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a monumental local investment

Chesterfield to house Lego's only manufacturing facility in the U.S.

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Lego plans to invest at least $1 billion to construct its only U.S.-based manufacturing plant in Chesterfield County, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced Wednesday.

The Virginia factory — a 1.7 million-square-foot giant that will be Lego’s seventh manufacturing facility in the world and supply the Americas — is estimated to create more than 1,700 jobs over 10 years and is projected to open for production by mid-2025. Construction, along with hiring, begins later this year, but an exact month has yet to be set.

“This best-in-class, world-class facility will be built brick by brick,” Youngkin said at the Science Museum of Virginia to a crowd of state economic and political leaders, top Lego officials and Denmark’s U.S. ambassador. “This is the future of manufacturing, and it is right here in the commonwealth of Virginia.”

The 90-year-old global toymaker hasn’t had a factory in North America since closing its first one in Enfield, Conn., nearly 15 years ago and shifting production to Mexico. With the U.S. a key market, the expansion’s goal is to shorten supply chain issues and reduce the company’s carbon footprint — a hefty goal that Lego Group CEO Niels B. Christiansen said hinges on reducing emissions by 37% by 2032.

Conversations about bringing the Lego plant to Virginia date back to at least October, when Gov. Ralph Northam was in office.

Christiansen said its commitment to ensuring the toy company’s plants are environmentally sustainable will be released in public reports. He said the Chesterfield factory will be designed to be carbon neutral, which means offsetting carbon emissions through projects such as renewable energy efforts.

Two of the company’s major ambitions for the site include making it “highly energy efficient” with 100% being matched by on-site renewable sources to minimize energy use. The factory will also be paired with a solar park, which will be built by 2025 and generate the energy needed for the plant to run.

“For us, sustainability is super important. When you serve kids, it cannot be anything but ... important. The world and the planet they inherit needs to be a place for them to live,” Christiansen said. “I can tell you every week, I get a lot of letters from kids who write to me about their concerns and their wishes and their visions of what to do.”

In 2020, Lego announced its removal of single-use plastics and proposed a mission to make all of its core products from sustainable materials by 2030.

The move comes years after nearly 5 million Legos were lost at sea when a 28-foot wave hit a cargo ship in 1997. Scientists have estimated a single Lego block could take anywhere from 100 to 1,300 years to decompose.

The facility will be housed in Chesterfield’s Meadowville Technology Park, which has been around for more than 20 years and sits adjacent to I-295 and the James River. In 2020, the county put forth $3 million out of the $21 million total used to buy 353 acres as an add-on to the park.

Online Chesterfield records assessed the land at about $3.5 million.

Garrett Hart, director of Chesterfield Economic Development, said the partnership with Lego shows why it’s critical for the county to have project-ready sites. The only feasible option available was Meadowville.

“It’s taken us several months to get here, but the first day they saw the site and met us on the site, they picked the site,” Hart said. “They didn’t tell us that until about a month ago.”

Chesterfield residents have voiced criticism for another technology park known as Upper Magnolia Green, which will partially include plastics manufacturing.

Lego manufactures more than 100 billion plastic bricks every year.

A written Q&A the company provided to the media included: “Is it environmentally sustainable to spend $1 billion building a factory that will produce millions of tonnes of plastic?” Lego said the bricks are “inherently sustainable” because they’re passed down from one generation to the next.

The Q&A also appeared to distance the company from the governor’s push to ban “critical race theory” in K-12 schools — stating “we stand against racism and inequality.”

Another question in the Q&A asked “How can / Does the LEGO Group, as a brand, support the current Governor’s political agenda?”

It answered: “This is a long-term, multi-generation investment which goes beyond the politics of today, globally or locally.”

It also noted how Legos have helped children develop creativity and problem solving skills.

Lego executives didn’t share whether potential tax breaks made Virginia a more attractive possibility for housing its sole facility in the U.S. and instead cited the county’s transportation networks, how the state aligned with the company’s mission and the opportunity to invest in communities while expanding its manufacturing network.

But in a release, Youngkin’s office shared the LEGO Group will be eligible to receive $56 million in Major Employment and Investment Project performance grants subject to General Assembly approval.

The MEI Project Approval Commission was established to “review financing for individual incentive packages, including but not limited to packages offering tax incentives, for economic development,” according to Virginia law.

“Those incentives are driven by the economic growth that Lego will bring, and this is a framework that we are using in order to strike these kinds of great arrangements with companies that actually bring economic growth, more jobs, and as a result, more tax revenues to the county and to the commonwealth,” Youngkin said.

The announcement follows two other recent economic development wins for Virginia as Boeing and Raytheon Technologies announced they were moving their headquarters to Northern Virginia.

Christiansen could not say Wednesday whether there would be any plans to add a Lego store to Chesterfield to accompany the site.

smoreno@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6103

Twitter: @sabrinaamorenoo

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