Economic Development in the city of Petersburg

Lythos Studios is a Richmond advertising agency. In July 2020, the city of Petersburg, Virginia reported a positive fund balance of almost $13M through its fiscal year ending in July 2019.  This feat was remarkable considering the city had a negative fund balance of nearly $7 M in 2016 when it found itself embroiled in its worst financial crisis since the Civil War.  Then City Manager, Aretha Ferrell-Benavides, retained Lythos Studios' owner, Clay Hamner as the Economic Development Manager, to market the city both regionally and nationally.  These were the objectives to communicate:

*awareness of the city's financial status

*awareness of the new bioscience businesses moving to the city

*promote the city nationally to develop new talent pools for the bioscience businesses and derivatives of the bioscience industry

*increase the tax base of the city as new housing projects were developed 

*promote the economic development success of the city

So, how did we accomplish national recognition?

As Economic Development Manager, the team started regionally with the Virginia Municipal League (VML) by contributing an article outlining the steps the city took to balance its books.  Read more:

Next we approached the International City Managers Association (ICMA) for a 3000 word article with much greater detail regarding the steps the city had taken to reconnect the city financially and literally.  Numerous state agencies were at work in the city in 2019 and 2020 which this article details:

The ICMA article led to more national publication possibilities:

American City and County Magazine:

Economic Development
Example of Economic Development in Petersburg

Then a guest blog opportunity arose for National League of Cities:

For a quick read of this blog post about economic development:

What are the businesses adding to the economic development of the city?

The three businesses are Ampac Fine Chemicals (AFC), Phlow, and Civica Rx.  When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the US early last year, the federal government realized the country would have to lead the world in developing vaccines for this pandemic and new ones for future viruses. 

AFC is the first of the three companies in the supply chain for creating the chemicals needed for producing new drugs.  The company purchased an existing plant located on a 200-acre campus in Petersburg in 2016.  A press conference in May 2021 stated 156 new jobs would be created at this facility by investing $24.5 million. (link provided at the end of this blog)

Phlow, the second entity in this supply chain will develop drugs and vaccines from the compounds produced by AFC.  Phlow was awarded in spring of 2020 a $354 million grant from the Food and Drug Administration agency, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to develop new remedies for a variety of diseases.  

Civica Rx, which is building a $124 million facility will distribute these essential medications directly to hospitals across the country.  Martin Van Trieste, CEO of Civica Rx stated, “We anticipate hiring over 180 employees within the next few years.  We chose Petersburg because of the strong STEM workforce, the friendly business environment, and the location in the mid-Atlantic close to major transportation corridors.”

Business in Petersburg does not consist of just these three companies.  In 2018, the city welcomed 102 new businesses; in 2019, 171 and in 2020, 186.  Following the Code of Virginia guidelines, the city has promoted its Enterprise, Art, and Technology Zone; to list just a few.

The leadership of the city of Petersburg had the foresight to amend the requirements for a technology zone that aligned with the state’s enterprise zones as allowed in the Code of Virginia as part of its economic development improvement.  On November 5, 2020, just months away from the Phlow announcement of its $354 million grant, city council voted to approve amendments to the I-95 Technology Zone to define and clarify existing sections. 

Petersburg boasts a convergence of many highways and routes along with a variety of train tracks dating back to the 1800s.  These roads include I-95, I-85, 295, Routes 360 and 460 and a train station just outside city limits in Ettrick, which is in Chesterfield County, Virginia.  Petersburg was a major supply chain to the south starting in the 1700s with ports along the Appomattox River.  The city is the perfect location for transporting biomedical resources into these new facilities and for delivering finished drugs and vaccines out to every hospital in the country.

In the spring of 2021, we met with the communication team at VML to discuss the creation of their inaugural podcast, the VML Voice.  It is light and entertaining and contained messaging from the Mayor, City Manager, Deputy City Manager, Hamner and one of the Petersburg citizens who is on the board of Historic Petersburg Foundation.

Enhanced Economic Development

In addition to the podcast, VML had the ability to include a half page article in their June issue of Towne and City Magazine.

The end of my tenure June 30, 2020 featured a guest writing in Richmond Family Magazine promoting a local Ag center in Petersburg and the Economic Development Team in Petersburg.  

Coming soon an article published in Digital Huddle about the success of the AE2019 marketing campaign to promote Black history and prominent Black Americans from Petersburg.

About the Author

Clay Hamner holds a chemistry degree from the University of Richmond and worked as an analytical chemist operating a mass spectrometer at Roche Laboratories until migrating into a family advertising business in 1990.  Since 2012, Hamner has worked for a variety of foundations, organizations and the city government in Petersburg marketing the city’s history and promoting economic development.