How Petersburg, VA Became a Hotbed For Businesses

June 9, 2021 - (4 min read)

The Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam has made three major announcements this year regarding new bioscience businesses coming to or building new facilities in Petersburg, Virginia.  Petersburg is located 20 miles south of Richmond, the capital of Virginia.

What are the businesses?

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.

How did the Technology Zone come about?

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.  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.  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.

What does the future hold for the city?

Petersburg is undergoing a transformational change that will bring over 600 new, highly technical jobs to the city.  Over the past three years, through sound financial and budget management with the current staff and the current council leadership, the city has grown its fund balance to just under $13 million.  The bioscience businesses are so vital to the city, state and the country, the Commonwealth of Virginia has provided almost $20 million in funding for improving the infrastructure in the technology zone to accommodate the increase in utility usage.  There are many partners on the team that made this transformation possible and you can learn more from the Virginia Governor’s Office.

As the country nears the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, it will find itself better prepared for fighting future diseases.  It is the opinion of this writer that the world depends on the US for innovation and ingenuity.  With the approval of our current Covid-19 vaccines, the US has again provided solutions that have saved millions of lives.  From this point forward, that focus will be centered in the great city of Petersburg and we anxiously look forward to meeting that challenge.

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.  

About the Authors