Excerpted from the Richmond City Guide.
Richmond built its economy one layer at a time. During its fledgling years, colonists relied on tobacco crops to keep the region afloat. They gradually became experts in other areas, too, like shipping, politics and education. Today’s economy still relies on these sectors, but Richmonders have also found wealth in finance, healthcare and tourism. Today the city has five Fortune 500 headquarters, all in different industries: Altria Group (tobacco), CarMax (automotive retail), Dominion Resources (utilities), Genworth Financial (insurance). and MeadWestvaco (packaging).
Richmond struggled through the recession. In recent years, Richmond-based electronics retailer Circuit City dissolved under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Banking giant Wachovia, which was not based in Richmond but employed a substantial number of people here, sold itself to Wells Fargo to escape bankruptcy. Unemployment nearly tripled from its low 3 percent before the recession to its peak at 8.5 percent in early 2010.
State capitals, however, often are the best places to ride out an economic downturn. They have lots of government jobs and in many instances house large public universities, too. Government and education, as economists know, are two of the most recession-proof industries.
Virginia’s education sector is booming. Greater Richmond employs 6 percent more people in the education and health care professions than it did two years ago.
That isn’t surprising — Richmond’s educational sector is quite broad. The public school district, Richmond Public Schools, oversees 23,650 students. Of the 11 high schools in the area, two are ranked by US News among the top 20 high schools in the state. There are a dozen or so private primary and secondary schools in town, as well.
Finance is one of Richmond’s strongest employment sectors. Capital One Financial Corp., one of Richmond’s largest employers, has more than 10,000 locals on its payroll. In fact, Capital One added 2,300 new positions in the Richmond area last year. SunTrust Banks, while based in Atlanta, employs approximately 4,500 Richmonders. The Fifth Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank is based here, as is Fortune 500 insurance carrier Genworth Financial.
Virginia’s Native Americans taught English settlers at Jamestown how to grow tobacco plants, providing a staple industry to Richmond-area farms and manufacturing plants for the past 400 years.
Today, Richmond focuses more on producing cigarettes than growing tobacco. The world’s first cigarette rolling machine was invented in Virginia in the 1880s. A few decades later, Philip Morris opened a tobacco factory here. Today, the Philip Morris Manufacturing Center spans 1.6 million square feet, and the company employs 6,500 people in the region. Philip Morris isn’t the town’s only big tobacco firm; Fortune 500 company Altria Group is headquartered in Richmond. The company employed 4,600 locals until last year, when it cut 15 percent of its workforce nationwide in an effort to reduce its annualized costs.
This is just a short sample of what you’ll find in over 75 pages of information in the complete Richmond Guide.