Home security firm picks Willow Lawn for $5M call center

SimpliSafe’s call center will fill the top two floors of the building at 1601 Willow Lawn Drive. (BizSense file photo)

A fast-growing home security company has selected Willow Lawn for its second national call center, bringing with it more than 500 new jobs to the region.

SimpliSafe, which produces self-installed security systems, is taking 60,000 square feet in the shopping mall’s former Miller & Rhoads building along Willow Lawn Drive, where it plans to invest $5.5 million to establish the center, Gov. Ralph Northam’s office announced Thursday.

The center, which would create 572 jobs, will fill the top two floors of the three-story building at 1601 Willow Lawn Drive, above retail and restaurant spaces including Zoe’s Kitchen and the former Travinia Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar space.

The upstairs space was previously used by VCU Health, which moved the offices it had there to the former SunTrust Operations Center on Parham Road.

A photo of the office interior. (Submitted)

Virginia competed with North Carolina to land SimpliSafe, a Boston-based company that in the past two years has doubled its size to nearly 800 employees.

The company was lured in part by eligibility for state benefits through the Virginia Enterprise Zone Program and tax credits for job creation. A $200,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund will be used to assist Henrico County with the project. The state also is providing funding and support for employee training.

Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with Greater Richmond Partnership and the Henrico County Economic Development Authority to secure the project, with site selection assistance from Richmond law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth.

Lee Downey, economic and business development director with Hunton’s public affairs arm, said the Willow Lawn site appealed to SimpliSafe for its amenities and location on the GRTC Pulse rapid-transit bus line. He said the region’s labor force also factored into its decision.

“The company loved the workforce in Richmond, the talent and diversity,” Downey said. “The building met all of the things they’re looking for in a site. They wanted to be on public transportation, and you’ve got the Pulse right there, a bus stop right next door, and you’ve got parking if you need it. They wanted amenities – shops, restaurants, places for the employees to get out and walk. That’s there.”

“They were really focused on quality of life for their employees, on having access to public transportation, so that Willow Lawn area was really appealing to them,” added Anthony Romanello, Henrico’s EDA director. “It’s exciting to have them in Henrico. It’s going to be great for Central Virginia.”

In a statement, SimpliSafe CEO Christian Cerda said the company is “proud to now call Virginia and Henrico County our second home.”

“We aim to offer a fast-growing and innovative workplace culture and are thrilled to find ready-made facilities at Willow Lawn,” the statement said. “…We have a lot of hiring to do and are excited to get started.”

Design firm ENV is lined up as the architect on the project, and HITT Contracting is doing the upfit.

The call center adds to other moves in and around the mall. Restaurant chain &pizza recently signed on for a space, and Chase Bank is planning a branch in the former Extra Billy’s building nearby.

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Daniel Cooper

1st Willow Lawn added tenant out parcel pads like Panera and AAA (now Chopt and Starbucks), then they created additionally parking lot greenery by adding more islands and now they are bringing in a company that will house 572 employees. Apartment density around Willow Lawn is going up with everything Gummenick is doing at Libbie Mill as well as the residential growth of Scott’s Addition, all of which feeds into increased use of the Willow Lawn SC. How much longer will it take for the retailers to pressure the SC into adding a parking deck?