After 21 years leading the Greater Richmond Partnership, Greg Wingfield stepped down this week as its first CEO, trading in his frequent flyer status for evenings and weekends as he enters retirement.
Wingfield’s last day at the partnership was Tuesday. He’s succeeded by Barry Matherly, who has more than 20 years of experience in the field, the past three as the partnership’s senior vice president for business development.
Following a couple weeks off, Wingfield plans to start a new venture, GH Wingfield Consulting, which he says will continue fundraising efforts with the partnership’s 145 private sector investors, while also working on a contract with VCU and the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs for strategic planning, branding and development.
Wingfield sat down with Richmond BizSense to reflect on how Richmond has grown – and the partnership along with it – over the two decades he has championed its development. The following is an edited transcript:
Richmond BizSense: You advocate for a regional approach to economic development. How has Richmond embraced, or been resistant to, that regionalism concept?
Greg Wingfield: Over 21 years, I have seen regional cooperation improve dramatically in the Richmond region. We do a lot of things together that the general public is not aware of, around public safety, recycling – a number of things that really are not high profile to a regular person down the street.
But we still have issues. We still have challenges around big projects, and I think the baseball (stadium) issue is one of those. The bike race was another, where not all of the jurisdictions (Chesterfield, Hanover, Henrico and Richmond) came in to be a part of that. We’ve got very good relations with (the localities); rightly so, because they’re our investors. They put up $1.5 million to our budget. So it’s not a ‘them vs. us’; it’s ‘we’re all in this together, you’re paying for our marketing services and the support for retention activities, so how can we do the best job possible?’ So at that level, it works very, very well. At the big project level, when you’ve got elected officials that have different agendas, there are sometimes some challenges.”
RBS: How has the Greater Richmond Partnership helped in making that happen?
GW: Twenty-one years ago, when we started the partnership, there wasn’t a track record. There was a regional group called MEDC, the Metropolitan Economic Development Council, that was purely publicly funded, but it didn’t have the private sector’s involvement. So this new entity, the Greater Richmond Partnership, when it was formed, had no track record. Over time, particularly in the early ‘90s, when we had a lot of early success with bringing in Brink’s and Qimonda and their suppliers, the semiconductor companies and so on helping with Capital One and other fast-growing companies, that gave us credibility.
By working together with the four jurisdictions, we were able to prove that, as a region, we can market ourselves. It’s better to market 1.3 million people, the colleges and universities, the good quality of life, the 20 art and cultural institutions that we have within the region, rather than singularly having Chesterfield doing their own thing or the city doing their own thing. We proved that by coming together as one unit and selling Greater Richmond, we can provide the results.
RBS: Was there one particular success that put you on the map?
GW: Motorola. While it didn’t come the way that we thought it would, it did give us (State Route) 288, because that was the impetus to complete that road; it gave us the ability to fundraise for the School of Engineering at VCU; and then as a joint venture partner, Motorola with Siemens brought us Infineon, which then was bought by Qimonda. At the height of that production for the semiconductor chips that were being produced out by the airport, they had 2,500 people and $3 billion in the ground in new capital investment. It was the deal of the year across America. That put us in a high visibility position. As a result of that, we had another 80 companies that were attracted to the area – vendors and suppliers – that were working with the mothership.
(Motorola) got out of the semiconductor business after a while, but they had invested $50 million buying the site, infrastructure improvements and so on, but didn’t carry forth with the project. They did in a joint venture with Siemens to produce that semiconductor plant that was sold to Qimonda, but then Qimonda went bankrupt, and QTS is in that facility now.
RBS: What would you say has been the partnership’s greatest success of the past 21 years?
GW: That’s hard to say. I think recruiting high-visibility companies, Fortune headquarter companies like MeadWestvaco, Philip Morris/Altria. Those are company names that people know. They had a choice to relocate, and they chose Greater Richmond. International companies like K Line, from Tokyo, that we recruited out of New Jersey, is another good example. They’re a transportation company; you would think they would be looking in a port area because they move a lot of containers, but they wanted to be in a headquarter-type environment and chose Richmond for that.
RBS: You mentioned your new consulting practice. How else are you going to spend your post-GRP years?
GW: I average about 65 hours a week, so what I get back are my weekends. About a third of my weekends for the last 21 years, I’ve been gone, either flying in or flying out somewhere. So I get that back. I average over 75 or 100 nights a year at a hotel. I get that back. So that’s what I’m looking forward to, is getting out of hotels and airplanes, and continuing to work. Forty hours a week is a respectable amount of time; I just won’t have the morning meetings, the evening activities and the weekends that I’ll be able to use.
Stay tuned to BizSense in the coming weeks for a Q&A with Barry Matherly.