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Editorial: LEGO builds an economic anchor in Virginia

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Niels Christiansen

The LEGO Group CEO Niels Christiansen gives remarks on June 15 in Richmond. The LEGO Group is planning to build a $1 billion factory in Chesterfield by 2025.

Virginia’s economic development officials and politicians deserve huge praise for attracting LEGO’s first North American production plant to Chesterfield County.

This is the kind of project that will help anchor the state’s and region’s economic future for years. It represents the kind of critical mass that can raise eyebrows and perhaps attract the interest of other big manufacturing players looking for the best combination of location and workforce.

Obvious things stand out about the project. First, this is not economic infill. It is a fresh source of an enormous number of new jobs. LEGO says it will invest $1 billion in the plant. The plant will be LEGO’s seventh production facility, but its first in the U.S. The plant site will encompass 340 acres of land, making it the major landmark it deserves to be.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin says the plant will produce 1,760 jobs over a decade. LEGO says these will be skilled production jobs with wages averaging around $60,000 per year. That many jobs paying those kinds of livable wages will jack up the quality of life well beyond Chesterfield County.

Residents of Charlottesville and Albemarle and all the counties in between them and Chesterfield will enjoy reasonable commutes to the new facility. Local businesses should also grow from the economic spinoff that comes from new residents who get jobs at the plant or old residents with new spending power.

The fact that LEGO came to the Richmond metropolitan area and not to the golden collar of Northern Virginia is also significant. The Washington, D.C., suburbs seem virtually recession-proof because they sit hard up against the seat of government for the world’s largest economy. That is not the case in the rest of the state.

If the news of a major employer bringing skilled jobs with good pay was not enough, those jobs appear to be green jobs. The plant is designed to be carbon-neutral, the company said, and operate entirely on renewable energy. That on its own is an amazing standard and example to set for businesses around the state.

Construction is supposed to begin later in 2022 and the plant is supposed to open in 2025.

In a news release announcing the project, LEGO CEO Niels Christiansen said his company looks forward “to making LEGO bricks in the U.S., one of our largest markets. The location in Virginia allows us to build a solar park which supports our sustainability ambitions and provides easy links to country-wide transportation networks. We are also looking forward to creating fantastic employment opportunities for the people of Virginia.”

Among the most encouraging words spoken about this windfall was the explanation that Youngkin worked with a bipartisan group of state legislators to pull it off. Too much of Virginia’s recent politics has been mired in culture wars. Understanding that you must work together to secure something this significant can hopefully set a precedent for further cooperation.

When the General Assembly gathers soon to finalize the state budget, everyone will have something to brag about while simultaneously sharing the credit. In these hyperpartisan times, chances to celebrate the ability to get along have been rare.

So take a bow, governor.

And to those legislators who grasped the need to compromise across party and geographical lines in deference to benefitting all Virginians and not just a political base or a district, enjoy your victory lap.

— The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress

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