RTD Op Ed: Richmond region’s promoter works behind the scenes

By Greg Wingfield, guest columnist

Many people may not realize that the Richmond Region has had a promoter working on its behalf for nearly 20 years. The Greater Richmond Partnership Inc. (GRP) exists for the sole purpose of globally marketing the counties of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico, and the city of Richmond, to attract high-quality jobs and capital investments.

The truth is, we’ve been so busy promoting the region to the world, the GRP has nearly forgotten to promote our work on behalf of the region — to the region! With so much behind-the-scenes work, it’s possible that the Greater Richmond Partnership is better-known around the world than it is to area residents.

An area’s cost of living, arts and culture, quality of life and educational system are attractive not just to those seeking a new place to live. In addition to a thriving business climate and available real estate, these are the ingredients site-selection professionals use when scoping competition and potentially awarding a region with new jobs and capital investment.

Residents may not know that three and a half days of annual snowfall is the norm for our area, that building construction costs are 13 percent below the national average or that there are 10 Fortune 1000 company headquarters located here. It’s quite all right if you didn’t know this trivia, because that’s the GRP’s job — and it’s simply a lot of information! Providing this data makes the Richmond Region stand out from the hundreds of locations across the nation competing to attract the next company expansion.

Churning out data about our area’s most valuable assets and producing award-winning media is just a fraction of the formula it takes to attract new business prospects. The GRP also markets the region through a number of global marketing trips (on average about 50 per year), meeting face-to-face with business leaders to let them know why the Richmond Region is a great place to do business. The GRP has also been somewhat of a behind-the-scenes partner in many regional efforts, including providing research support for the regional Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), Capital Region Collaborative, the Port of Richmond and many other projects and initiatives.

When the GRP was launched in 1994, according to a nationwide survey of corporate executives, Greater Richmond was ranked at the bottom of the list of Best Cities for Business in the Southeast. Our region had it all, except for the funding to broaden its attraction efforts and globally promote the unique characteristics that make the entire area great for business.

By bringing together the support of local governments and private businesses to form the Greater Richmond Partnership, the region had the funding to make its economic dream a reality. Only five years after the GRP was founded, Richmond was named one of the “top 10 most improved North American cities for business” by Fortune magazine.

Today the Greater Richmond region is known around the world and has partnered with the localities to attract top company locations and expansions, including Altria, Amazon and MWV (MeadWestvaco). In fact, the partnership has assisted more than 450 companies in the past nearly 20 years, and these firms have invested more than $8.6 billion in new capital investment and hired over 50,000 of our residents.

The work to keep the region in the forefront of economic attraction continues. In 2013, Richmond was mentioned in numerous leading publications, including Forbes, Frommer’s and the Wall Street Journal’s Marketwatch.com, with notable rankings such as one of the “Top Cities for Business Growth” and one of the “10 Up and Coming Cities for Entrepreneurs.” And Richmond was named a “Hot US City for Jobs and Culture.” There is no doubt that these accolades continue to place our region on the map and will likely produce positive implications for our business community.

So with nearly 20 years under its belt, what is the GRP’s focus for the future? Every five years since its founding, the Greater Richmond Partnership has rolled out an economic development plan for the region, driven by research and specifying goals for business attraction and retention efforts, supported by cutting edge strategies. The plans have been aggressive and the required work rigorous, but with the help of partners and backed by public and private investors, the GRP has met or exceeded most of its goals during each funding cycle.

This year, we embark on a new three-year economic development plan for the region. This strategic plan includes an even sharper focus on what we do best — marketing the region to attract high-quality jobs and capital investment, and working to retain existing businesses. Specifically, we want to attract 5,000 new jobs, $1 billion in capital investment and an additional Fortune 1000 headquarters.

With the curtain raised, the spotlight is on the GRP and its partners for the next act of Greater Richmond’s economic success. We value the input of our investors and do our best to keep our partners informed, despite our work being highly confidential.

If you are interested in supporting our work on behalf of the region, please visit our Investor Center to learn more about the new plan and how you can help at www.grpva.com/investor-center.