City of Seven Hills

Lynchburg, Virginia

The frontier settlement took full advantage of its riverfront location and grew steadily over the years, eventually becoming one of the largest tobacco markets in the United States. Today, this historical community boasts a diverse economy, from healthcare and higher education to manufacturing.

Lynchburg is home to five colleges and universities including Liberty University, which is the largest private, non-profit university in the United States, the largest university in Virginia, and the largest Christian university in the world. “The growth there has just been phenomenal,” says Marjette G. Upshur, Lynchburg’s Economic Development Director. Having so many institutions of higher learning ensures that the city has a well-educated workforce as well as the cultural and entertainment opportunities that come with the presence of a large university. “We have an active arts and cultural community here that is augmented by the colleges’ cultural amenities,” Ms. Upshur explains. “We really are the cultural hub for the region.”

Lynchburg is also the healthcare hub for the region. “Healthcare and higher education are the fastest growing sectors here,” Ms. Upshur shares. Manufacturing has also been a key industry for years, and continues to have an important presence in Lynchburg, creating further opportunities for related businesses. “Many of our entrepreneurs and smaller businesses are in advanced manufacturing,” Ms. Upshur explains. “People have seen an opportunity to provide services not only back to the Lynchburg market but across the globe.”

Harris Corporation, a leading international communications and information technology company, has a branch in Lynchburg, and the energy sector is also active in the city, with The Babcock & Wilcox Company and Areva both choosing Lynchburg for the site of their branch offices. These companies are key employers and bring high paying engineering jobs to the community.

The city is working hard to attract even more lucrative employers. Engineering, advanced manufacturing, and the aeronautic sector are all being targeted. “The way we approach business attraction is to work with our existing businesses to determine what service providers and vendors they feel would be a great complement to their business,” Ms. Upshur explains. “We know that putting our existing businesses first is an effective way to [promote] business expansion while also attracting new business.”

Lynchburg’s effort to bring in specific, complementary business sectors is fairly new. “We are taking a strategic – and specific – approach to business retention, expansion and attraction with a formalized business visitation plan and marketing to targeted sectors. We are laying the groundwork for future success.”

The plans are working; the city has 616 newly licensed businesses, and 202 commercial construction permits were issued in 2013 with an investment value of $147,817,565. The private sector has constructed or renovated hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial property over the past 12 months. In total, Lynchburg companies and businesspeople invested over $160.5 million in new capital last year and created 244 new jobs. The growth of the energy and advanced manufacturing sectors alone accounted for $12.7 million in capital investment. Two Enterprise Zones coupled with expanded small business financing continue to propel the economy forward. Lynchburg companies within the zones invested $25.8 million in real property and created the vast majority of new jobs in the city.

In addition, almost $4 million in loans and grants were made available to Lynchburg’s small businesses in 2013. Lynchburg may be a smaller city, Ms. Upshur says, “But I would put our incentive programs and initiatives up against anybody.” In fact, being a smaller city means that each prospective business is more highly valued. “We know it is really important to fully engage with each and every prospect and personally work to determine the best opportunities for each business.”

Retail is one sector that is being especially targeted. “We have always been the retail hub of the region and we want to remain that way,” Ms. Upshur shares. The large local population of college students has a particularly strong positive influence on the sector. “They really bring buying power to the table,” Ms. Upshur points out. “They are like four-year tourists.”

The city’s newest retail development is Lakeside Crossing, which features 13 new retail sites spread across 63,176 square feet. Located at a busy intersection, the new shopping center transformed unproductive right-of-way land into a lucrative destination retail center. Lakeside Crossing opened with 95 percent occupancy and has already proved a success.

This success is spurring on even more development. “It was such a great experience that we are now working with a retail strategy group to look at what specific opportunities exist across the entire city,” Ms. Upshur reports. Lynchburg’s downtown is also receiving some needed attention. “The City of Lynchburg has made a long-term commitment to the revitalization of our downtown area. The public sector has been leading the way, and now the private sector is coming in and purchasing those incredible architectural gems and turning them into loft space [and] mixed use space.” With an architectural history stretching back to colonial times, there is certainly a treasure trove of historical structures. “We are an older city so the architecture is absolutely magnificent,” Ms. Upshur reflects. Many buildings have already been lovingly restored, while some are still waiting to be rediscovered. Either way, Lynchburg’s remarkably low housing costs make many of Lynchburg’s architectural treasures surprisingly affordable.

The city’s downtown is now the site of over 550 residential units, 70 of which have just become available. The new residents occupying these properties are driving demand downtown, leading to the establishment of even more businesses. In fact, the number of downtown businesses has increased by more than 205 percent over the last decade.

Lynchburg also has the amenities and services to go with its new, high end housing. “In addition to the colleges and universities we also have a great public school system, which is critical to the business community,” says Ms. Upshur. The city has one of the top school systems in the state and is recognized for its unique Partners in Education program, which brings business, government, and schools together.

The city’s institutions of higher learning provide plenty of activities for residents in addition to educating the next generation of workers. “Whenever you live in a college town there are an awful lot of additional amenities,” Ms. Upshur points out. In addition, Lynchburg maintains 12 parks, 24 playgrounds, eight community centers, 34 tennis courts, 26 baseball diamonds, and an extensive trail system which goes right through the city. “There are 14 miles of trails where you can bike, push a stroller, walk, and run. It goes through wooded areas and right through downtown.” Residents can also take in a show at the Academy of Fine Arts, catch a minor-league baseball game at the city-managed stadium, visit fourteen public gardens located in the Lynchburg region, or tour one of the city’s many historical sites, including a Confederate fort and battlefield, a Quaker meeting house built in 1789, and the home of celebrated poet and civil rights activist Anne Spencer.

Located on the scenic James River and bordered by the Blue Ridge Mountains, Lynchburg is also a great home base for exploring the surrounding natural wonders. “It is a beautiful place to live, with the James River and the mountains surrounding you,” Ms. Upshur remarks. Residents can hike the Appalachian Trail, go swimming and boating on Smith Mountain Lake (one of America’s largest man-made bodies of water), or go skiing at nearby Wintergreen Resort.

With a diverse economy providing a wide range of jobs, as well as a long list of things to do, Lynchburg is an ideal place for work and for recreation. “There is something for almost everybody,” Ms. Upshur insists. “I think we are a well-kept secret.”

April 23, 2018, 1:07 PM EDT