For the Prince William region’s economic leaders, major business projects under construction are giving the area an increasing focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The top officials trying to grow business in the region spoke at a “Future of the Region” event hosted by the Prince William Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 23 in Woodbridge.
In November 2018, Amazon announced a plan to bring 25,000 jobs to Arlington County with a headquarters development that will reshape the region’s labor market. In August 2018, chip manufacturer Micron Technologies announced plans to build a $2.98 billion expansion at its Manassas facility, with 1,106 new jobs by 2030 with an average annual wage of $92,000.
Ensuring students at every grade level are preparing for STEM jobs and focusing on talent recruitment will be key to making sure companies like Amazon and Micron have people to hire, said Christina Winn, economic development director for Prince William County.
Winn moved to Prince William County in June after working in business development for Arlington County. She helped draw Amazon’s headquarters project, as well as U.S. headquarters for Nestlé and Lidl.
Bringing Amazon to Arlington required a team approach from economic development leaders throughout Northern Virginia, Winn said. That success led to the creation of the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance in fall 2019.
Winn said economic development leaders from 10 jurisdictions in Northern Virginia partnered together to leverage resources and amplify their message about NoVa’s shared assets.
“Businesses don’t see borders, they see marketplaces,” she said.
One of the alliance’s first focuses is working on recruiting employees.
“How do we bring the talented workforce in to supply our employers and to make sure that the pipeline doesn’t dry up,” she said. “And Fairfax is one of the leaders in that area.”
In September 2019, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that an associate’s degree in cloud computing, which was first offered at the Northern Virginia Community College, will be expanded to all community colleges in Virginia. NOVA community college officials worked with Amazon Web Services Educate to develop the associate’s degree program.
One thing Winn said she plans to market to businesses is the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s talent accelerator program, which is free for qualified new or expanding businesses and offers training and recruitment assistance that is unique to each business. The program has partnered with the Virginia Community College System, according to the partnership’s website.
Winn said the talent accelerator program is going to be “instrumental” for companies.
U.S. 1 IS WHERE IT’S AT
For Prince William County, Winn said a challenge is changing the county’s perception as a suburban community. As the county looks to cluster development and focuses on expanding mass transit, Winn said that will help position the county to attract both people and businesses.
These clustering plans call for a town center and urban neighborhoods that will have walkability and access to mass transit. In North Woodbridge, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors approved a “small area plan” in October 2019 that allows more development in the area near the VRE station. The plan preserves established communities and open space, while plotting out areas for technology or flexible for industrial use.
After the North Woodbridge plan was approved, Grace Street Properties spent $19.1 million for the Station Plaza shopping center on U.S. 1 at Va. 123. They plan to build a 13-acre mixed-use project.
Winn said they’re not the only developers excited about North Woodbridge.
“We’ve gotten so many interested property owners and investors that are looking at this area,” she said.
Revitalizing the entire Rt. 1 corridor in the county is a high priority, Winn said.
“I feel like when we’re thinking about the future of 2020 and beyond, Rt. 1 is where it’s at,” she said.
Near Manassas, Prince William County continues to see its data center industry expand. Economic development staff estimated last year that the county has about 5.2 million square feet of data centers. STACK Infrastructure and Peterson Companies announced Jan. 22 plans to build a 125-acre data center with more than 4 million square feet. The pair of companies have plans to start by developing 25 acres with 700,000 square feet, with the first phase completed as early as the end of the year, according to a news release.
MICRON, MANASSAS GROWTH
Like Amazon, Micron’s big announcement was tied to lucrative state incentives.
In exchange for its investment, Virginia committed to giving two grants for a total of $70 million to Micron if it meets its hiring and building goals.
Stephen Moret, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, said Virginia allocated a $50 million grant to Micron in August 2019. The second grant, $20 million, is set to be released in August 2020, Moret said.
According to Micron’s first performance report issued in June 2019, the company has hired 177 people, Moret said.
Patrick Small, economic development director for Manassas, said Micron is the city’s largest employer with an estimated 1,511 employees. The company is also the city’s biggest utility customer and largest single taxpayer, he said.
Since Micron’s announcement, Applied Materials opened in the city recently with plans to add 30 jobs, Small said. The company also produces chips and advanced displays.
Manassas continues to see large numbers of people heading into the city for work. The city sees 18,416 people who commute into the city daily for work, Small said.
Small also works with Historic Manassas, a nonprofit funded by private donations and the city, to create a wide-range of events. Small said the city attracted 450,000 visitors in 2019, so they plan to attract 500,000 people in 2020.
One new draw is 12 events each year where people can purchase alcohol from downtown restaurants and take them outside, as long as they stay in the designated downtown area. In August, Historic Manassas received permits from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control for up to a dozen events each year.
“If you come downtown and participate in our events, you’re going to fall in love with our city, you’re going to want to have your business here,” Small said.