New jobs on the way

Region sees promising uptick in new economic development projects

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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Range Rover maker Overfinch, is creating a Danville
facility. Photo courtesy Overfinch

Southern Virginia has been hit hard in recent decades with the decline of U.S. textile, tobacco and furniture industries. Economic development projects announced last year, however, promise to create many new jobs.

Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., for example, announced eight projects during 2016, which are expected to create 281 jobs and bring $31.2 million of taxable investment.

New companies to the area include Starsprings, a springs manufacturer based in Sweden. The company invested $3.7 million to establish its first U.S. manufacturing operation in Henry County. The project created 68 jobs.

North Carolina-based Performance Livestock and Feed Company Inc. is investing $42 million to establish a new feed production operation in Henry. The project, now under construction, is expected to create 32 jobs. The company will buy nearly $11 million in Virginia-grown grains and other feed ingredients.

Novatech Group, a Canadian manufacturer of door glass, steel doors, patio doors, retractable screens and insulated glass, invested $3 million to establish its first U.S. manufacturing operation in Henry County. The company has leased a 100,000-square-foot facility to produce and distribute a variety of patio doors. It is expected to create 50 jobs.

“Seven of the eight announcements we had were direct leads to us,” says Mark Heath, CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. “We appreciate companies that do their homework. They are looking for a community where they can have an ongoing relationship with the community and the economic development organization.”

He believes 2017 will be a good year, as well. “We are marketing a new 800-acre industrial park called Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre,” Heath says. “We haven’t been able to compete in that market up to this point. Companies interested in that type of site are larger capital investment projects. We are excited about being able to compete for some of those deals.”

Danville and Pittsylvania County also had some big wins in 2016. “We have had a busy year,” says Linwood Wright, public affairs and governmental consultant with the Danville Office of Economic Development.

Two major announcements include Japanese-owned Kyocera SGS Precision Tool Inc. and England-based Overfinch, which manufactures Range Rover vehicles.

Kyocera SGS Precision Tool, a subsidiary of Kyocera Corp., is investing $9.5 million to establish a North American technology and strategic manufacturing hub in the Cyber Park owned by the Danville-Pittsylvania County Regional Industrial Facility Authority. The project will create 35 jobs.

“This announcement is another positive example of how the city, the county and their respective leadership can work closely together to recruit and attract high-quality companies such as Kyo­­­­­­cera,” says Matt Rowe, director of economic development for Pittsylvania County.

Overfinch expects to invest at least $8 million to establish a manufacturing operation in Cyber Park. The investment includes an assembly and conversion workshop, vehicle servicing, diagnostics and a parts warehouse. Virginia competed against California for the project, which will create 41 jobs.

Local officials say they won both projects because of the reputation of the area’s workforce.

“I think strategically it is our biggest incentive,” says Wright. “We have emphasized specific training in the areas of precision machining and are beginning a similar effort in computer sciences. We have invested more than $30 million in the region in precision machining to create a workforce pipeline that will supply a certified workforce.”

“We are putting the word out that, if you are looking for qualified workers, come to Danville,” adds Telly Tucker, the city’s director of economic development.

In addition to new companies coming to town, some existing firms are expanding.  JTI Leaf Services, for example, is investing $7 million to expand its tobacco processing facility in Danville. A new 110,000-square-foot storage facility opened late last year.

Pittsylvania County ended the year with $750 million of announced economic development investment as well as the creation of 270 jobs.

In addition to Kyocera and Overfinch it also saw the $7 million expansion of Gregory Lumber Inc., creating three jobs.

The sawmill company invested in construction and equipment such as an automated lumber sorting system. It also agreed to purchase almost $8 million in Virginia timber during the next three years.

In addition, Southern Power, a subsidiary of the Atlanta-based Southern Co., plans to develop 300 acres of land in Berry Hill Industrial Park for a natural gas generating facility.

“According to what the company submitted for air permits, it will generate 820 megawatts of electricity. The estimated capital investment for the project is around $600 million,” Rowe says. “During construction it will have about 800 to 1,000 people on site. The company is looking at around 25 permanent jobs with an average salary exceeding $60,000.”

Pittsylvania expects to make more announcements the first quarter of this year as well. “We are getting a lot of attention from companies overseas because of our workforce training,” Rowe says. “We are seeing a lot of prospects that find it cheaper to build here and use our workforce.”

Other areas of Southern Virginia saw an uptick in activity last year, especially from companies wanting to set up new operations quickly.

“It was fairly busy for us,” says Jeff Reed, executive director of Keysville-based Virginia’s Growth Alliance, which represents 10 counties (Amelia, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Greensville, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway and Prince Edward) and the city of Emporia. “We’re seeing a demand for product. Most people that are looking are in a ready-to-go mode. They are looking for existing buildings or pads.”

One of the region’s largest economic projects was Dominion Virginia Power’s $1.1 billion Brunswick County Power Station, which began generating electricity last April.

The 1,358-megawatt combined-cycle facility has 47 full-time employees and is not far from Dominion’s 1,588-megawatt, $1.3 billion Greensville County Power Station, which is under construction. The plant has 700 workers on site and should have close to 50 employees when complete.

Another boost to the area: Microsoft Corp. will invest $251.6 million to expand its data center site in Mecklenburg County, creating 44 jobs.

This is the fifth time the company has expanded the facility. The company has invested close to $2 billion in the facility and created more than 250 jobs since 2010.

Additionally, Firestone Solar LLC, a subsidiary of Virginia Solar, announced plans to build a new $35 million 200-acre solar facility that will be the first utility-scale solar generator of its kind in Buckingham County. The project is scheduled for completion this year.

This year also looks promising for the alliance. “We have some good things in the pipeline,” Reed says. “We hope to see announcements of some smaller types of projects in the first quarter. We are also seeing a lot of interest from Europe in foreign-directed investment.”

One of the alliance’s economic development challenges is lack of identity, Reed says, noting the organization is now five years old. “People don’t know who we are because we are so new. We are trying to have more strategic meetings with people who are end users to help us spread the word about the region.”

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