Why So Many Executives Choose Virginia for Their Corporate Headquarters
The last few decades have solidified Virginia’s position as America’s hometown for corporate headquarters. In total, 580 companies have relocated to or expanded headquarters offices in Virginia in the last decade. The Commonwealth is home to 22 Fortune 500 headquarters — tied for sixth in the country — and 36 Fortune 1000 companies representing industries as diverse as technology, defense, hospitality, food and beverage, and finance.
In ranking Virginia as its top state for business (and the best state in the Workforce and Education categories), CNBC cited the “best workforce in the nation, with the nation’s largest concentration of science, technology, engineering, and math employees.” Virginia is home to almost a million professionals in corporate headquarters functions (e.g. finance, accounting, computer science, data science, human resources, and marketing), and that talent pool is one of the most diverse in the country, placing Virginia among the top 10 states for the percentage of corporate professionals who are Black, Asian-American, or foreign-born. The Commonwealth maintains an ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion — for example, Virginia was the first state in the Southeast to extend workplace protections to LGBTQ+ professionals.
Companies are taking notice, including some of the world’s largest. Holly Sullivan, head of worldwide economic development at Amazon, cited “a strong local and regional talent base” when the company announced its decision to locate its highly coveted HQ2 at National Landing in Northern Virginia.
Virginia’s talent advantages start with its top-notch education system, and the Commonwealth invests to ensure the future health of that talent base. Virginia boasts the best higher education system in the South and the second-best in the country (SmartAsset, 2020) and the best K-12 public schools in the South and the fourth-best in the country (WalletHub, 2019) which helps ensure the future health of that talent base. The Commonwealth holds another talent advantage over its peer states — a robust pipeline of individuals each year, exhibiting stability, confidentiality, and high-stakes operational knowledge. Only California, nearly five times larger, has more service members separating from the military each year.
Virginia’s location at the center of the East Coast offers headquarters proximity to key economic hubs, including critical customer markets like the federal government, Northeast Corridor, and Southeast metro areas. These advantages were cited by then-Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush when the Fortune 100 company moved its headquarters from California to Falls Church in Northern Virginia — and Virginia’s proximity to Washington, D.C., allows for access to regulators and other decision-makers. Strong infrastructure helps magnify those geographical advantages. As Hilton President and CEO Chris Nassetta said when his Fortune 500 company announced it was relocating its headquarters from California to Fairfax County, “Virginia offers a more central location from which to operate a global organization.”
In addition to Virginia’s highway network, second-densest in the Southeast, every region of the Commonwealth has access to at least one of 16 commercial airports, including two of the nation’s top airports in Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport. Virginia’s extensive public transit network offers access to environmentally friendly transportation options — the Commonwealth ranks No. 1 among Southeastern states for public transit usage.
Another Virginia trait attractive to corporate headquarters is stability. The Commonwealth offers a combination of business-friendly policies and stable operating costs, including a 6% corporate income tax rate that hasn’t changed since 1972. Virginia has earned an AAA bond rating for more than 80 consecutive years, longer than any other state. As Mike Petters, president and CEO of Newport News-based Fortune 500 company Huntington Ingalls Industries, 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.”
In addition to a highly attractive and stable business climate, Virginia offers world-class talent. Kevin Chidwick, then the CEO of Elephant Auto Insurance, said when the company established its U.S. headquarters in Greater Richmond, “The financial economics of recruiting, rewarding, and retaining this talent are not only attractive in the short term, but aligned with our business’s long-term aspirations.”
Major corporations have found Virginia to be a strategic location to build and grow, supported by an educated workforce, strong transportation, strategic location, demographic diversity, and a host of other benefits. State and local leaders have worked assiduously
to help businesses build on the Virginia success story.
The story is ongoing.