Virginia has the reputation for being a place where government, industry, and academia work together on a wide range of dynamic projects, often science- or IT-based collaborations that are related to defense, cybersecurity, communications, or other technical fields. Companies are drawn by Virginia’s plentiful, IT-savvy labor pool, which CNBC ranked as the best in the nation, and which has the fourth-highest concentration of science, technology, education, and math (STEM) workers. In fact, according to Cyberstates 2019, Virginia ranks sixth among the states for net tech employment.
Virginia’s workers are highly educated — about 500,000 students enroll every year at colleges and universities across the state, many of whom enter the workforce when they graduate. In addition, Virginia’s Tech Talent Investment Program (TTIP) includes a $1.1 billion commitment to more than double the annual number of graduates in computer science and related fields.
When these workforce and educational assets are combined with the state’s business-friendly policies, tax incentives, and regulatory climate (top-ranked by Forbes and others), Virginia becomes a highly attractive place to set up business — whether you are a global giant such as Amazon or a fledgling startup in an incubator.
Virginia’s Growing Economic Sectors
SRI InternationalLinville, VA
Many federally funded research centers and R&D facilities, such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, partner with the state’s life sciences/pharma sector.
Merck and CompanyElkton, VA
Merck and Company will spend up to $1 billion over the next three years to expand its manufacturing operation in Rockingham County, increasing vaccine production and creating 100 new jobs.
Pharmaceutical Product DevelopmentRichmond, VA
Pharmaceutical Product Development, a global contract research organization, plans to invest $64 million to expand its bioanalytical lab in Henrico County, creating 200 new jobs.
Incentive Technology GroupArlington, VA
Incentive Technology Group, an IT and management consulting firm, will invest $5 million to relocate and expand its headquarters in Arlington County.
The Hershey CompanyStuarts Draft, VA
The Hershey Company will invest $104 million to expand its manufacturing operation in Augusta County, adding 111,000 square feet and creating 65 new jobs.
Litehouse, a leader in refrigerated foods and consumer packaged goods, will establish its first East Coast production facility in Danville.
Volvo GroupPulaski County, VA
Volvo Group will invest nearly $400 million to expand its Volvo Trucks North America assembly operation in Pulaski County, creating about 800 new jobs over the next six years.
Virginia’s economy continues to diversify as technology becomes part of every industry, in both traditional and high-tech markets. Knowledge-based industries flourish here, including information technology (IT), cybersecurity, and data centers. Life sciences/pharma is also strong, which partners with many federally funded research centers and R&D facilities in the state, such as SRI International and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. An emerging industry is unmanned aerial systems, which conducts cutting-edge research at the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and several NASA facilities.
Traditional, resource-based industries continue to anchor the state economy and provide jobs in more rural areas of Virginia. Leading sectors are food and beverage, forestry, wood products, steel, agriculture, and manufacturing, especially automotive. Virginia’s strategic East Coast location and transportation infrastructure help manufacturers streamline their supply chains and get products to market faster.
About $15 billion was invested in new projects across Virginia in 2018, many of these in key growth sectors. In life sciences/pharma, for example, Merck and Company will spend up to $1 billion over the next three years to expand its manufacturing operation in Rockingham County, increasing vaccine production and creating 100 new jobs. To also keep up with industry demands, Pharmaceutical Product Development, a global contract research organization, plans to invest $64 million to expand its bioanalytical lab in Henrico County, creating 200 new jobs.
IT continues to be a fast-growing sector in Virginia. Incentive Technology Group, for example, an information technology and management consulting firm, will invest $5 million to relocate and expand its headquarters in Arlington County. The new, 50,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility will have a design and innovation center, where clients, architects, and consultants can collaborate to develop new solutions for challenging IT business problems.
In recent manufacturing news, The Hershey Company will invest $104 million to expand its manufacturing operation in Augusta County, adding 111,000 square feet and creating 65 new jobs. Litehouse, a leader in refrigerated foods and consumer packaged goods, will establish its first East Coast production facility in Danville. And in the automotive industry, Volvo Group will invest nearly $400 million to expand its Volvo Trucks North America assembly operation in Pulaski County, creating about 800 new jobs over the next six years.
Addressing Rural Challenges
Virginia’s workforce is one of the most productive and educated in the country — about 38 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher, making the commonwealth the sixth most-educated state in the U.S. As stated, it also has one of highest concentrations of high-tech workers in the nation, which draws knowledge-based companies to the state. Many of these job opportunities are, however, in larger metro areas. In contrast, Virginia’s rural regions have long struggled to attain the same level of economic prosperity.
To provide more economic development opportunities in rural Virginia, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) recently launched a custom workforce recruitment and training incentive program, based on the highly successful Quick Start program in Georgia and FastStart in Louisiana. The Virginia program will provide highly customized employee recruitment and training solutions for high-quality, competitive business expansion and recruitment projects — at zero cost for qualifying companies. The training will be delivered in partnership with the Virginia Community College System.
“This is something I’ve already seen work and it is particularly powerful for the smaller metro and rural regions, where companies are worried about finding enough quality talent,” says Stephen Moret, president and CEO of VEDP.
The workforce development program will help Virginia’s rural communities secure more competitive, traded-sector business expansion and recruitment projects that result in the creation of high-wage jobs. The free workforce training will reduce the costs of doing business for these companies and shorten their lead time to full-scale operations. The Virginia General Assembly has allocated $7 million to fund the program’s launch and operating costs, including hiring staff and purchasing equipment.
The lack of broadband in rural areas also makes it difficult to attract new businesses. Recognizing that connectivity is critical to economic development, Governor Ralph Northam has made broadband expansion a priority, proposing the state spend $250 million over the next 10 years to address the unequal distribution of Internet service.
In addition, in October 2019 Virginia officially launched Opportunity Virginia, a new initiative designed to leverage the federal Opportunity Zone program. Over 200 low-income census tracts in Virginia have been classified as Opportunity Zones. These areas tend to have higher unemployment rates and fewer employment opportunities. Companies that locate in Opportunity Zones and hire local workers receive generous tax incentives.
“With the full implementation of these recently funded initiatives, as well as…launching a world-class custom workforce solutions program, Virginia will be poised for…more economic development wins,” concludes Moret.