by Joan Tupponce
ICF International’s decision to build an operations center in Henry County is a testament to the area’s resilience, says Mark Heath. “I think this announcement makes the case that we have weathered the storm and come back better than many communities in the country,” says Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.
The $15 million operations center, scheduled for completion in December, will create 539 jobs. ICF is a global professional services company based in Fairfax County. Its 3,700 employees serve government and commercial customers in a variety of areas including energy, transportation, health, homeland security and defense.
“We had the kind of people they were looking for,” Heath says, adding that ICF will have a fast ramp-up. “They have leased temporary space for the rest of this calendar year.”
In the 1960s through the 1980s, the Martinsville-Henry County area “had one of the best economies of its size in the country,” Heath says, pointing to the growth of area furniture and textile industries. When those industries began leaving in 1990, employment took a nosedive, resulting in the loss of 18,000 jobs during a 14-year period.
In 2004, the region began to rebound and has since seen more than $200 million of investment in new facilities and the creation of more than 3,000 jobs. Nonetheless, unemployment has remained stubbornly high, standing at 17.8 percent in Martinsville and 11.2 percent in Henry County in March when the state average was 6.1 percent.
The constant reference to the area’s struggling economy “wears you down after a while,” Heath says. “To be able to win a project of this stature gives people something to be happy about and thankful for. We can be successful and compete globally.”
Virginia beat out four states in the race for ICF’s operations center for business process management. “At one time there were as many as 30 options in Virginia that ICF gave a cursory look at,” says Heath. “We dealt with all of that.”
The state’s incentive package included a $500,000 grant from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund and $2.1 million in Tobacco Region Opportunity Funds, which were approved by the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. “That was a big component,” Heath says. “Also, our broadband is a powerful asset for us.”
The Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative offers an advanced fiber-optic network and was willing to work with ICF on a five-year rate reduction plan.
The area’s investment in infrastructure also was a plus. “ICF’s site in Patriot Centre Industrial Park is fully graded and ready to go,” Heath says.
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