Orange County provides an ideal mix of rural living and urban access. The county lies at approximately the halfway point on America’s east coast, close to airports, ports, interstates – and plenty of business opportunities.
“Being centrally located in the east coast [provides] access to markets,” Thomas Miller, Director of Orange County Virginia Economic Development points out. “Two thirds of the U.S. population is just over a day’s drive away.” Located in Virginia’s north-central region, the county of approximately 35,000 is a little over an hour’s drive from the nation’s capital, an hour’s drive from the state capital of Richmond, and a half hour from Charlottesville, a thriving college town that is home to the University of Virginia.
Local businesses enjoy access to markets and amenities without the inflated costs. “If you are looking for an affordable place to do business, but still want to be located near important markets, Orange County is a great place for that.” Nestled in the Northern Piedmont Region at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the county boasts plenty of green space, reasonably priced real estate, and an overall low cost of living.
Most commercial and industrial activity is concentrated in or around the county’s two towns – Orange and Gordonsville. Future growth is also planned along the Route 3 corridor, in the northeast portion of the county, closest to Northern Virginia’s booming market. Manufacturing has always thrived in this area and remains strong today. “We have everything from American Woodmark, a cabinet manufacturer, to Aerojet Rocketdyne, [which produces] propulsion systems for U.S. defense and aerospace exploration,” Mr. Miller explains.
On the other spectrum, agriculture has a large presence throughout the county, and the sector continues to grow. Agriculture production, livestock sales, and crop sales totaled more than $90 million in 2012, an increase of $15 million from five years earlier. The nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and grape production sectors are some of the most successful in the state. Orange County boasts a slew of award winning wineries, including Barboursville Vineyards, Horton Vineyards, and Reynard Florence Vineyard.
Orange County’s diverse economy has attracted a varied workforce. “We have a wide gamut of skill sets here in the community, from rocket engineers to long haul truck drivers and agricultural [workers]. It is a very diverse community with a lot of diverse skill sets and a great east coast location to manage most every business need.”
Local government works hard to help businesses thrive. “We are a pro-business county,” says Mr. Miller. “Leadership in Orange County is very supportive.” This support extends to “any businesses looking for an east coast location,” as well as existing local businesses looking to expand and local start-ups looking to launch. “We will work with every entrepreneur that wants to start up a business. We will even help evaluate business plans one-on-one in our local Economic Development office.” A true testament to the County’s “pro-business” attitude is shown in the recent (July 2015) announcement by Aerojet Rocketdyne to invest $11 million to expand its manufacturing operation and add 100 new well-skilled jobs in the county. “The support provided by the county and helping align numerous other agencies was a key reason the Orange County facility was chosen over a dozen other locations.”
From assistance with financing to marketing plans, “we make sure we point local entrepreneurs in the right direction.” We work together closely with local agencies in order to make the process of launching or relocating a business as hassle-free as possible. “We make sure it is a fast, smooth transition for whatever type of investment a company may be making.” For instance, local government “will fast track the planning and permitting turnaround process for approved projects.”
Businesses interested in taking advantage of Orange County’s pro-business environment and ideal location will find plenty of real estate available, from industrial zoned land with utilities and rail access to move-in ready commercial buildings. Ideally situated on scenic U.S. Route 15, is the county-owned 155 acre Thomas E. Lee Industrial Park. With over 80 acres available, the industrial park has access to public water, sewage, fiber and CSX rail. Thomas E. Lee Industrial Park is currently home to MPS, Zamma Corporation, Lohmann Specialty Coatings, and St. Gabriel Organics.
The county has targeted the Route 3 corridor for the County’s future growth and development, planned for the next 50 years. “Geographically, Route 3 is the portion of the county most closely positioned to Northern Virginia,” Mr. Miller explains. “We are planning over the next 50 years to capture 80 percent of our growth in this small portion of the county, right off Route 3 where the county already has fiber optics, public water, public sewer, and properly zoned land.” The corridor is just a few miles from Fredericksburg, a city that captures some of the southernmost business of Northern Virginia’s markets, and the I-95 corridor, one of the east coast’s most important thoroughfares.
The Route 3 corridor already has a large planned community in place for newcomers. With nearly 9,000 residents, Lake of the Woods is Orange County’s largest community and appeals to both locals and people fleeing the DC-area hustle and bustle. The private, gated community covers a sprawling 2,600 acres with 4,260 lots connected with 41 miles of private paved roads. Lake of the Woods is built around two manmade lakes with seven access areas, eight sand beaches, and two marinas. Recreation is emphasized, and the community offers everything from swimming, boating, and fishing to golfing, camping, community center activities, ball fields, basketball courts, horseshoe pits, playgrounds, and walking trails.
Orange County is a popular tourist destination, particularly for history buffs. Civil War battles were waged throughout the area and today Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park is partially located in the county. Visitors to the park can visit four different battlefields (Fredericksburg Battlefield, Chancellorsville Battlefield, Wilderness Battlefield and Spotsylvania Battlefield), two plantations, a historical church, visitor centers, Confederate cemeteries, and the Stonewall Jackson Shrine, which is the site of General Jackson’s death. Located just a few minutes from the Wilderness Battlefield, Mine Run Battlefield and Paynes Farm have an interpretive trail for visitors to explore.
In Gordonsville, Civil War enthusiasts can visit the Exchange Hotel and Civil War Museum. A railroad hotel that became a hospital during the war, the site showcases medical artifacts and holds special medical reenactments. The Town of Orange boasts a visitor center where General Robert E. Lee camped during the winter of 1863-1864, as well as an historical Episcopal Church where Jefferson Davis and other well-known Confederate leaders worshiped. The community of Montpelier Station has a walking trail that winds through the site of a Civil War encampment and the Gilmore Farm, a farm of a freed African American family. The Gilmore family cabin is still standing and the soldiers’ huts have been reconstructed by re-enactors using authentic Civil War-era building methods.
Orange County’s best-known historical destination is Montpelier, the home of James Madison, America’s fourth president, the Father of the Constitution, and the Architect of the Bill of Rights. “Montpelier is the biggest draw for the county,” Mr. Miller shares. Visitors can tour the lovingly restored mansion and wander through 2,650 acres of grounds which include two acres of formal gardens, a 200 acre old-growth forest, pastures, rolling hills, and hiking trails with stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The estate is also the site of the Montpelier Hunt Races, a premier event on the National Steeplechase Association’s circuit. Held on the first Saturday of November each year, the event includes seven races; two on the flat, five over fences, and one that is run over Montpelier’s signature brush fences. There are also Jack Russell Terrier races and a variety of arts and crafts vendors at the event. The annual Fall Fiber Festival & Montpelier Sheep Dog Trials is another annual event at Montpelier. Presented by the Virginia Border Collie Association (VBCA), the festival provides a unique opportunity to see sheepdogs in action, as well as a chance to browse arts, crafts and knitting supplies. Other Orange County annual festivals include the Somerset Steam and Gas Association’s Pasture Party, Orange Street Festival, Gordonsville Street Festival, Orange County Fair, and the Montpelier Wine Festival.
Aside from Lake of the Woods, there are two other lakes – Lake Orange and Lake Anna – which boast recreational facilities and parklands for visitors to enjoy. Golf courses, swimming pools, picnic areas, and playgrounds are scattered across the county. Considered prime horse country, equestrian farms are commonplace and horseback riding is popular. Fishing, hunting, hiking and camping are also popular and widely available throughout the rural county. Agro-tourism draws large numbers of people to the county “for everything from pick-your-own berries to one of the largest corn mazes in the state,” as well the local wineries.
Orange County also boasts a remarkable array of talented artisans whose works – from jewelry and sculpture to clothing and furniture – can be viewed and purchased at local galleries. Residents also enjoy regular live performances by local actors, musicians, and poets. In addition, Orange County serves up “lots of eclectic dining options, from award winning, five star French dining to award winning local barbecue restaurants,” Mr. Miller reports.
High quality schools and a cost of living below the national average, make relocating to Orange County a realistic option. An increasing number of people – particularly Northern Virginians tired of DC’s crowded suburbs – are looking south for a little more breathing room; they are finding the business opportunities and lifestyle they want in Orange County. “The quality of life is definitely unsurpassed here.”