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Virginia: Diverse Industries Plus Foreign Investment Equal Resilient Economy

Apr/May 09
Virginia's diversity keeps the state's economy "strong and adaptive," according to Rob McClintock, research director at Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Advanced manufacturing is one targeted growth area that runs the gamut from pharmaceuticals to composites to the resurgent wood products and furniture sector. For example, the Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Company is undergoing a $2.15 million expansion by of its manufacturing facility in Galax, saving 500 existing jobs and creating 100 new ones. In Danville, Swedwood North America, a supplier to IKEA, opened a 930,000-square-foot factory, its first furniture production location in the United States.

In defense and homeland security, another promising sector, McClintock touts the "enormous concentration of defense-related contractors in northern Virginia and Hampton Roads," plus technology-related defense companies like SAIC and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Many industries are dependent on logistics and transportation options. Hilton Hotels' planned relocation of its corporate headquarters to Tysons Corner from Beverly Hills, California, later this year is due in part to the location's proximity to Dulles International Airport. Global logistics and transportation firms and distribution centers are drawn to locations near the Port of Virginia.

Alternative energy has captured the attention of foreign investors. France-based AREVA has both corporate headquarters and manufacturing projects in Virginia. "With many top-notch colleges and universities, we are able to tap a reliable stream of talented employees," says Denise Woernle, manager of corporate communications for AREVA NP Inc. "We've developed a strong relationship with Central Virginia Community College (CVCC) that helps us train the skilled technical work force to support the nuclear industry. The engineering program developed between CVCC, the University of Virginia, and AREVA is ensuring that we are developing the engineering talent we'll need in the future." A $360 million joint venture with Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, dubbed AREVA Newport News LLC, will create about 500 manufacturing jobs related to equipment and pressure vessels for the nuclear industry and nuclear engineering services. Groundbreaking is scheduled for this summer, with completion slated for early 2012. In total, the firm expects to hire a total of 1,000 employees in the next few years.

Another 1,000 new jobs are planned at Canon Virginia, a subsidiary of Japan-based imaging giant Canon, which is expanding in Newport News with a new 700,000-square-foot manufacturing, repair, and refurbishing operation slated for completion this spring. This past January, Canon finished a 70,000-square-foot expansion of its IRT subsidiary, owned by Canon Virginia and Canon U.S.A., in Gloucester County. IRT recycles toner cartridges and reclaims cartridge materials. Rhonda Bunn, a spokesperson for Canon Virginia Inc., credits the East Coast location, the existing work force and work force development and training programs, community colleges, and community resources for future employee recruitment.

Besides foreign direct investment, exports also continue to increase. Paul Grossman, director of the Office of International Trade and Development notes that the state's high-BTU-content coal - a faster burning, high energy coal for steel fabrication - is a strong alternative energy source for steel mills in such countries as Brazil and Korea. To assist companies with their exporting skills, the Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) program, open to companies at least three years old, offers assistance with export-related services, pro bono professional services from program partners, networking, educational events, and planning guidance. Leslie Parpart, manager of the VALET program, says that on average, while in the program, companies reported sales growth of about 44 percent, plus another 44 percent after graduation.

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