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New Yorkers Weigh Richmond

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Their headquarters, their jobs — and them?

The butt is burning down on an answer. The company has asked employees to decide whether they'd like to visit Richmond for an orientation to the area by the end of March. By June 1 they must decide whether to relocate here or leave the company.

"This is just a huge, huge decision for them," says Kim Farlow, spokeswoman for Philip Morris USA.

Last week, employees were trying to absorb it all. Reactions? "I think a little bit dazed," Farlow says. "And of course I think everybody is looking at it a little bit personally — What does it mean to me?"

Greg Wingfield, president and CEO of Greater Richmond Partnership Inc. hopes to help answer that question. Starting March 6, he and his staff began to man a "Richmond Room" at Philip Morris' New York headquarters.

The Partnership sent a "couple hundred" pictures of Richmond to Philip Morris, Wingfield says — the Washington statue at the Capitol, Richmond International Raceway, The Jefferson, and so on. The company enlarged and mounted some of them, displaying them on large, well-lighted partitions.

"It looks like a gallery of all these Richmond images," Wingfield says by phone from the fifth-floor room, which he estimates is 24 feet by 48 feet. There are "Easy to Love" banners, an interactive CD presentation and about 50 boxes of publications and resource books about the metro area.

Wingfield is using a "soft-sell" approach, he says, pitching short commutes, comparably less-expensive real estate and job-search assistance for family members of employees. The cost of living is a big selling point, he says. "They just kind of laughed when they looked at our taxes."

Still, this is an emotional time, Farlow says. So the company has enhanced its relocation package to include such benefits as two months of pay, new-home closing costs and house-hunting and orientation counselors.

So far, Farlow says, employees seem to fall into two camps. Some thrive on the energy of New York, she says; others "can't wait to have a yard — and a lawn to mow."

— Jason

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