The Henrico County Economic Development Authority (EDA) is devoted not only to attracting new businesses to the county, but also to keeping existing businesses thriving. It’s why, in the mid-1980s, the organization invented the award-winning Henrico existing business visitation program, now known as Business First – so that it can help Henrico companies reach their maximum potential.
Through this progressive program, a team of approximately 20 volunteers conduct monthly, face-to-face visits with Henrico businesses. This amounts to an impressive 200 company conversations per year. The volunteers listen to organizations’ successes, obstacles, and needs, then report what they learn back to the Henrico EDA staff. But the program doesn’t stop there.
From real estate assistance to workforce development to resource connections, the Henrico EDA staff identifies ways in which they can help boost a company’s bottom line. Then the team rolls up their sleeves and does everything within their power to make it happen.
Laying the Groundwork for Success
Ron Carpenter is the Executive Vice-President of The Bill Police, a small business headquartered in Henrico that helps organizations manage their mobile workforce expenses and has been in operation for 15 years. He knows firsthand the tremendous impact that Business First can make in the trajectory of a business.
During his meeting with a Business First volunteer, Carpenter revealed that the company’s lease was expiring and was looking for new locations. Additionally, The Bill Police was looking to enhance its workforce but was facing difficulties recruiting. Business First heard his concerns and the Henrico EDA delivered.
“They did the groundwork and set up the appointments right off the bat,” praises Carpenter.
The Henrico EDA staff identified properties that fit the company’s needs, scheduled tours, and set up meetings with commercial brokers. They also distributed the company’s employment opportunities through existing workforce network of 1200+ professionals, free of charge. In the end, the Henrico EDA helped The Bill Police find a new location and retained a treasured company in the county.
Strength in Numbers
It’s not by chance that Henrico’s Business First program has been recognized with a Virginia Economic Developer’s Association Community Economic Development Award. What makes this program so powerful is the commitment of its carefully-selected volunteers. They selflessly devote their down time to building up Henrico.
Michael Flagg, Senior Account Executive for data solutions provider Epitome Networks, has participated in Business First since 2011 and met with over 150 companies during this time. He loves the overall mission of the group and thinks it’s a great way to support the county and the companies that make up its economic foundation.
He recalls a recent meeting with a Legacy Company (one that has been in operation in Henrico for 25+ years) that was looking to expand but had some zoning concerns. Now, the Henrico EDA is seeing what it can do to help, even looking into the possibility of acquiring a zoning variance to accommodate the company’s growth.
“There’s something extremely gratifying about helping businesses who started in Henrico, grew their business in Henrico, and choose to stay in Henrico,” he says.
Denise Laman, Managing Principal at Collam Consulting, shares Flagg’s enthusiasm. She’s been a Business First volunteer for two years and enjoys reaching out to the community to see what’s happening and what’s needed. When she met with UDig in late 2016, she noted a monumental need.
Challenge Meets Solution
UDig, an IT consulting firm that made the Inc. 5000 list for the fastest-growing companies in America four times, started in Henrico in 2001. UDig had no desire to move because it loved the “phenomenal tax rate”, valued Henrico’s outstanding infrastructure, and treasured the robust labor pool’s widespread creativity – the kind that keeps tech companies humming.
However, UDig’s staff was split between two buildings, which negatively impacted their efficiency and reduced company morale. With help from the Henrico EDA, they found a building large enough to house their entire staff, accessed tax abatement credits for their building renovation, and received state incentive money for growing their workforce.
This culminated in April 2018 with UDig’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. Governor Ralph Northam attended the event and helped celebrate the company’s $1.6 million expansion in Henrico, as well as the 51 new jobs added to the county.
An Invaluable Service
Carpenter sums up the true value of Business First when saying, “As a small business guy, you have to pay attention to what’s germane to your business. When you have someone that can help you save time like this program, it’s a huge help.”
Today, the program shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, as Henrico is home to over 25,000 companies, it continues to grow. Last year alone, volunteers logged more than 550 hours of visits with over 200 companies. 146 companies received in-depth assistance from the Business First program. This devotion to companies that are the pillars of the Henrico economy preserves and propels the vitality of the county – and makes Henrico an amazing place to run a business.
Interested in seeing what Business First can do for your company? Submit your request for a visit.