Ten years ago, Henrico County was reeling from the effects of the economic downturn. Between January 2008 and May 2009 alone, 8,550 jobs were lost. Unemployment had risen to 9.3 percent, placing the county on the distressed areas list. And with the closing of Qimonda, Henrico had lost its largest private employer and utility customer. The county needed a comeback.
Enter Gary McLaren.
Today’s Henrico looks starkly different – business is booming and attracting domestic and international attention!
This transformation is thanks in large part to strategic economic decisions spearheaded by Gary McLaren and the Henrico Economic Development Authority (EDA). Since Gary joined the Henrico EDA as executive director in 2009, the county has seen a clear turnaround with $3.5 billion in investments and 12,000 new jobs.
Now after a decade of service to the people and businesses who call Henrico home, Gary is retiring. “It has been rewarding to see how much we as a staff have been able to accomplish, and where we are today versus where we were 10 years ago,” says Gary.
Gary’s experience in economic development leadership spans 42 years and includes a decade of work for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP).
Gary and the EDA team worked with organizations like the Greater Richmond Partnership, the VEDP, and Dominion Energy to attract investments to the area. Due to their success in attracting basic industry sector companies like Facebook, Fareva, and McKesson, this created a demand for retail goods and services. Key related projects from the past few years include:
The 2016 development of a medical office building at Glenside Drive and Forest Avenue;
Last year’s completion of the retail space at GreenGate;
And the sale and continuing development of the Wegmans-, Cabela’s-anchored Short Pump center.
In the 2016 – 2017 fiscal year alone, Gary helped generate 92 new projects and over $30 million in new wages.
10 Years of Major Wins
Throughout the years, there have been countless success stories of businesses saved and grown under Gary’s directorship.
The Pfizer plant was in danger of closing its doors back in 2011. County officials feared the worst, until Gary helped bring Fareva, an international contract manufacturer, to the rescue. Thanks to Henrico EDA’s quick strategic thinking, Fareva ultimately decided that Henrico offered the best opportunity for expansion in the U.S. market, saving nearly 600 jobs and adding even more.
Just three years later, McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc., a major distributor of medical supplies was seriously considering leaving the region – a move that would have jeopardized 500 jobs. In the nick of time, Gary and his team persuaded them to remain in Henrico. Since then McKesson has grown, taking 150,000 square feet of office off the market and turning it into Class-A office space.
And then there’s San-J International. In 2015, VEDP and Henrico EDA partnered to ensure the success of a $38 million investment to double the size of San-J’s plant. Officials at this Asian cooking sauce manufacturer praised Henrico EDA’s helpfulness which influenced their decision to expand.
“Today,” says Gary, “we are the number-two locality in Virginia in terms of the number of jobs that reside in Henrico County. That says a lot about our business base here and our attitude toward business. We’ve been punching above our weight for some time.”
Henrico will surely continue to do so as White Oak Technology Park garners even more international attention. For 10 months, Gary worked alongside state and local officials to attract Facebook to the area. Due in part to Gary’s tenacity last year, Facebook officials earmarked an additional $750 million beyond the global social media giant’s initial $1 billion investment.
“I think we are going to continue to see a lot of attention focused on us,” says Gary. “We are an incredibly pro-business community, and the culture in Henrico is unlike any other I’ve been in before.”
The Future is Bright
From collaborating with Fortune 500 companies to championing small family businesses, Gary’s leadership at the Henrico EDA has changed the face of Henrico County.
Travel and a long list of personal projects are on the horizon as he plans for his retirement. But the staff at Henrico EDA will always remain a special part of his life. And he leaves knowing that the continued economic vitality of the county is in good hands.
“Henrico is a special place with special people. We’ve come a long way, and I couldn’t be prouder of the people in this organization,” says Gary. “At the end of the day it’s the relationships I’ll miss the most.”