by Joan Tupponce
“A godsend for the community.” That’s how Mark Heath describes a $5 million grant Martinsville-Henry County received for Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre, an 800-acre advanced manufacturing industrial park at the North Carolina-Virginia line.
Approved in January, the grant from the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission will cover the cost of grading and site work at the industrial park. “We have been working on this for four years,” says Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. “It’s part of our industrial park feasibility study.”
The $16.5 million project also received $1.5 million from a Virginia Economic Development Partnership program aimed at boosting regional development efforts. Martinsville-Henry County was among the first program recipients. The funding is provided to help attract “mega projects” that involve more than $250 million in capital investment and the creation of more than 400 new full-time jobs.
Both of those grants will be leveraged with another $10 million — $5 million from Martinsville and Henry County and another $5 million from the Harvest Foundation, a charitable foundation serving the area.
“Without the tobacco money we would not have been able to leverage local money,” Heath says. “We were at an impasse with no way to get to the next stage. To get the grading done was a huge piece of this.”
It will take two to three years to complete the grading, which is scheduled to start this summer. “Once it starts it will improve the marketability of the site,” Heath says. “This will be proof positive we are moving on with it.”
Even before the recession, the local economy already had been hard hit by changes in the textile and furniture manufacturing industries. In December, Martinsville’s unemployment rate stood at 18.3 percent while Henry County’s jobless rate was 12.6 percent. The state jobless rate for that month was 6.4 percent.
At the moment, Commonwealth Crossing doesn’t have any tenants on the books, but Heath is optimistic. He is talking to prospective companies. “It’s nice to be talking to people when you have something to talk to them about,” he says. “We lost the opportunity before because we didn’t have a site like this. We expect that over time this will be a very positive job and tax-base generator for Martinsville and Henry County.”
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