ransformative corporate facility investments are occurring across Virginia. From Amazon investing $11 billion to build two data center campuses in Louisa County near Charlottesville, to Press Glass announcing a history-making factory in Henry County near Martinsville, the projects taking place in the Old Dominion are setting records and changing communities.
“We are building on transformational investments,” says Jason El Koubi, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP). “We are seeing a lot of acceleration in four primary growth sectors: advanced manufacturing; business services; software and cybersecurity; and aerospace and defense.”
What is happening in Henry County in south central Virginia is a case in point. Poland-based Press Glass announced August 30 that it will invest $155.2 million to construct a 360,000-sq.-ft. addition to its existing facility in the Commonwealth Crossing Industrial Park in Henry County. The company plans to create 335 new glass production jobs for the commercial construction industry.
This is the largest single private capital investment by a business in the history of Henry County, notes El Koubi. “Once one of the wealthiest towns in America per capita in the 1960s, Martinsville-Henry County, Virginia, was hit hard by the decline of textiles and furniture manufacturing that had been the source of jobs for decades,” El Koubi says. “From an unemployment rate of 20% in 2009, Martinsville-Henry County has been slowly making a remarkable economic recovery.”
Richmond, with its plethora of colleges and universities, produces tens of thousands of graduates who each year go to work for growing employers throughout Virginia.
Photo courtesy of Greater Richmond Partnership
Press Glass is not alone. It comes on the heels of two earlier investments that set records. Crown Holdings Inc., a leader in metal packaging technology, announced a $145 million investment to establish a 355,000-sq.-ft. aluminum beverage can factory in the same business park, creating 126 new jobs; and German firm Schock GmbH, the inventor of quartz composite sinks, invested $85 million to establish its first U.S. factory in Henry County, creating 355 new jobs. Both projects were announced in 2021.
“We are building on transformational investments.”
— Jason El Koubi, President and CEO, Virginia Economic Development Partnership
Continued investment by the state government is making deals like this possible, says El Koubi. “Henry County secured more than $22 million for site development in Commonwealth Crossing from the Virginia Business Ready Sites Program grants announced in January 2023 — one of the largest industrial site investments in the program’s history,” says El Koubi. “Started in 2008, Commonwealth Crossing is an advanced manufacturing industrial site consisting of over 700 acres with all utilities, immediate access to road, rail and air transportation, and a state-of-the-art, 25,889-square-foot workforce training facility – called the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Training [CCAT]. The CCAT is available to companies that commit to locating in the industrial park. Tract 2 could be the largest contiguous industrial site ever developed in Martinsville-Henry County history and will be four times larger than the sites occupied by Press Glass and Crown Holdings at the park. Developing the next pad at a proven site like Commonwealth Crossing will help Martinsville-Henry County win more major projects and continue its economic resurgence.”
Roanoke County Scores Historic Win
Down the road in southwestern Virginia, the Roanoke area recently secured a history-making win of its own. On Sept. 26, Wells Fargo & Company announced that it would invest $87 million to modernize and expand its customer support center in Roanoke County. The investment will enhance the workplace experience for more than 1,650 current Wells Fargo employees while creating about 1,100 new jobs in Roanoke.
According to VEDP, this project represents the largest commercial office investment in Roanoke County history and the largest single jobs announcement. The move also makes Wells Fargo the biggest employer in the county, per VEDP.
“Wells Fargo’s historic investment and new job creation has far-reaching benefits for Roanoke County, the region and the Commonwealth,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin said. “Virginia has established a strong foothold in the fast-growing financial services industry, and we have developed an innovative framework to focus on nurturing and expanding opportunities in this high-growth sector.”
The business services sector includes data processing, and no state in America handles more data than Virginia. Home to the world’s only data center market that is rapidly approaching 3GW (Northern Virginia), the Old Dominion is now breaking new ground in this sector thanks to an historic investment by Amazon.
On August 31, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced that it will invest $11 billion in two data center campuses near Charlottesville in Louisa County. Part of a larger $35 billion AWS expansion in Virginia, the Louisa County sites will be the first data center campuses of their kind in this part of the state (see the Data Centers report elsewhere in this issue for more).
Located 100 miles from Washington, D.C., the new sites in Louisa County will be able to draw talent from the nearby University of Virginia, two area community colleges, and a host of colleges and universities in Richmond, about an hour’s drive to the southeast.
The new data center campuses will be built in Louisa’s Technology Overlay District (TOD) and will be constructed in a series of phases over the next 17 years, according to AWS. Roger Wehner, director of economic development for AWS, said that “Virginia hosted our first data centers when we launched in 2006, and over the last decade, AWS has invested more than $51.9 billion in the Commonwealth while supporting thousands of jobs.”
Louisa County Administrator Christian Goodwin spoke for many by saying, “This is a historic moment for the county.”
Danville Turns a Corner
Another district setting records is the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance (SVRA) anchored by Danville, located just north of the North Carolina state line on U.S. Highway 29 in south central Virginia.
Linda Green, executive director of the SVRA, says that the region, which includes Patrick, Halifax and Pittsylvania Counties, has recently landed over $1.5 billion in new capital investments.
“This was traditionally a region for textiles, furniture and tobacco,” Green says. “We lost 17,000 jobs between the tobacco and textile industries alone. But with the allocation of tobacco settlement dollars, this is now a region in transition, and that is giving people hope. With the creation of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, which is connected with Virginia Tech, we are going after the future.”
The U.S. Navy established the Navy Center for Excellence in Additive Manufacturing in the region, says Green, adding that by the year 2025, the Department of Defense plans to train 800 students in robotics, additive manufacturing, non-destructive testing and welding on site.
“We also have a 3,000-acre supersite that is the largest in the Southeast,” she adds. “There is enormous potential here. Step-up truck vans are now being built by Morgan Olson in Danville. This is the largest such plant in the country.” The plant became operational in 2020 after the firm added 925,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space.
“We also have the largest Microsoft Cloud data center in the world in nearby Mecklenburg County just east of here,” says Green. “We received certifications for 31 sites through the Virginia Certified Sites Program, so we expect a lot more wins soon.”
Virginia ranks No. 2 in the country with a
business growth rate of 10.5%.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Venture Smarter
One reason Virginia lands so many historic projects is its business climate. Last year, Site Selection named Virginia the No. 1 business climate state in the nation. Just a few weeks ago, business consulting firm Venture Smarter named Virginia the No. 2 state for business growth. Using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the report showed that Virginia’s total number of business establishments grew by 10.5% between December 2021 and December 2022.
CEO: ‘You Have to Be in Virginia’
One area experiencing exceptional business growth is Fairfax County in Northern Virginia just outside of Washington, D.C. Victor Hoskins, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, says that the county of 1 million people is responsible for $129 billion in GDP.
“More than 60% of our labor has a college degree or higher,” says Hoskins. “We are in the middle of the largest data center market in the world – three times larger than Singapore and five times larger than Silicon Valley. And we are not slowing down.”
Juan Font, president and CEO of data center company Coresite and senior vice president of U.S. Tower, says his firm has been growing in Reston since 2001. “That’s when we started buying more carrier hotels,” he says. “Our first carrier hotel was on K Street in Washington, D.C. We had the opportunity to acquire AOL’s headquarters in Reston at the end of 2007 when AOL moved to Ashburn, and so we did. We bought a 23-acre campus in Reston.”
Coresite has been building out its data centers ever since and is now active in 10 U.S. markets. “We have 16 MW in Building 3 now in Reston. We will build out 6 MW in the next phase and then another 3MW here. Then we will build another 27MW facility,” says Font. “On a national scale, we are building everywhere. There is a supply and demand imbalance in most markets. We have recently added space in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and Secaucus, New Jersey.”
Font says that for Coresite, there really is no choice. “Access to enterprise users here was key for us. With the connectivity and the geographic resiliency of the market, this is the place to be. If you are Netflix, for example, you have to be in Virginia. The fiber that exists here is massive. You won’t find that anywhere else.”