How Henrico’s “Yes” Attitude Brings Business Visions to Life

02/06/20
How Henrico’s “Yes” Attitude Brings Business Visions to Life

Because he’s worked with the Henrico Economic Development Authority (EDA) for more than 20 years, you may think B. Anthony Hall has done everything there is to do and seen everything there is to see. He joined the organization as Director of Marketing before making the transition to Deputy Director in 2015.

But speak with him and you’ll soon learn that community and business success like you find in Henrico doesn’t occur through complacency or chance. It’s the type of success that comes with service. The EDA believes that attending to small details yields big differences, that strong partnerships can power businesses, and that strategic decisions can evolve economies. It’s a formula that keeps business moving in Henrico.

After all, Henrico holds a AAA bond rating from the nation’s top three rating agencies, and more than 22,000 businesses call our locality home – including 22 that made the 2019 Inc. 5000 list. Unemployment remains low at 2.5%, and the economy gets high marks as the third largest in Virginia.

“Outcomes from our pro-business ecosystem have resulted in private sector job creation and capital investments,” said Hall. “We’re creating more revenue-generating opportunities for the county so that our citizens will continue to receive the services they’ve come to expect.”

Henrico’s Special Ingredient
There’s something different about Henrico, and that’s clear when Hall speaks about the EDA and the community it serves. “We have a strong history of proactively listening and responding to our business community,” he explained.

Indeed, the organization often finds inventive ways to say yes to businesses, playing partner to the possible. The EDA’s methodology is evident in its business retention and expansion efforts and award-winning Business First company visitation program, which help them carefully cultivate a pro-business climate.

Hall recalled a time early in his career when the EDA heard from many businesses that retooling computers and peripherals put a major strain on their bottom line. Henrico answered with a rapid depreciation schedule that allows equipment to aggressively depreciate in value every five years.

Today, the EDA is using this same engage-respond practice for the betterment of businesses of all sizes. Small companies love that Henrico’s Business Professional and Occupational License tax exemption on the first $400,000 in gross receipts means many no longer have to pay BPOL taxes. Data centers like Facebook and QTS have invested in Henrico in large part due to the 88.6% reduction in the data center tax rate in 2017, which created a 47% increase in data center capital expenditures for the locality. Similarly, Henrico reduced the machinery and tools tax on manufacturers by 70% in 2015, and private sector investment has grown by 80%.

In Henrico, great business relationships are nurtured and cultivated. Even if that nurturing takes 12 years…

The Case of Wipro: Philosophy in Action
The EDA came to know Wipro, a leading global information technology, consulting, and business process services company, on a governor’s mission trip to India in 2007. There, the team talked to Wipro’s C-suite about business goals, assembled a team, followed up several times, stayed connected, and, most importantly, stayed determined.

Years later, Wipro came to the Richmond region and was looking to expand operations. Hall and Felicia Ainsa, the EDA’s Existing Business Manager, held several meetings with the Wipro team. The Virginia Economic Development Partnership and the Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade supported the expansion throughout the process.

In 2019, Wipro established a state-of-the-art engineering and innovation center in Henrico. The facility focuses on full-stack engineering solutions, customer experience, and accelerators across cybersecurity, cloud, digital, DevOps, fintech and financial services. It plays hosts to customized visits, workshops on design thinking and innovation, and projects featuring industry collaboration – which means technologies, training, and expertise are available to educators, community leaders, and policymakers alike.

But a win like this for the business and the county only happened because the EDA nurtured the relationship and poured the foundation years in advance.

Sharad Gupta, Vice President and Global Head of Digital, Strategy, and Execution for Financial Services and Insurance at Wipro Limited, appreciates that the EDA went the extra mile. He’s lived in Richmond for 10 years and knew of Henrico’s reputation for business excellence. He appreciates the skilled workforce (42% of Henrico residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher), top-tier universities (nearly 30 nearby colleges, universities, and professional schools), and available property (Wipro found a 10,000-square-foot building perfect for its innovation center) – not to mention Henrico’s strong fintech scene.  

Gupta maintains that throughout the planning, search, and execution phases of the engineering and innovation center, the EDA served as a great resource, critical stakeholder, and tremendous advocate. “Virginia’s reputation for innovation, commerce, academic excellence, and world-class engineering talent makes it the perfect environment to continue to grow Wipro’s business, and we are excited to further invest and expand our operations here,” he said.

Wipro’s goal is to accelerate innovation for local startups and clients and create 200 additional jobs by 2021. Given their partnership with the EDA, there is every evidence that this will happen on schedule.

A Track Record of Success
Wipro is merely one example of the EDA way. Strong partnerships with companies throughout a variety of industries over the years have resulted in tremendous success for business and for Henrico.

Examples of successful partnerships include:

  1. Alfa Laval, a world leader in heat transfer, centrifugal separation, and fuel handling, established their U.S. headquarters in Henrico after the EDA helped them set up an advanced manufacturing facility.
  2. Elephant Insurance, a direct insurer, began as a part of Admiral Group with fewer than 50 employees when it was a startup. Today, its employees number just under 700 and the business is repeatedly recognized as a top place to work.
  3. U-Dig, a technology consulting firm, saw its success escalate after a Business First visit. The company loved Henrico and was rapidly growing, but operating out of two buildings was affecting its efficiency. The EDA listened, located a property to suit their needs, and accessed abatement credits and state incentives to help with the move. Governor Ralph Northam attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and an additional 51 jobs were created in Henrico.
  4. Marathon Consulting, an information technology consulting firm, was also assisted by a Business First visit. A market assessment proved that the viability of a technology solution center designed to attract new clients and talented engineers was strong. The EDA found a suitable office space, and the company is set to host an open house event for the state-of-the-art center this March.

The More Things Change…
Hall said that in more than two decades of service, he’s seen industries grow, flow, and evolve. Henrico used to be heavier into manufacturing; now it’s advanced manufacturing, fintech, healthcare, insurance, and data centers that are at the forefront. Data centers in particular are booming here, thanks to unprecedented access to two – and soon four – subsea cables. And though the businesses may have changed, the EDA’s way of saying yes has not.

The EDA has proven to be as adaptable as the Henrico market it serves because it works in support of local businesses, nurtures a great business ecosystem for growth, and keeps business success going for the economic vitality of the region. This is the effort that’s required to make Henrico one of the best-run localities in the nation and a great place to do business.