Why are Businesses and Young Professionals Moving to Richmond?
Long steeped in history and tradition, Richmond now vibrates on a higher frequency, fueled by a thriving arts scene, influx of millennial talent and slew of innovative restaurants, including 11 James Beard Award contenders. Garden & Gun and Southern Living magazines have named Virginia’s capital a hot spot for foodies, while Outside readers voted it the country’s top river city, a nod to the James River’s category IV rapids that roil past downtown—the only metro-area white water in the U.S. And yes, if you leave your Richmond office by 4:00 p.m. on a summer afternoon, you can be kayaking the James at 4:30.
As dusk descends on Friday evenings, young professionals flock to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for wine tastings, live music and a tango exhibition, turning this world-class arts center into a lively social hive. But with the opening of Edward Hopper and the American Hotel in October, the VMFA will find itself in the global spotlight. Closer to downtown, Virginia Commonwealth University’s newly opened Institute for Contemporary Art lives up to Architectural Digest’s “most anticipated buildings of 2018” prediction.
It’s no wonder Virginia’s capital region is home to 10 Fortune 1,000 companies, while a half dozen more have established major outposts here. They’re attracted by the Richmond region’s educated talent pool, AAA bond ratings and proximity to D.C. and New York. Colonial Williamsburg and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello are both within an hour’s drive, with vineyards, beaches and ski slopes just beyond.
“For a midsized MSA [metropolitan statistical area] with a population of 1.3 million, we’re punching above our weight class here,” says Jennifer Wakefield, Interim President & CEO and SVP of Marketing at the Greater Richmond Partnership, the region’s economic development group. As the northernmost right-to-work state, Virginia’s financial advantages are bolstered by the 19,600 newcomers (average age: 26) who come to Richmond every year, trading the hassles of larger cities for its hip quotient and ease of living.
Buck Stinson, Senior Vice President of U.S. Card Partnerships, CapitalOne, the region’s largest private employer, agrees:
Richmond is a great place to work for many reasons including the exceptional universities, incredible talent and supportive government and nonprofit partners dedicated to continuous innovation. Our employees enjoy living in Richmond for its unique quality of life featuring endless opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, vibrant fine arts scene, critically-acclaimed restaurants, and historic attractions dating back 400 years.
Capital One owns the 1717 Innovation Center, which opened in 2018. 1717 is a renovated 100 year old tobacco warehouse in Richmond’s historic Shockoe Bottom that provides space for Richmond’s nonprofits and entrepreneurial ecosystem. It is home to Startup Virginia, a nonprofit incubator, and Lighthouse Labs, a nationally recognized nonprofit accelerator.
International employers have succumbed to the region’s charms as well, with FDI Magazine naming it the top midsize U.S. city for foreign direct investment and adding high rankings for economic potential and business-friendliness. Polykon Manufacturing, Erodex and Pryor Marking have joined international stalwarts like Allianz Worldwide Partners, Rolls-Royce and Sabra Dipping, whose $60 million plant is “the largest hummus production facility in the world, by a long, long way,” says David Rader, a member of Sabra’s board of directors.
With Amazon’s HQ2 arriving in Arlington, 90 minutes north of Richmond, the state expects to double its tech-talent pool. Facebook is investing $1 billion to build a solar-powered data center that will bring thousands of construction jobs and 100 full-time positions to the Richmond region, thanks to a favorable tax adjustment. Thomson Reuters recently opened a cybersecurity operations center, joining GE’s cybersecurity operation and the National White Collar Crime Center. And at the Richmond Marine Terminal, recent infrastructure investments inspired Brother International to select RVA (a nickname you’ll hear around town) as a new location. “We are very excited to be joining the Richmond community and moving to a state-of-the-art facility,” said Tony Melfi, the consumer electronics company’s senior VP and CFO. But it’s the eclectic vibe of the region—where blue bloods mingle with bohemians and artsy meets outdoorsy—that gives this Southern capital its irresistible allure. Past, meet future. It’s all here in Richmond’s delicious mix.