Strategies for Commercial Office Design that Contribute to Economic Development

by Chad Poultney
  Architecture, Commercial

Every city has economic development goals, and a strategy behind them. And while each city is unique, those that thrive tend to share intentional connections between commerce, recreation, community, and culture. Attracting diverse but complementary industries is critical for local economic growth, and for organizations looking to expand or relocate, well-planned and designed commercial office facilities are a pivotal factor.

Highlighting the City of Newport News, VA as a case study, Clark Nexsen’s Commercial practice leader Chad Poultney, PE, shares the following key strategies for designing commercial office facilities that support economic development goals:

Historically known as an industrial and maritime hotspot, the City of Newport News has devoted its economic development efforts to the continued retention, revitalization, and expansion of its core industries by creating an attractive center for people to work, live, and play. Beginning with targeted master planning, this focus has been instrumental in rejuvenating the city as major projects work together to establish an ecosystem between business, education, and cultural opportunities.

Master planning that targets specific industries

For cities looking to attract specific industries, targeted master planning can be a powerful tool. For example, technology is among the fastest growing sectors of the Newport News economy. The development of Tech Center Building One and Tech Center Research Park serve as a catalyst for ramping up the city’s tech industry and strengthening the connection between the academic community and private industry. Located in the city’s only area zoned for research, Building One is the result of a partnership between W.M. Jordan, Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, and Clark Nexsen and is a vital arm in the long-term plan to create a world-class research park with urban qualities.

The first of 11 buildings outlined in the master plan, Building One facilitates partnership and collaboration both within the campus and beyond. Tapping into local universities and neighboring research centers like Jefferson Lab, Tech Center Research Park will foster an incubator environment for students, start-ups, and other local or prospective tech businesses. Its proximity to Jefferson Lab and NASA Langley provides an opportunity for private firms to turn research into practical applications and commercial ventures, completing Newport News’ vision for new technological infrastructure.

Attracting employees with appealing spaces and experiences

Businesses go where the talent is – making attracting top employees through great office space a priority. Office design today is driven largely by employees’ desire for increased collaboration, flexibility, and openness. For example, Ferguson’s new HQ3 is an amenities-rich, collaborative campus for their associates. Driven by goals of breaking down barriers, encouraging collaboration, and fostering community engagement, the new, 260,000 square foot HQ3 building is designed to attract professionals looking for an urban setting.

HQ3 integrates large, flexible training rooms, a modern café, a “genius bar” for IT support, and a variety of casual collaboration and flex spaces. This balance of environments enables employees to work in the manner that is best for them, while the amenities act as a draw.

Driven by WELL objectives and accelerated by the pandemic, we are seeing an increased demand for outdoor green spaces to be integrated into the workplace. Ferguson associates have the option to work or take a breather outside on the sixth-floor green rooftop terrace as well as the ground level plaza and fountain area.

Prioritizing adjacencies between spaces that facilitate public-private connections, support workforce development

Today’s most successful offices, particularly in urban areas, are including shared or adjacent spaces intended to facilitate the connection between public and private spheres. By collocating learning environments for skilled training in close proximity to the work of private industry, communities and businesses benefit from a stronger, more connected workforce and innovation spurred by serendipitous encounters.

Located within a larger mixed-use development, the new Brooks Crossing building is home to a transformed headquarters for Newport News Shipbuilding and serves as a hybrid of technology, shipbuilding, workforce development, and STEM outreach spaces. The facility houses the Brooks Crossing Innovation and Opportunity Center and STEM Digital Innovation and Fabrication Lab on the first floor and the information technology, engineering and design, and integrated planning and production control departments of Newport News Shipbuilding on the top three floors. This proximity fosters an important synergistic partnership between the shipbuilding industry, STEM centered disciplines, and the community at large.

Pictured above, the Innovation Lab and project-based learning space…These centralized hubs offer free career awareness, skill development, wealth building, training and employment, and other support services.

Strengthening community connections

Communities aren’t built from scratch – but rather, they emerge organically when people have access to resources, economic opportunities, and cultural hotspots. Newport News’ development efforts serve as a stimulant of what already exists by supporting the community’s leading organizations such as Ferguson Enterprises, Christopher Newport University, and Huntington Ingalls, and threading important links between corporations, expanding industries, and the local population.

At Ferguson HQ3, large, flexible training rooms with customizable functionality as well as open and back of house space offer associates and partners a creative, versatile area for assembly. The facility’s design also reflects its connections to the community, retaining public access to the main plaza and integrating a variety of training and meeting spaces that may be reserved by local organizations.

Rather than walling this site off from the city, a pathway leads under the building and into the plaza allowing for employees and the public to enjoy this connected outdoor space.

The ability to see the “big picture” and work with collaborative partners is critical for any municipality as it pursues economic development goals. As we have worked with developers, contractors, and the City of Newport News to connect the dots between industry, commercial office space, and the local community, we have seen the momentum that can be achieved when all parties are invested and share a unified vision.

Chad Poultney, PE, LEED AP, is a principal with Clark Nexsen and leads the firm’s Commercial practice. To learn more about how we approach commercial projects, please contact Chad at or 757.455.5800.