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Jennifer Wakefield column: Economic momentum is strong, but lack of external perception could hurt us
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The Greater Richmond Region

Jennifer Wakefield column: Economic momentum is strong, but lack of external perception could hurt us

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This past May, the economic situation was bleak all around. Companies that had been considering expanding or relocating their operations swiftly applied the brakes and put everything on pause as the pandemic created major disruptions in every aspect of our lives. However, by the fall time frame, companies slowly were beginning to press the accelerator to continue their previous plans. Since the end of 2020 and into 2021, companies have been flooring it.

This is true all across the country as businesses have been making major announcements over the past few months. And it’s definitely true in Greater Richmond. We’ve had major recent announcements from Amazon in Henrico County, Carvana in Chesterfield County, Lowe’s in Hanover County, and Grenova and Aditxt Therapeutics in the city of Richmond.

Our region is hot, hot, hot right now. In fact, LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index just listed Greater Richmond as the second most optimistic region in the U.S. based on economic factors. And this is just two months after LinkedIn said the region was No. 3 in the U.S. in attracting the most residents in the midst of the pandemic.

Now just imagine how much more successful we can be in bringing even more jobs and investment to the region if we all work in a more concentrated and conscious effort to spread the word about how great our home is for business.

When you live here, you know how wonderful Richmond can be. As the lead regional economic development organization for the city of Richmond and the counties of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico, the Greater Richmond Partnership (GRP) makes sure our clients know all of the reasons they should want to locate here as well.

But what we’ve found is that most corporate executives in our targeted industries across the U.S. don’t know a thing about our region before we begin working with them. And it’s our job to change that reality.

Over the past three years, GRP has conducted third-party qualitative and quantitative research to gauge corporate executives’ perceptions, as well as those of site location professionals who advise executives in nearly half of all economic development projects. What we’ve discovered is that Greater Richmond has not been on their radar — at all.

On a scale of 1 to 10 on how likely they were to consider the Richmond region, executives rank our area at a 4.5. Corporate executives are 33% more likely to consider Raleigh, N.C., than Richmond and site consultants are nearly 20% more likely to consider Charlotte, N.C., than Richmond.

On a recent GRP webinar, one of the country’s top site location professionals, Chris Lloyd of McGuireWoods Consulting, stated, “There is a lack of identity for the Richmond Region.” And Stephen Moret of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership said, “We have underinvested in marketing efforts compared to our competitors.”

Unfortunately, it’s accurate. When benchmarking best-of-class regional economic development competitors, One Columbus (Ohio) has a budget nearly four times the size of GRP and the Greater Phoenix Economic Council has a budget that is three times our size. Both have stellar, well-funded and coordinated marketing programs.

The solution is simple. We need to create a coordinated marketing campaign targeting out-of-market executives within our targeted industries to get them to consider our region more often. And the process already is underway.

GRP has been working with our member localities, ChamberRVA, Richmond Region Tourism, Venture Richmond and many private-sector businesses to formulate a plan of action for moving forward. We’re positive that with the momentum underway and by working together, we can solve this challenge and make our region top of mind for those who wish to bring jobs and investment to the region.

Jennifer Wakefield is president and CEO of the Greater Richmond Partnership (GRP). Contact her at: jwakefield@grpva.com

GRP attracts new companies to the region by providing in-depth market data, marketing the region globally and generating quality economic opportunities. For more information, visit: www.grpva.com

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