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 Virginia’s Stable Business Climate Reflected In Century-Old Companies

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The state's top-notch talent base, one of the most educated and productive in the country, has kept companies investing in Virginia for the past century.

Virginia’s stability and pro-growth governance is the basis of its appeal to companies. The Commonwealth has maintained the same corporate tax rate since 1972 and has earned an AAA bond rating since 1938, longer than any other state. Startups and expansions alike can move forward with business plans knowing that policies and operating costs will be predictable, and true to form, Virginia’s economy has grown steadily at an average rate of 2 percent for the past 20 years, contracting only during nationwide recessions.

That stability has resulted in consistent rankings among the best-run states in the country, regardless of which party occupies the executive mansion or controls the general assembly. As Mike Petters, former president and CEO of Fortune 500 company HII, said, “There’s a general consensus in the state legislature of the importance of business, and I don’t think that is tied to a particular party. It’s incumbent upon the businesses to identify those things that are good for business, but when the case is made, the Commonwealth steps up.”

Petters’ former company is an example of the benefits of that stability. HII and its subsidiary, Newport News Shipbuilding, have operated consistently from Newport News since 1886, taking full advantage of its location on a natural harbor at the mouth of the James River to become the country’s sole designer, builder and refueler of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. Founder Collis P. Huntington’s famous quote—“We shall build good ships here; at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always good ships”—reflects Virginia’s commitment to stability and consistency.

Investing in Virginia

Numerous other Virginia companies can point to similar histories. BWX Technologies has delivered energy solutions from its Lynchburg headquarters since 1867, adapting as the cutting edge of power generation moved from steam to hydroelectric plants to nuclear fission. Owens & Minor in Hanover County has served medical customers continuously since 1882. Sauer Brands, makers of products that include the famous Duke’s mayonnaise, has operated out of Richmond since 1887. Two major Richmond-area companies—security giant The Brink’s Company, famous for its armored trucks, and construction aggregate producer The Luck Companies—are celebrating 100 years in business in 2023.

Other major, historic companies moved to Virginia after establishing themselves. Iconic candy manufacturer Mars, with brands including Snickers and M&M’s, moved its headquarters to Fairfax County from Washington in 1984. Leading global hospitality company Hilton, established in 1919, moved its headquarters from California to Fairfax County in 2009. The Bechtel Corporation, ranked second among construction contractors by the Engineering News-Record in 2022, was founded in San Francisco in 1898 and relocated its headquarters to Fairfax County 120 years later. 

Food and beverage processing giant Nestlé USA traces its roots to Switzerland in 1866 and operated out of California for years before moving to Arlington County in 2017. In explaining the move, Nestlé Zone North America CEO Steve Presley said, “It was really about finding the right location that gave us access to the right talent and the right kind of infrastructure we needed to succeed for the next 100 years, and that turned out to be Virginia. What we found in Northern Virginia is the talent we need to win.”

Top-Notch Talent With Staying Power

That talent base, one of the most educated and productive in the country, has kept companies investing in Virginia for the past century. Nearly 40 percent of Virginians have a bachelor’s degree or higher, well above the national rate of 33 percent, making the Commonwealth the sixth-most educated state in the country. 

When asked why their companies chose Virginia, executives across the Commonwealth echo several recurring themes: quality of life, a top-notch workforce, an advantageous Mid-Atlantic location and growth potential. Virginia’s business climate enhances that value proposition through one of the lowest overall business tax burdens in the country. But the greatest evidence of the merits of Virginia’s business climate is the companies that continue to choose to operate, and continue to flourish, in the Commonwealth. Each candy bar, jar of mayonnaise and nuclear reactor manufactured by Virginia’s oldest companies is a testament to the Commonwealth’s consistent commitment to business.


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