Category Archives: Entrepreneurs and Innovation

Sidney, We’ll Miss You

Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

Sidney Gunst, who died last week, was best known as the pioneering developer of the Innsbrook office park in Henrico County — the biggest employment center in the Richmond metropolitan area outside of downtown Richmond. The Richmond Times Dispatch’s Greg Gilligan did a fine job on short notice of capturing Sidney’s inimitable spirit in an article published yesterday. But to those of us who knew and loved him — and we are many — there is so much more to say. God broke the mold when he made Sidney. Everybody has a story to tell about him. I’ll tell just a few of mine.

The thing I loved most about Sidney, aside from his irrepressible sense of humor, is that he was a man of great enthusiasms. He joked about still being ADHD at the age of 70, and there was probably some truth to his self-diagnosis. He was endlessly curious, and he had an incredibly wide range of interests. But he didn’t dabble. When he got involved in a project, he threw himself into it wholeheartedly.

On this blog, I have written about Sidney’s crusade to redevelop the Innsbrook office park for the 21st century. Innsbrook was designed for the autocentric age of the 1980s and 1990s, but the world had changed. Energy was flowing back into the central cities, and he knew that Innsbrook had to change with the times. He spearheaded the effort, which is finally beginning to show results, of converting the vast tract of scattered office buildings and parking lots into a vibrant, around-the-clock, mixed-use community.

But business was only one of his interests. Continue reading

310 Virginia Companies in the Inc 5000 This Year

Charis Jones, CEO of Sassy Jones, No. 75 in the Inc. 5000

And now for a bit of good news. Virginia’s entrepreneurial economy is faring very well, thank you. This year 310 Virginia companies are ranked in the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing privately held companies. Five were ranked in the Top 100.

How does that compare nationally? In very rough numbers, Virginia accounts for one out of every 40 Americans and one out of every 40 dollars of U.S. GDP. But one out of 16 private fast-growth companies is located here.

As always, the entrepreneurial ferment is concentrated in Northern Virginia, which has the best developed venture capital network, the most highly educated workforce, and a deep reservoir of IT talent. Nearly 75% of Virginia’s Inc. 5000 — 227 companies — reside in the Virginia portion of the Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area.

The Richmond metro (44 companies) and Charlottesville metro (6 companies) also punch above their weight. Continue reading

Selling Virginia Pot? Expect A Union Label

by Steve Haner

When Virginians begin to buy marijuana from state-licensed providers, if Governor Ralph Northam has his way, along with his smiling visage on every baggie of grass you may also find a union label.

I’m kidding about getting high with the governor’s image on the package but using the legalization bill to promote union political goals through a back door is no joke. Future state marijuana licensees may be in danger of losing their ability to sell pot if they fail to live up to various union-driven labor law requirements, set out below.  Continue reading

Podcast: How the General Assembly Has Changed

By Peter Galuszka

I haven’t contributed much to BR lately since I am slammed with non-Virginia work. I did manage to help out on a Podcast about how the General Assembly has changed the state over the last two years as Democrats have gained power.

This Podcast is produced by WTJU, the University of Virginia radio station. I do a weekly talk show on state politics and economics and, on occasion, work on Podcasts.

Joining me is Sally Hudson, a delegate from the Charlottesville area. She is Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Education and Economics. Sally studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford and is one of the youngest members of the General Assembly.

I hope you enjoy it.

COVID-19’s Long-Term Changes in Virginia

by DJ Rippert

In the long run…  Over the past eight months COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the world, the United States and Virginia.  One hundred and twenty thousand cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Virginia  Over 2,500 people have died from COVID-19 . The cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to grow in the Old Dominion. One year ago unemployment in Virginia hovered at 3%. Today it is 8%. Protests and rioting, possibly catalyzed by the COVID-19 lockdowns, have occurred regularly in several Virginia cities as well as Washington, D.C. Schools in Virginia moved to virtual teaching last Spring and many schools will open this Fall with either fully or partially virtual teaching. Nobody doubts the short- and mid-term effects of COVID-19. But what of the long-term effects? What impacts of COVID-19 will be felt after this version of the Coronavirus is gone?

The Spanish Flu (1918), Polio (1916 – 1955), H2N2 (1957), HIV/AIDS (1980s -), Swine flu (2009), COVID-19 (2020 -). Epidemics have broken out in the United States since the colonial days. Smallpox, yellow fever and cholera outbreaks plagued the country for centuries. The Spanish Flu pandemic was far worse than COVID-19 (to date). That flu struck in four waves and is estimated to have killed up to 50 million people worldwide. However, most Americans today would say that the Spanish Flu didn’t create major long-term changes in the United States. Some would disagree. Academics like Andrew Price-Smith believe that flu tipped the balance toward the allies in World War I. The growth of predominantly female-led nursing in the US may have been a consequence. In utero exposure to the pandemic may have negatively affected the health and prosperity of those exposed. Some survivors of the Spanish Flu never fully recovered. Despite all that, the Spanish Flu was called “the forgotten pandemic” until COVID resurrected interest. Economically speaking, the end of the Spanish Flu coincided with the start of the Roaring Twenties, making it hard to find long -term negative economic impacts from that pandemic. Continue reading

Construction: Virginia’s Quiet, Strong Man

Scene from Micron’s $3 billion construction project in Manassas. Photo credit: Inside NoVa

By Peter Galuszka

For all the complaints about the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia – the shut-down restaurants and (temporarily) closed beaches – one industry has been working steadily and quietly all along – the state’s construction sector.

Builders haven’t missed much of a beat since the “state at home” orders started going out a couple of months ago.

In Pentagon City, works still progresses on the two, 22-story towers for Amazon’s new eastern headquarters. In suburban Chesterfield County near Richmond, workers toil adding new drain pipes and four-laning once- rural roads. Four-story apartments overlooking Swift Creek Reservoir are taking shape for the over-55 crowd.

At a loud and garish protest next to the State Capitol against Gov. Ralph Norham’s work-stoppage plans last month, Mark Carter, a contractor from Hanover County, made his views known. “We‘re still working,” he told me. “I’m not for Trump and I’m not a Democrat. People need to work.”

In Virginia, some are. After all, New York state and Boston stopped construction work due to the pandemic. Continue reading

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Look at Richmond and COVID-19

By Peter Galuszka

Here is a roundup story I wrote for Style Weekly that was published today that explains the effects of COVID-19 on the Richmond area. Hopefully, BR readers will find it of interest.

It was a tough piece to report. The impacts of the deadly virus are very complicated and multi-faceted. An especially hard part was trying to keep with the fast-changing news, notably the number of new cases and deaths. We were updating right up until the story closed Monday afternoon. It was hard to talk to people with social-distancing and closings.

The experience shows the delicate balancing act between taking tough measures to stem the contagion and keeping the economy going. My view is that tough measures are needed because without them, it will all be much worse, particularly more illness and death as the experience in Italy has shown.

Incredibly, our utterly incompetent president, Donald Trump, now wants to focus on the economy more than taking necessary containment steps. It’s far too soon for that. Regrettably, a number of Bacon’s Rebellion commenters are sounding the same irresponsible tune in keeping with their big business and anti-regulation laud of free market capitalism. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: $$$$$ Edition

They didn’t ask this question until now? Will the wave of Amazon-inspired development in the Pentagon City area of Arlington County overwhelm the region’s transportation network? “Arlington planners, and nervous neighbors, want to know,” reports the Washington Business Journal. Some neighborhood groups are wary that the point of the planning review is to clear the way for a major up-zoning in the area. “They fear the county could determine that the neighborhood has the transportation infrastructure to handle more residents and allow for density increases — even though they believe the opposite is true.”

Meanwhile, JBG Smith Properties and other developers are pitching massive new projects around the new Amazon HQ. Not coincidentally, the WBJ reports, “JBG Smith ramped up its political giving in Virginia with control of the General Assembly on the line.” JBG Smith’s Virginia campaign contributions this electoral cycle: $34,206.

Glad to hear that “Black Enterprise” is still a thing. The Mount Olive Baptist Church in Culpeper wants to create a network of support, mentorship and information for African-American small business owners. Black business ownership is increasing, but black entrepreneurs face big challenges. The goal of the network is to help them gain knowledge about finances, start-up capital and the industrial/managerial skills it takes to grow successful enterprises, reports the Star-Exponent. As the politics of grievance and victimhood have taken hold nationally, we don’t hear much about black enterprise these days. I cannot help but note that this initiative comes from a black church, not a foundation-funded think tank staffed by white intellectuals.

Can you say “overreach”? Virginia Tech will spend $5 million to $10 million to launch a biomedical research facility in Washington, D.C. by early 2021, the university announced yesterday. On a campus of a new Children’s National Hospital campus, four or five Virginia Tech research teams will conduct research on cancers of the brain and nervous system. Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands said in a statement the partnership fits Tech’s ambition “to solve big problems and create new opportunities in Virginia and D.C. through education, technology and research.” Continue reading

Block.one Chooses Arlington for U.S. Headquarters

Blockchain CTO Dan Larimer

This may be the most fascinating Virginia business story of the year. Block.one, a leader in blockchain technology that originated in Blacksburg but is headquartered in Hong Kong, has announced that it will establish its U.S. headquarters in Arlington County. Virginia is providing a $600,000 grant from the Commonwealth Opportunity Fund to snag the $10 million investment.

Block.one employs more than 80 people in Blacksburg, and the town will “remain a significant innovation hub,” reports the Roanoke Times. The company is hiring people for 44 jobs in Blacksburg, and 21 in Arlington. Blockchain is known mainly as the technology that underpins digital currencies, although it has fast-growing applications in payments processing, logistics, and other fields.

The governor’s press release said that Block.one publishes the EOSIO blockchain software, “the fastest public blockchain protocol in the market. The free, open-source protocol is designed to be adapted and used by the developer community and companies to create a more secure and transparent digital infrastructure.” Continue reading

Undercover Billionaire and the Opportunity Narrative

Billionaire sleeping in old pickup truck - Erie, Pa

Billionaire sleeping in old pickup truck, Erie PA

by Don Rippert

The show.  The Discovery Channel started airing a new series about a billionaire who goes to Erie, Pa with an old pickup truck, $100 and a cell phone with no contacts.  His goal is to build a business worth $1m in 90 days.  If he achieves the goal he will share ownership of the business with the employees.  If he fails he will finance the business with $1m of his own money.  This show strikes me as a laboratory experiment regarding Jim Bacon’s Opportunity Narrative. Continue reading

Sweet Briar Finds Niche in Artisinal Agriculture

A Sweet Briar student holds a honeycomb from one of the school’s beehives.

Women account for a rapidly increasing percentage of the nation’s farmers, and in that trend Sweet Briar College sees a business opportunity. The women’s college, which nearly shut down due to financial difficulties a couple of years ago, has no intention of competing with Virginia Tech’s traditional agricultural sciences program. Instead, it is building a program around artisinal farming.

Located on 3,200 acres in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Sweet Briar campus once was a working plantation with tobacco and agricultural crops. Now it hosts vineyards and beehives, and it is tearing out the old tennis courts to install a nine-bay, 27,000-square-foot commercial greenhouse. In the future, the school plans to raise livestock and plant orchards.

According to the 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture, 56% of all U.S. farming operations have at least one female decision-maker, and the percentage of female farmers has been rising rapidly, reaching 1.23 million, reports the News & Advance. Says President Meredeith Woo: “We see a very interesting megatrend in which we want to be at the forefront and make sure that we’re educating women [and] exciting women about very interesting possibilities in this new century which they will own.” Continue reading

When Nobody Was Looking, Virginia Developed a Thriving Medical Device Industry

Garry Warren, CEO of ivWatch in Hampton has developed technology to reduce the infection risk from IV therapy. Photo credit: Virginia Business

Virginia business boosters have long fanned fantasies that the state might join the ranks of the nation’s biotech industry leaders. There isn’t much chance of Virginia becoming a center of pharmaceutical commercialization — an industry in which the required expertise is highly concentrated geographically — but there may be hope for medical devices.

Writes Virginia Business: “Analysis released last year found the medical-device subsector of Virginia’s bioscience industry grew four times faster than the national average. In 2016, the commonwealth had 184 medical device and equipment companies, a 31% increase from 2014.” Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Rural Development Edition

Seeding entrepreneurship. The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority has approved $180,000 in seed-capital grants up to $10,000 for businesses that have been operating less than a year and have fewer than 10 full-time employees. The new businesses are projected to create $770,000 in total private investment and create 135 full-time and part-time jobs. Assuming the businesses deliver on their investment and jobs — not to be taken for granted — this looks like a promising approach to economic development. Since it started two years ago, reports the Bristol Herald-Courier, 53 businesses receiving micro-grants have generated $3.1 million in private investment and created 542 full- and -part-time jobs. Beats subsidizing an out-of-state company to build a light manufacturing plant and then shut it down 10 years later.

Addressing the doc shortage. Southwest Virginia has a chronic shortage of doctors, nurses and other health care providers. The United Company Foundation in Bristol is issuing a $1 million challenge grant to the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Blacksburg to lower medical school debt for doctors who agree to practice in Southwest Virginia, reports the Roanoke Times. Two $40,000 scholarships will be awarded this spring to third-year medical students. After they complete their residencies, they will be required to work for three years in the region.

To plug the broadband gaps, first you have to find the broadband gaps. Continue reading

Food Trucks Can Create Oases in Food Deserts

Food desert theory.  Food deserts in cities can be defined as urban areas where it is difficult to buy high quality fresh foods at an affordable price.  This lack of access to healthy food causes problems for people living within these food deserts.  Instead of eating healthily people living in food deserts buy the “junk food” that is available. This, in turn, causes a variety of predictable health problems such as heart disease, malnutrition and diabetes.

Food desert solutions. Over the years, many well meaning people have proposed a series of solutions designed to solve the food desert problem. One example, described on Bacon’s Rebellion, involves the sale of collard greens in the small grocery and convenience stores in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond. Another involves not only selling healthy foods in Richmond but growing those vegetables in Richmond too. There have even been efforts by local health care organizations to provide “the Class-A-Roll” … a truck with a teaching kitchen inside to provide healthy food cooking lessons. Given that Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA, was conducting a town hall yesterday in Richmond to address food insecurity, one can only assume that these well intended ideas didn’t work. Of course they didn’t work. They miss the real point. Continue reading