he extent to which locations support companies’ Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) efforts is an emerging criterion companies and site consultants are using to shorten their lists of finalists. Similarly, it’s increasingly important for locations to demonstrate their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) credentials by showcasing employers’ hiring practices that emphasize diversity standards, for example. Richmond’s demographics facilitate that (see sidebar).
Greater Richmond, Virginia, is a region that gets it. And it has lots of examples of companies that embrace Corporate Citizenship principles and an economic development team — the Greater Richmond Partnership (GRP) — that helps them refine and implement them. Richmond’s credentials in this arena can be traced back to 2016 when commercial real estate information provider CoStar Group scrapped plans to locate its research headquarters in North Carolina due to the state’s HB2 bathroom bill, which did not align with the company’s inclusivity policy. It picked Richmond instead, where it will soon employ 3,000 people in a 1 million square foot, LEED platinum corporate campus.
“Sustainability has risen as a key driver for site selection decisions as evidenced by Facebook/Meta’s massive data center project in 2017,” notes Jennifer Wakefield, president and CEO of the Greater Richmond Partnership. “In addition, we are home to a number of sustainable packaging companies like Temperpack, Cascades, Terravive, WestRock and more. And it was a key part of the LEGO Group’s decision to build their $1 billion manufacturing operation in the U.S.
“Overall,” she adds, “we have seen companies include all elements of ESG into their decisions — sustainability, diversity and governance. From a community standpoint, this includes how well the different local jurisdictions work together and how low of a risk a community is. Greater Richmond is fortunate to have four jurisdictions that work extremely well together and one of the highest ratings concentrations of triple AAA credit ratings of MSAs in the U.S. In addition, we’re the state capital and just a short train ride away from Washington, D.C., which makes it ideal for companies to influence legislation at the state or national level.”
Consultants’ New Expectations
Wakefield confirms that site location consultants increasingly are factoring ESG criteria into the analysis they do for corporate investors. “The individual factors may vary according to companies, but most are looking for how they can be more sustainable and hire a diverse workforce representative of the community,” she explains. “Therefore, it’s important to show examples of companies in our region with deep commitments to sustainability. Our demographics prove that we have a more diverse workforce than competitor markets and a solid future workforce pipeline with two HBCUs in the region (VSU and VUU) and a Minority Serving Institution (VCU). Our promotional materials need to reflect the diversity of the community we serve as does our team and our board.”
GreenCity, a mixed-use development, takes shape in Henrico County.
Image courtesy of GreenCity Partners LLC
Cristina Paredes, senior consultant at VisionFirst Advisors in Tallahassee, Florida, concurs: “Right now, there is a lot of conversation with clients on the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion and how to utilize the information for business recruitment,” she relates. “I have used Richmond’s ESG strategies as a best practice to show how it can be done effectively.”
Richmond-based Dominion Energy has reduced its carbon emissions by 46% since 2005 and methane emissions by 38% since 2010. By 2050, it will achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across all its electric and natural gas operations. Dominion’s solar fleet is the third largest in the nation and powers 600,000 homes with zero-carbon electricity. In 2022, notes GRP, Dominion has committed to build enough solar infrastructure in Virginia to power an additional 750,000 homes.
“Dominion has set a goal of being the most sustainable energy company in America, making major investments in wind and solar power, as well as in a diverse workforce,” says Charlene Whitfield, Dominion Energy’s senior vice president, power delivery.
Region’s First Eco-District Takes Shape
In 2021, the Henrico County Board of Supervisors approved rezoning a former company headquarters into a 204-acre, $2.3 billion mixed-use development called GreenCity. The project will include a 17,000-seat arena, two hotels, more than 2,000 residential units, 2.2 million square feet of office space and 280,000 square feet of retail space. Developers call GreenCity Virginia’s first eco-district — a sustainable development with a reduced ecological footprint. That’s a lot of new, environmentally friendly space for investing companies in the future to practice and refine their ESG policies. The Greater Richmond Partnership intends to help them do that.
Jennifer Wakefield: “We want to show companies we can help them meet all of their corporate citizenship goals right here in Greater Richmond.”