The new CEO of the Greater Richmond Partnership is aiming high as he takes the helm of the economic development group.
Barry Matherly, who started as CEO this month – succeeding longtime head Greg Wingfield – said the regional recruitment group is currently searching for the next Fortune 1000 company to locate its corporate headquarters here.
Previously a vice president and head recruiter for the group, Matherly said it is working on identifying companies that could become the 11th from the Fortune list to locate in the region. The area currently has six companies in the Fortune 500 and almost got its seventh as a result of this year’s rankings.
Richmond BizSense sat down with Matherly to discuss that initiative and other challenges the partnership faces as he leads it into its third decade.
The following is an edited transcript:
Richmond BizSense: Is there a particular type of company or business sector that Richmond should be targeting and recruiting right now?
Barry Matherly: We currently think there is a window of opportunity to recruit another Fortune 1000 company to the region. We are doing some research on a targeting list right now, in partnership with the University of Richmond. MeadWestvaco (now WestRock) was the last one we worked on. They’ve been here about six years or so.
Based on what we’re hearing, what we know, we think it’s a good time for another Fortune 1000 company. It’s not going to happen overnight. A lot of effort will go into this. But, just like the impact of MeadWestvaco and Altria before that, their impact is huge on a community once they get here. They provide great jobs, corporate-headquartered jobs. And because of the corporate headquarters, you have a lot of spin-offs of other companies that come to the region to support them.
RBS: How many business prospects is GRP actively recruiting?
BM: What I can say is we have more prospects now than we’ve probably ever had. And the interesting thing about that is 74 percent of them are international. People don’t expect that who live in Richmond: just a percent away from three-quarters of all those prospects are international prospects, not U.S. companies.
RBS: What do you attribute that to?
BM: One, the U.S. has been in a slight recession, where other countries are still doing well around the world. We seem to think sometimes when the U.S. is down, everybody’s down. Not the case. So, part of our strategy in targeting, even coming out of the recession, is: where are people doing well? That’s why we’re in Brazil, because Brazil’s doing well. There’s a reason why we’re in China.
The other thing is the U.S. market is a pretty saturated, mature market, so most Americans know the American system well, they know where they’re at, they’re pretty entrenched where they are, where all the international companies, they look at the U.S. and it’s such a big country they can probably only name about seven or eight real cities. And most are probably going to be New York and Chicago and L.A. and D.C. They know these big American cities, but they also know that probably, just like in the U.S., 90 percent of them aren’t going to end up in New York doing anything. They can’t afford it; they don’t have the right setup. So they know that’s not where they’re going to be, but they don’t know what’s in between. And there’s a ton of little metros and cities all over the U.S.
What we find about the international companies is it’s almost like an open book – they’re willing to consider anything that makes sense.
RBS: How does GRP go about pitching Richmond? Is it an easy region to pitch?
BM: It’s a very easy city to pitch. The problem we have is not many people know the region exists. That’s really the rub, right there: when we go to talk about the region to people, they love the concept of this kind of mid-sized region with a river and outdoor activities and easy to get around and a high-quality lifestyle and a strong business community. All those things resonate with them. The problem is they didn’t know we existed before we showed up to tell them a place like Richmond exists.
Once we raise the awareness and make that first discussion, it gets easier in the process. And if we can get them to visit, then the sell becomes super easy, because most of the times companies visit, they love it when they get here.
A good example might be the recent announcement we had of the Brazilian company, Mavalerio. When we had our first meeting with them less than a year ago, I don’t think they knew Virginia existed (laughs). They knew Virginia existed, but they had looked in Florida, they had looked in Delaware; they had these other states in mind, but they had never considered looking at Virginia. Once we met with them and we talked about the area, they were like, ‘We’ve got to come see this, because we’ve seen the other places and we know they didn’t work.’
RBS: How do you ID a company like that as something to go after or to let them know about Richmond?
BM: That’s the hard part. We spend a lot of time and effort. We’re doing stuff in-house, and we also know third-party companies that specialize in different places in the world, different markets, so we engage them depending on what strategy different ones use to do their research. We tell them when we’re going, where we’re going, and then based on all that, we know who to call and we say we want to meet with 20 or more companies like this – certain sales, certain growth projections, certain size – and then they use their expertise to find those companies, too.
RBS: You were previously in Charlotte and once served as economic development director for Goochland and Pulaski counties. What made you want to come back to Richmond?
BM: My wife and I knew we were going to become empty-nesters, and we were free to go anywhere we wanted to go. We looked at a lot of different states, almost like we do site selection here. At the end of the day, I had spent two years 15 years ago out in Goochland County, and from that experience, we just loved Richmond. I came back 12 years after leaving; I liked it then, and it’s even better now.