The future of economic growth in Virginia lies both with investors creating new opportunities as well as distinctive strategies deployed by the commonwealth to help make those opportunities a reality.
As a cabinet secretary and agency head under three governors of both political parties, I spent almost 12 years proudly serving Virginia with the goal of helping create new economic opportunities for our citizens through both traditional and new, distinctive approaches.
It was an honor to work with so many dedicated and talented people in the public and private sectors on unique programs to reach those goals.
One of the most unique initiatives occurred during my time as Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s secretary of commerce and trade with the launch of the Virginia Initiative for Growth & Opportunity — GO Virginia — a new approach to economic and workforce development championed by private sector leaders and embraced by the state.
The initiative seeks to strengthen and diversify Virginia’s economy, and foster more regional collaboration to develop targeted investment clusters in high-growth, high-wage sectors, with the state providing incentives to facilitate new job creation opportunities.
Today, as vice chair of the GO Virginia Region 4 Council, I’m watching the concept become reality in central Virginia with the development of an advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing cluster, including research and development components.
The cluster arises from the area’s strengths and infrastructure.
Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and the VA Bio+Tech Park, located in Richmond, are national leaders in pharmaceutical technology with the talent needed to support cluster growth.
Down the road in Petersburg, private pharmaceutical manufacturing companies are colocating to create a national stockpile of medicines.
Together, this cluster offers solutions to some current public health challenges:
- How can we reduce the cost of medicines?
- How can we assure dependable access to safe, effective and affordable medicines in the U.S. when the supply chain largely is located overseas?
- How can we bring good manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.?
- And, how can we supply essential medicines to the world’s poorest nations to improve their lives and fight global pandemics?
The heart of this effort is the VCU College of Engineering.
Thirteen years ago, VCU recruited Dr. Frank Gupton to grow the department of chemical and life science engineering.
He brought with him industry acumen and a dream to engage faculty and students to bring fresh insights to industry challenges.
VCU’s recruitment of Gupton and his vision have resulted in the development of new chemistries and engineering methods, the incorporation of best practices from other industries, and the advancement of techniques to make high-quality medicines faster, cheaper and with less environmental impact.
The department’s work caught the attention of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which asked: Could this approach reduce the cost of making medicines that the world’s public health organizations distribute to people in nations that cannot afford them?
The answer was a resounding “yes,” and the Gates Foundation committed to this approach by providing financial support to establish the Medicines for All Institute at VCU.
For the past seven years, faculty and students have made numerous breakthroughs, including driving down the cost of the world’s most widely distributed medicines treating HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.
The advancements also created another opportunity that has caused an explosion of interest.
This past May, the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) awarded a multiyear contract to Richmond-based Phlow Corporation to create a national stockpile of active pharmaceutical ingredients for essential medicines and to build a continuous process advanced manufacturing facility for medicines — from key starting materials to finished products.
This award was the largest BARDA contract ever issued with the specific goal of bringing back to the U.S. all of the elements of the pharmaceutical supply chain for essential drugs.
Because of Phlow’s collaboration with VCU’s Medicines for All Institute and Petersburg-based AMPAC Fine Chemicals, the proposed manufacturing and distribution site will be located in Petersburg and already is bringing much-needed jobs to the area.
The recent announcement by Civica, a Utah-based nonprofit manufacturer of quality and affordable generic drugs, to colocate at the site, invest $124 million and create 186 jobs is the first example of that job creation.
More investment and job creation is expected in the future as other companies across the country are looking to locate in the region to become part of this burgeoning cluster.
The Virginia Economic Development Partnership, closely working with local and regional public and private sector partners, is leading the recruitment effort, and its Virginia Talent Accelerator Program and Virginia Jobs Investment Program play vital roles in ensuring that these companies have the trained workforce they need to operate.
And, GO Virginia is funding a planning grant administered through the VCU College of Engineering that will provide assistance in moving this important effort forward.
This involves private and public sector stakeholders regularly meeting to learn more and discuss the opportunities and challenges inherent in bringing an economic opportunity of this magnitude to life.
All of this presents an extraordinary opportunity for Virginia.
While GO Virginia isn’t singularly responsible for this opportunity, the unique initiative played a significant role in laying the foundation for it to materialize.
Indeed, this type of cluster is an example of the opportunities imagined when GO Virginia was created.
Now, more than five years beyond its formation, the vision of GO Virginia is becoming an exciting reality with enormous potential in central Virginia.
Todd P. Haymore is managing director of Hunton Andrews Kurth’s public affairs consultancy. He served as secretary of commerce and trade for Gov. Terry McAuliffe; secretary of agriculture and forestry for McAuliffe as well as Gov. Bob McDonnell; and commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for Gov. Tim Kaine. He currently serves as vice chairman of the GO Virginia Region 4 Council and is a member of VCU’s Board of Visitors. Contact him at: THaymore@hunton.com