Jason El Koubi, interim president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership
How attractive is Chesterfield’s Upper Magnolia Green West property to advanced manufacturers? Even in a “raw” state – forested, with no utility infrastructure or prepared pad sites for buildings – it was one of the final five locations Intel considered for its new semiconductor fabrication facility.
The company recently announced the selection of a site in New Albany, Ohio, on the outskirts of Columbus, where it will construct the $20 billion computer chip plant and create about 3,500 high-tech, high-paying jobs.
It’s an all-too-familiar story for Virginia. Since 2016, it has lost out on more than 47,000 direct jobs and $115 billion in capital investment, as well as an estimated $300 million in annual state tax revenue, mainly due to the lack of large, project-ready industrial sites.
Seeking to address the deficiency, state leaders have endorsed a more aggressive approach to pursuing major economic development projects.
For that reason, Jason El Koubi, interim president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, sees the 1,700-acre Upper Magnolia Green West property as potentially “transformative” for Chesterfield, the greater Richmond region and Virginia.
“Big picture, I think Chesterfield has an opportunity to develop one of the most attractive site-related assets in the commonwealth of Virginia,” said El Koubi in a Jan. 26 presentation to the Board of Supervisors. “Upper Magnolia is attracting very serious interest … however, it is getting eliminated [during the site selection process] because it is not project-ready. We’re very committed to helping you with this.”
How committed? Outgoing Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam included $150 million for industrial site development in his proposed fiscal year 2023 state budget. His successor, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, has requested the General Assembly allocate an additional $29 million to the Virginia Business Ready Sites program during the fiscal year that begins July 1.
For context, Virginia has spent about $5 million on site development over the past year.
“That [$5 million] actually was a big number for Virginia, so we’re moving in the right direction,” El Koubi said. “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
North Carolina has invested $417 million in site development over the past 12 months. Among other nearby states, Georgia ($66 million), Ohio ($50 million) and South Carolina ($43 million) also outpaced Virginia by a significant margin.
Since 2015, 81 industrial projects have been developed on sites larger than 250 acres in the southeastern U.S., creating over $22 billion in capital investment and more than 38,000 direct jobs.
North Carolina won seven such projects, generating a combined $1.4 billion in capital investment and 5,600 direct jobs.
Virginia failed to secure even one of them.
“Across the entire commonwealth, we have fewer than 10 project-ready sites 250 acres or larger, with the majority of them located outside of major metropolitan areas,” El Koubi said. “How many of them are capable of attracting a large project today? The answer is zero. This is a big deal and one of the reasons you have an opportunity to develop a distinctive asset.”
According to El Koubi, Intel cited Chesterfield’s high-quality school system and proximity to a large population center in the Richmond region as competitive strengths for the Upper Magnolia Green West property.
Being located in a major metropolitan area is “a very big deal,” he said, because the availability and quality of workforce is typically the No. 1 factor for companies during site selection.
Chesterfield also offers a safe community with high overall quality of life, access to numerous recreational and cultural amenities and utility infrastructure capable of accommodating a large advanced manufacturing operation.
“If you had a site that was project-ready, coupled with the other assets and capability of Chesterfield County and Richmond, you’d have a distinctive real estate option that would be very competitive,” El Koubi added. “It can take many years to get a site like this ready for a large, transformational project, but the rewards for that investment are enormous.”