Pop quiz: Name the mid-sized region on the East Coast that has suddenly become the hot destination for corporate facility investment projects.
If you didn’t say Richmond, Virginia, then it’s time for a crash course in current events. On April 21, the world’s largest company, Amazon, announced plans to build a robotics fulfillment center on 119 acres next to the Richmond Raceway in Greater Richmond, Virginia. Expected to open in 2022, the multi-story, high-tech complex will encompass 650,000 sq. ft. and put more than 1,000 Virginians to work in good-paying jobs.
Amazon joins a rapidly growing cadre of companies choosing to invest in the capital region of the Old Dominion. Among them are Kinsale Insurance, the Pixel Factory Data Center, advanced manufacturers, and pharmaceutical and biotech firms. We talked with several corporate leaders about their recent expansion decisions, and we kept hearing a common refrain: Richmond offers unparalleled access to key Mid-Atlantic markets, affordable housing and costs of doing business, great support from local and state officials, superior logistics and transportation connectivity, world-class broadband, and a business climate that caters to the needs of employers in need of highly educated and highly skilled workers.
“People who grow up in Richmond want to stay here or come back after college,” says Bob Neal, senior vice president of Kinsale Insurance, which just built a five-story, 150,000-sq.-ft. headquarters for its 340 employees. “We are blessed with some really good schools. We attract highly talented individuals from the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Richmond, Hampden-Sydney College, College of William & Mary, Old Dominion University, and many other colleges and universities in this state.”
Neal notes that his firm’s Richmond location is “great for obtaining and retaining top talent. We are in an up-and-coming area that people are moving to. This is part of a dense, mixed-use development that is growing and adding amenities. A North Carolina developer is putting up a five-story apartment building right next to us.”
Scott Brown, president of the Pixel Factory Data Center, predicts that Greater Richmond will become the next frontier of the Eastern Virginia data center market. “The subsea cables to Virginia Beach come right through Richmond,” he says. “The new subsea cables provide low latency to Europe. The confluent network from Florida to New Jersey provides low latency to the key markets of New York and New Jersey.”
The trump card for Richmond, Brown adds, is that it offers a huge bargain to end-users compared to Loudoun County in Northern Virginia, the world’s largest and premier data center market. “Land for data centers there now goes for over $1.7 million an acre,” says Brown. “The cost of land here is 70% less, and we are only 115 miles away. Plus, if you decide to locate your business in Richmond, community leaders will roll out the red carpet for you.”
He notes that “Richmond is still a developing market where everyone is willing to open the door and think outside the box. We get great cooperation from economic developers.”