came in December 2021, when Seattle- and Utah-based software management firm Qualtrics announced it would expand its presence in Fairfax, a $15.9 million deal expected to create 400 jobs in Reston.
Information systems developer Kreative Technologies LLC also announced a $1.5 million investment that is set to add nearly 300 jobs, and IT solutions firm Ridgeline International Inc., one of the country’s fastest-growing tech companies, committed to investing $1.75 million and creating 162 jobs.
Finally, Charlie Tuna is packing his bags for Reston as StarKist Co. moves its corporate headquarters from Pittsburgh, creating 83 jobs. The seafood and chicken company, a subsidiary of Dongwon Industries Co. Ltd., expects to complete its move this spring after closing its Pennsylvania office at the end of March.
The first phase of Amazon’s HQ2 — two 22-floor buildings that, with a 2-acre public park, will comprise Metropolitan Park — is taking shape in Arlington, with plans on track for opening in 2023. In November 2021, the towers were half-finished, and 3,500 people had been hired out of 25,000 hires Amazon plans for HQ2 by 2030.
“They’re doing a new floor about every 10 days, from a concrete standpoint,” says Arlington Economic Development Director Telly Tucker.
Plans for HQ2’s second phase — known as PenPlace — includes three additional 22-story buildings, plus the 354-foot Helix structure, all of which are going through county review. Supervisors are likely to vote on the project this spring, Arlington planning manager Aaron Shriber says, keeping PenPlace on target to start construction later this year.
Despite delayed economic development decisions he attributes to the pandemic, Tucker says activity in Arlington has increased alongside vaccinations. In January 2021, Microsoft Corp. announced it would open a sales headquarters in Rosslyn. The space, about 150,000 square feet on eight floors, is under construction and should be ready for employees by midyear, a Microsoft spokesperson says. According to VEDP, the expansion brings with it 475 jobs.
Neighboring Alexandria also saw development continue with ongoing projects, some of which are anchored by Amazon’s campus.
In September 2021, Virginia Tech broke ground on its $1 billion Innovation Campus, a key part of the state’s bid for HQ2. The campus, which is set to open its first academic building in 2024, has drawn significant corporate donations, including a $50 million multiyear gift from The Boeing Co. to promote diversity, followed by a $12.5 million pledge from Northrop Grumman Corp. to support quantum information science and engineering.
The city also received commitments from The Art League, an educational visual arts nonprofit, and MetroStage, a theatre company, to anchor an arts and entertainment district emerging from the redevelopment of a former coal power plant on the Potomac River in Old Town North, says Alexandria Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Stephanie Landrum.
Announcements about the Innovation Campus and the arts district have only fueled more interest in the city, Landrum says.
Prince William County
Home to several data and e-commerce distribution centers as well as life sciences firms, Prince William found itself “in the sweet spot” last year, says county Department of Economic Development Executive Director Christina Winn.
In February 2021, Ceres Nanosciences Inc., located in the Innovation Park anchored by George Mason University’s College of Science, announced it had completed a 12,000-square-foot expansion to increase production of a reagent used in COVID-19 testing, an $8.6 million investment expected to add 50 jobs by 2024. Computer manufacturer NCS Technologies Inc. announced it would invest $15 million to construct a 108,000-square-foot headquarters at the Innovation Park, including manufacturing facilities.
In April, Luxembourg-based SES S.A. announced it would invest $17 million in a new U.S. hub to merge its satellite and network operations, adding 200 jobs in Prince William by 2026.
Not to be outdone by Loudoun County, Prince William also announced that Stack Infrastructure would invest $500 million to construct a 260,000-square-foot data building as part of a 500,000-square-foot campus.
Development along Interstate 95 also continued, as businesses sought cheaper property for industrial projects. Amazon opened a $78 million, 200,000-square-foot distribution center in Stafford County in fall 2021, creating about 200 jobs. The online retail behemoth followed that two months later with an announcement that it would invest $85 million in a 630,000-square-foot cross-deck center that’s expected to bring 500 jobs.
Amazon’s facilities join several others already under development in recent years, bringing total investment in warehousing in Stafford close to $1 billion, according to a county estimate.
Japan-based Warabeya Nichiyo Co. Ltd., which produces ready-to-eat foods for convenience stores, also invested more than $56 million in October 2021, bringing an expected 268 jobs to Stafford. County Director of Economic Development and Tourism John Holden says Warabeya will be a tenant in DHL’s 489,000-square-foot distribution center, expected to be operating by April.
November 2021 saw the groundbreaking for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Spotsylvania County. The $389 million project is expected to open in late 2023 and will bring up to 700 jobs; it will also include a women’s health care facility, says Kevin Marshall, the county’s business development manager.
The project is already attracting interest, including a medical supply company, Marshall says. “We’re going to have one big project revitalize the whole area there.”
Northern Virginia’s recent deals
Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.
Kreative Technologies LLC
Warabeya Nichiyo Co. Ltd.
Prince William County
Raytheon Technologies Corp.
Hanley Energy LLC
Ridgeline International Inc.
DXC Technology Co.
Source: Virginia Economic Development Partnership