Luxury comes in many forms. Especially when your work and lifestyle are equally rich – as is the case in York County, with its four spectacularly beautiful seasons, just enough snow to keep the kids entertained, over 200 miles of Virginia coastline, and robust infrastructure, all creating a fertile business landscape that is backed up by great quality of life, top schools, and public safety.
Part of the Greater Williamsburg region, York County is much more than just a great place for a vacation, despite being only two hours from snow-covered ski slopes and an hour from Virginia’s sunny beaches. With a growing economy and ideal infrastructure, business opportunities in this former tobacco port are ripe for the picking and the county is welcoming capital investors with typical Southern hospitality.
House prices are surprisingly competitive and for those with families, York County boasts the second highest standardized test scores for public schools in the Hampton Roads area and an overall high ranking in Virginia. In fact, York County has been listed amongst the U.S. top 100 greatest places to live by Money Magazine – and for good reason. Finding a beautiful, affordable home on navigable water here is perfectly achievable; smaller homes sell for around $400,000 and you could even have a boat moored at your own dock. Crime statistics are low and the fire rating is excellent. In fact, the latter is so good that residents receive a break on their homeowner’s insurance thanks to response times being minimal. Municipal services run seamlessly and the county’s wide choice of housing ranges from condos to single-family detached homes and everything in between.
One of the area’s greatest assets is its proximity to over 20 military bases that contribute greatly to the local economy. The Greater Williamsburg region also offers the entire spectrum of exciting amenities, including cultural events and world-class museums – not to mention fantastic outdoor and other leisure activities like sailing, fishing, boating and a host of other fun recreation.
James W. Noel, Jr., Director of the York County Office of Economic Development, and Assistant Director Melissa Davidson told us why York County is the perfect place for businesses – especially for privately held, mid-sized companies – to settle. “I recently met a local corporate executive who commented that he loved the fact that his children could grow up in this historic environment and get a great public education. And we also a have a wonderful, temperate climate. It sounds almost too good to be true, but it is accurate,” says Jim.
The majority of the county’s subdivisions are only a 10 to 20 minute drive from an office or light industrial park, so there is no need to battle the interstate every morning. Residents also enjoy easy access to three different airports. Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport is only minutes away and Norfolk International and Richmond International can be reached within an hour’s drive. The county’s exceptional accessibility is further improved by the Port of Virginia, one of the largest on the East Coast, offering lucrative import and export opportunities and large enough for the largest Panamax ships to dock. Depths reach up to 50 feet, allowing ships of a size that can pass through the Panama Canal, to call here. Substantial government investment means that the port is under continual development, and York County businesses are only 45 minutes away from here by interstate highway. Three interchanges on I 64 make getting onto 95, 85 and 81 a cinch, allowing goods to move north, south, and east with ease. CSX Rail takes care of rail transfer, putting the proverbial cherry on the supply chain and logistics sundae.
Being based in York County means being in an exceptionally central location. With the Atlantic Ocean on one side, the county abuts every other community on the Virginia Peninsula. It shares borders with Newport News, Hampton, the City of Williamsburg, the City of Poquoson, James City County, and Gloucester County on the other side of York River, which runs into Chesapeake Bay. The peninsula’s relatively narrow geography, at an average maximum width of six miles, means that all these areas are in very close proximity, which is great for finding employees – especially with its estimated 1.7 million people, of whom 600,000 are active in the labor market in the Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Newport News Metropolitan Statistical Area. While the accommodation, food service and retail sectors are the county’s largest employers after the public sector, the construction and scientific and technical services industries are growing rapidly, aided by the strong local workforce.
York County blends big-city amenities with country charm and historical value. The place’s long and fascinating colonial history starts in the 1600s and is closely woven into its tens of thousands of acres of verdant parks, federal land and modern neighborhoods, including the Colonial National Historical Park. This is home to the Yorktown battlefield, where one of the Revolutionary War’s most significant battles was fought at the end of September in 1781. Historic Yorktown and its colonial architecture also form a preserved part of the park. This part of town is connected to the battlefield, Jamestown Settlement, and Colonial Williamsburg by the Colonial Parkway, a beautiful country road lined with dogwoods, azaleas and other gorgeous foliage. The area is also rich in water and hosts two reservoirs, Harwood’s Mill Reservoir, which is owned by the City of Newport News and Waller Mill Reservoir, which is owned by the City of Williamsburg. Both are surrounded by large, protected green zones that further contribute to York County’s atmosphere of peaceful abundance.
In addition to its natural and historic splendor, the Yorktown waterfront was revitalized in 2005 and is now known as Riverwalk Landing. The Historic Freight Shed was also restored and 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space was added, the beach was expanded, the pier was upgraded, and floating docks now offer mooring for recreational craft and other vessels. The Virginia Symphony Orchestra performs at Riverwalk Landing every year, and on weekends, the local farmers’ market draws people from near and far, in season. It is also a popular venue for other music concerts and craft festivals, as well as its annual Wine and Blues, Brews, and Barbecue festivals. Last year the Hermione, a replica French tall ship, visited in honor of the original ship’s role in bringing General Lafayette to Yorktown with the news of France’s support. The development gives people incredible access to the York River and has become known as the crown jewel of York County – a must-see for visitors.
There are a number of gems that make this knowledge-based economy exceptional. “The College of William and Mary is doing a great deal of work in many different scientific disciplines. We’re taking advantage of that,” says Jim. Owing to the large volumes of research being conducted here, the college is a wonderful resource for a number of different disciplines.
Two nearby federal laboratories also add to the county’s intellectual capital. Atoms are split at the Thomas Jefferson National Laboratory, which has a Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility, where physicists from all over the world come to study subatomic particles and other phenomena, while the NASA Langley Research Center focuses on space technologies, aviation, and aeronautics. Right next door is the National Institute of Aerospace, a consortium of colleges and universities, where post-doctoral work is done in conjunction with NASA Langley in all these aviation fields.
Across the river, in Gloucester County, is the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), the third largest marine institute in the United States. Affiliated with The College of William and Mary, the institute does groundbreaking work in research associated with the marine environment at large.
A byproduct of the research conducted at VIMS and the other federal laboratories in the area is the commercialization of their discoveries. One technology spinoff example in York County is an unmanned, underwater vehicle that uses groundbreaking side-scan sonar technology invented at VIMS.
Supplying all these valuable tertiary institutions and the local labor market is York County’s workforce development entity, Thomas Nelson Community College. This and other community colleges throughout Virginia prepare students for four-year degrees. Youngsters with a Grade Point Average of 3.5 or above are guaranteed admission to most of Virginia’s four-year public institutions. The community colleges also focus on certification programs, in some cases offering great incentives for completing two-year qualifications, which are a great source of confidence for local workforce development professionals.
Another workforce contributor is the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development, whose focus is on working with new and existing employers to identify what their needs are and what skill-sets they require. Customized training programs are then developed, sometimes in partnership with Thomas Nelson Community College, and at a very low cost to companies. There are also grants offered by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, based on the number of jobs employers provide, to help train employees and close any skill gaps that may exist.
Another lifestyle asset and part of Christopher Newport University is the Ferguson Center for the Arts in Newport News, once noted by velvet-voiced singer Tony Bennett to have “the best acoustics after Carnegie Hall.” Two other educational resources are Old Dominion University in Norfolk and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, both of which have engineering schools that produce a number of engineers who settle in the area.
Another fantastic human resource can be found in the roughly 12,000 people who leave the military annually – many of whom choose to begin their second careers in the area. These former military staff typically have a great deal of training and multiple certifications in areas that the Economic Development Office focuses on, such as cyber-security and unmanned systems. “This is another very important asset for companies who seek technically trained individuals with a good work ethic,” says Jim.
The region recently won a grant to develop an unmanned systems testing and demonstration facility on about 400 acres of fallow state property. Known as the Go Virginia Program, it was initiated by a partnership between the private sector and the state. All the localities on the Peninsula and Gloucester are jointly contributing to this area where companies can come and demonstrate unmanned underwater, aerial, ground and water-surface vehicles. The vision is to develop an industrial park in this area where these products can be manufactured alongside ancillary products like cyber-security and other advanced technologies.
“We hope to have space there for co-working and collaboration with representatives from universities, NASA, and the National Institute of Aerospace. We think that’s going to be a tremendous asset for this growing cluster, which we see as having potential here,” says Jim. There are also a number of other properties being developed in partnership with various stakeholders that will further expand the county’s light industrial and manufacturing offerings in the future.
“We have a very robust business retention and expansion program – which is Melissa’s forte,” says Jim. Melissa has developed a world-class award-winning program for home-based businesses, which recently received recognition from The International Economic Development Council, the Virginia Association of Counties, and the National Association of Counties, with top awards for innovative planning in addressing the home-based business sector. Of the 5,000 business that are licensed in York County, over 3,000 are home-based. These include defense contractors and people with all sorts of technical expertise – it’s an incredibly innovative, entrepreneurial community.
There are a myriad of incentives to settle new businesses here, making it an attractive option for businesses looking to make long-term capital investments. The list of business incubators, networking spaces, financial support and access to assets in the region is astonishing. For example, the OED has awarded grants to the Alewerks Brewing Company, The Virginia Beer Company, and Brass Cannon Brewing. “We’ve got a very vibrant scene here for millennials, a robust scene for foodies; we just did a grant for a brand new restaurant – some young people with spectacular credentials in the culinary world. They’re taking a vacant old gas station and turning it into Casa Pearl, an oyster / taco, fusion restaurant, and we gave them a grant to help renovate their building,” says Jim.
On a larger scale, The Snow Companies – recently purchased by Omnicom of New York – are leaders in representing pharmaceutical companies, patient advocacy, patient services, and patient testimonial advertising. The OED gave them a $200,000 grant to renovate a 40,000 square foot office building that had been vacant for some time and was falling into disrepair. It is now expanding and hiring millennials, doing cutting-edge work and serving half the pharmaceutical industries in the world.
With so many exciting developments happening in this exquisite place, it’s hard to come up with reasons not to join in the prosperity.