A long time coming

County nets its first economic development project since 2003

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Print this page by James Heffernan
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Staves being made at the Speyside Bourbon Cooperage
facility in Millboro will be used to create barrels.

With a little help from local, regional and state partners, Bath County last year secured its first new economic development project since 2003.

Speyside Bourbon Cooperage will build a stave mill in an industrial park in Millboro, bringing 30 new jobs.

Using white oak logs, the mill will produce staves and headers for bourbon barrels. The pieces will be sent to Speyside’s cooperage in Jackson, Ohio, where the barrels will be assembled. The vast majority of the barrels will be sold to distilleries in Kentucky, where 95 percent of U.S. bourbon is produced.

The Wall Street Journal reported in 2015 that while bourbon sales were soaring, distillers were facing a shortage of barrels.

“We could not be more pleased to welcome Speyside to the industrial park in Millboro,” said Mason Cauthorn, chairman of the Bath County Economic Development Authority. “It is a great company, and this stave mill will be perfect for our area. We have the natural resources and the labor force to support this company, and we are delighted Speyside has selected us to be part of their worldwide family.”

The commonwealth is providing a $250,000 Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development grant, which the county is matching with local funds.

Darren Whitmer, Speyside’s general manager, said the search for a stave mill location began in 2015. “Our goal all along was to locate the plant in the Shenandoah Valley region due to the availability of white oak and the fact that the timber industry is strong there,” he said.
Whitmer said the company eyed rural communities throughout the Shenandoah Valley, but ultimately the 57-acre parcel in the Millboro industrial park had the right combination of available land, public utilities and access to raw materials.

The company will hire and train workers for the new mill, which should be operational by fall.

Cauthorn noted that creating 30 new jobs in Bath is no small feat. Bath is a remote county with a population of about 8,400 along the West Virginia line, which is perhaps best known as the home of the 251-year-old Omni Homestead Resort. The county’s annual median household income is about $33,500, slightly more than half the state’s median income of $65,000.

“These jobs are going to be good-paying jobs. Some of the higher positions like timber buyers will be very-good-paying jobs,” Cauthorn said. “And you can take that payroll and multiply it by seven to see what the overall economic impact will be. Truckers are going to be bringing wood in here — they’ll be buying things like fuel and food. This is a big boost to the local economy.”

The deal has received high praise from Robin Sullenberger, a veteran economic development official. “Landing an established company like Speyside is a tremendous coup for Bath County given the challenging nature of business recruiting for rural areas,” said Sullenberger, the retired head of the Shenandoah Valley Partnership. “Projects like this can take a very long time to evolve, and success is ultimately dependent on the patience, tenacity and professionalism of those on the front lines.”

Sullenberger credits Carrie Chenery, the current executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Partnership, for keeping the project on the table for months as details were negotiated by county and state leaders. “Economic development is a business built on relationships,” he said, “and Bath is truly fortunate to have local and regional representatives who are so widely respected by state officials and business contacts.”

As part of its $5 million investment, Speyside has agreed to source 80 percent of its local timber needs from Virginia landowners.

“Speyside Bourbon Cooperage’s new investment in Bath County and Virginia represents increased opportunities for the county and regional forestland owners,” said Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Todd Haymore. “In addition, Speyside will be filling a gap in the supply chain in the craft beverage industry: through Speyside’s barrels, Virginia-grown products will be a part of making craft beverages all over the world.”

State Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, said the local economy relies heavily on agriculture and forestry, and “this project will be a boon to landowners and citizens alike.”

Speyside is an offspring of Speyside Cooperage Ltd., which was founded in Scotland in 1947. The company is a part of a larger cooperage organization based in France, the Tonnellerie Francois Freres Group.

Shenandoah Valley’s recent deals

Company Location #Jobs
Navy Federal Credit Union* Frederick County 1,400
Centro Global Solutions Frederick County 300
Innovative Refrigeration Systems Augusta County 100
Mopar Parts Distribution Center Frederick County 70
American Woodmark Frederick County 55
AccuTec Blades Inc. Augusta County 53
Graphic Packaging International Staunton 45
Jenzabar Harrisonburg 30
Speyside Bourbon Cooperage Inc. Bath County 30
Tactical Walls Page County 28

Source: Frederick County Economic Development Authority, Shenandoah Valley Partnership
*Announced in 2017; all other announcements in 2016

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