Business by the beach: Why Virginia Beach could be your gateway to the US
Discover how Virginia Beach is attracting European businesses in the first part of our mini-documentary
The City of Virginia Beach, centrally located on the US east coast, is probably best known as a holiday resort. But the city is reaching out to Europe as a destination for businesses seeking to expand into the US. Last year $372m was invested into the city – but for Virginia Beach, attracting that amount of capital starts by attracting people. In the first half of our mini-documentary about the city, we interview Mayor Will Sessoms, Director of Economic Development Warren D Harris, and President of IMS Gear Virginia Gunter Weissenseel, about what makes Virginia Beach an attractive gateway to the US for European businesses.
Warren D Harris: Of course, we are a first class resort city. We’re very fortunate to have a wonderful beach resort area: approximately 13 million visitors annually experience our beach. But we also have an emerging town centre. Our financial hub, our cultural hub, our central business district.
We are trying to diversify our economy, and diversify our business complements here. Because we have a great location, we have an excellent workforce. We have access to the world, in the Port of Virginia. As an economic development strategy, we have certainly taken it upon ourselves to throw the beach in for free.
European CEO: The City of Virginia Beach, centrally located on the US east coast, is probably best known as a holiday resort. But the city is reaching out to Europe as a destination for businesses seeking to expand into the US. Last year $372m was invested into the city – but for Virginia Beach, attracting that amount of capital starts by attracting people.
Mayor Will Sessoms: Virginia Beach is the largest city, population-wise, in the Commonwealth of Virginia. A lot of people don’t realise that.
The city is the safest of its size in the country. Our school system is truly a world-class school system. So we take great pride in two things: safe neighbourhoods, and also a well-educated city.
European CEO: Virginia is home to the east coast’s deepest water harbour, as well as the world’s largest military installation. These – as well as the beach – have been key assets in expanding the economy. The Virginia Beach Development Authority knows this well, and is focused on helping businesses grow to their full potential.
Warren D Harris: You know I would say it, and although it’s a cliche: we are certainly considered a pro-business community, and we take that very proudly.
Virginia was founded as the Virginia Company. The colonists came to Virginia to look at expansion opportunities for companies. And so what was established here in Virginia was actually the Virginia Company.
So, we’ve always had an entrepreneurial business approach to our laws and our business programme, with regard to supporting businesses. Our tax rate; corporate tax has not changed since 1972. It’s very stable, very low. Cities like Virginia Beach have established incentives. They’ve also established expediting the permitting process, giving you every opportunity to not find yourself in a position where there’s a hiccup in that process of growing your business.
You know the landscape, in terms of priorities for businesses. Evaluating locations to grow and expand has really changed over the years. But the number one, most important aspect that we’ve found, from our experience working with businesses, has been a well-trained, well-skilled workforce. And we have what I would call our hidden jewel: and that’s the exiting military.
We are very fortunate that on an annual basis, anywhere between 12-15,000 personnel from the military are coming out. And so for the employer, what that brings to you is a well-trained, well-skilled, very disciplined individual that’s had that experience, that you can hire and find yourself not having to spend a lot of cost on your own, in terms of training and bringing them up to speed.
Yes, there’s training for the uniqueness of your company and your business. But in terms of that core competencies, you’re going to find that that workforce is probably key.
European CEO: It’s certainly been key to IMS Gear Virginia, a subsidiary of the 150-year old precision engineering company, founded in the Black Forest in Germany. In 2000 the business started looking for a home in the US – and Virginia Beach stood out.
Guenter Weissenseel: We were looking for a good workforce, we were looking for a good environment. We were looking to be close to our customers in the US. And also what’s important here: we’ve got a port, we get container shipments once or twice a week, where we get steel, or we ship out.
We get from the military people who have order, they come on time, they are trained from the military.
The local government is good. They supported us with quite a bit of grants that we got when we moved; giving us all the permits that we needed.
Virginia Beach stands out: the whole environment is very good. For me, I lived in several US cities, and Virginia Beach is so far my favourite. I mean, I like the freedom you have here, the closeness to the water. It’s just a nice place to be. So you can go to work, and then you can go out and have dinner right on the water, which is very relaxing. So, quality of life is important. But also support that you get your products in.