How is COVID-19 affecting Economic Development?

From Lara L. Fritts, CEcD, President and CEO of the Greater Richmond Partnership

Last week I had the opportunity to connect one-on-one with colleagues around the region. Without fail, the question I was first asked, “How is COVID-19, going to affect the work you do at the Greater Richmond Partnership?” As the national and international sales team of our region to companies looking to expand or relocate, much is unknown. Yet I believe there are a few things we can expect.

Thanks to several organizations conducting surveys of site selectors, we know that many corporate expansion or relocation projects have been put on pause due to the uncertainty of the economy. Most site selectors believe that these projects will come back once restrictions are lifted. It is being estimated that project activity will pick back up in the last quarter of 2020 but more likely sometime in 2021.

I believe it is also fair to expect we likely will see a decrease in the overall number of projects. Fortunately, the team at the Greater Richmond Partnership has been working with IBM Plant Location International (IBM-PLI) to help us be laser focused on where and how we go to market to identify new projects that align with our key industry sectors.

According to a survey by Consultant Connect, three of the top industries to see reshoring are Manufacturing, Data Centers and Food and Beverage Manufacturing. All three of these industries were identified by IBM-PLI as Greater Richmond having a competitive advantage. This survey also identified the top three industries that will rebound quickly as Warehouse and Distribution, Data Centers and Food and Beverage Manufacturing. Fortunately, our region’s value proposition for these industries have positioned us well for new project opportunities. In addition, our local governments have also put tools in place to help us win these opportunities.

Another area where GRP can be focused is on project opportunities in the Middle Office sector. As companies begin to assess having their workforce in densely populated regions, I believe companies will begin to look at moving portions of their workforce to mid-tier regions such as Greater Richmond. Our region’s skilled talent, access to the highest speed internet, and outstanding quality of life will be a few of the reasons we will make many of initial site lists.

Finally, with our business development team being grounded for the past two months, we have pivoted. We have conducted site selector meetings virtually, have been hosting webinars for our local economic development offices, and even held our first virtual international mission. According to the Global Business Travel Association, most of their members expect business travel to start returning in the next two to three months. I know our team is anxious to be back meeting face-to-face with decision makers. However, their safety is and will continue to be our number one priority. We will continue to monitor and assess and use virtual tools as much as possible.

We are also exploring ways to engage our clients and provide information in new ways. From updating our publications and having them easily downloadable from our website to looking at development of virtual site visits. We will also be working to support our targeted industries by tailoring proposals, policies and workforce programs to meet the needs of companies to position our region for success.

While the future often feels uncertain, I do feel certain that over the past eight months GRP has developed a strategy that will allow us to maximize resources, build upon our successes and bring new jobs and investment to our region. It is not time to let off the accelerator and your help is needed, in order to ensure GRP staff are keeping abreast of our key industry activities, I am asking you to consider serving on key industry roundtables. If you are interested in sharing your expertise, please reach out to me at lfritts (at) grpva.com.

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