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Shortcut to the shore

Inland port drives economic development in valley

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Print this page by James Heffernan
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The Virginia Inland Port sits on 161 acres in Warren County and is growing and
undergoing improvements. Photo by Norm Shafer

In Warren County, a few miles east of where interstates 81 and 66 meet, cargo from the state’s deepwater ports in Hampton Roads arrives daily by rail.

Some cargo is transferred to a Norfolk Southern line running north to Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Other cargo is off-loaded onto tractor-trailers for delivery to stores and warehouses up and down the East Coast. And the remaining cargo supports local manufacturing operations, which in turn use the port to send their products overseas.

The Virginia Inland Port (VIP), a cog in the wheel of the Port of Virginia system, is growing and undergoing improvements.

In December, the Port of Virginia received a $15.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to build a bridge along Rockland Road (state Route 658) to ease the flow of traffic in and out of VIP, which sits on 161 acres.

Inside the VIP terminal, the port is investing $3.3 million, which will be matched by $7.7 million from the state’s Rail Enhancement Fund, to build three loading tracks, extend the current rail tracks and purchase two additional straddle carriers. 

The inland port is a major driver of economic development in the Shenandoah Valley. Since VIP opened in 1989, nearly 40 companies have set up distribution centers in the region, including Home Depot, Kohl’s, Rite Aid and Red Bull. 

That trend continued last year, with at least three companies citing proximity to major interstates and VIP as the primary reason behind their decision to build or expand operations in the valley.  

In August, InterChange  Cold Storage said it will build a 250,000-square-foot facility in Rockingham County to provide cold-chain warehousing and value-added services to the region’s food and beverage industry. The $41.6 million investment is expected to create 88 jobs.  

In Shenandoah County, Mercury Paper is investing $17.2 million to increase capacity at its Strasburg manufacturing and distribution center. The project is expected to create 73 jobs. 

Mercury Paper uses imported raw materials to produce household paper products — including toilet paper, paper towels, facial tissue and napkins — for private-label brands. 

Meanwhile, in Augusta County, Sumitomo Machinery Corp. of America is investing in new machinery at its manufacturing operation. The company, a subsidiary of one of the largest heavy-machinery manufacturers in Japan, will purchase new 10- and 20-ton overhead cranes, a new paint booth, a washer/deburrer, an automatic storage retrieval system and new assembly workstations.

Sumitomo recently built a 72,000-square-foot facility adjacent to its former location in the Mill Place Commerce Park.  

Northern Valley projects
Winchester-Frederick County followed up 2017, a banner year for economic development, with solid gains last year. 

Work was completed in 2018 on Amazon’s new 1-million-square-foot e-commerce facility and the $100 million expansion of Navy Federal’s call center campus. Together, the Frederick projects are expected to yield more than 2,400 new jobs.

Meanwhile three longtime employers in the county announced major expansions.

M&H Plastics, a maker of custom plastic bottles, jars and flexible tubes, is investing $12 million in its Frederick operations, a move resulting in 157 new jobs.

O’Sullivan Films in Winchester, a supplier of vinyl films for automotive interiors, is adding 61 jobs, thanks to a $10.3 million investment.

And Rubbermaid Commercial Products has begun leasing a 287,000-square-foot distribution center in the Stonewall Industrial Park in Frederick. The company’s manufacturing facility in Winchester also serves as its corporate headquarters.

Medical marijuana dispensary
Staunton will be home to one of five medical cannabis companies licensed to operate marijuana-growing facilities in Virginia (see related story on Page 27).

Illinois-based PharmaCann, a medical cannabis company, plans to open the facility at Green Hills Industrial Park off Technology Drive and Commerce Avenue.

The dispensary will sell CBD and THC-A oils to patients authorized by their physicians to use them for medical purposes.

Incorporating agriculture
With the help of a state grant, the Shenandoah County Office of Tourism and Economic Development is developing a strategic plan to strengthen its economy and build on agriculture-based assets.

The $10,000 grant comes from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund. The state program is designed to help local governments promote agriculture and forestry, incorporating the industries’ needs in overall economic development efforts. The county’s grant will leverage $25,000 in local funds needed to complete its strategic plan.

Hotel and conference center
Tourism in the central Shenandoah Valley also got a boost last year with the opening of the Hotel Madison and Shenandoah Valley Conference Center in Harrisonburg.

The venture is the result of a partnership between the city and James Madison University. The hotel offers 230 guest rooms while the conference center provides more than 21,000 square feet of event space and breakout rooms for corporate retreats, meetings, weddings and other gatherings.

Also in the central valley, the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Weyers Cave has a new carrier, SkyWest Airlines, with daily flights to and from United Airlines’ two hubs, Washington Dulles International and Chicago O’Hare airports. The deal provides travelers in the region with access to United’s network of destinations.

Like VIP, the airport offers an important transportation link to the global business community.

Shenandoah Valley’s recent deals

Company Location #Jobs
M&H Plastics* Frederick County 157
InterChange Cold Storage LLC Rockingham County 88
Mercury Paper* Shenandoah County 73
O'Sullivan Films Corp.* Winchester 61
PharmaCann Staunton 60
RPC Superfos US* Frederick County 35
ComSonics Inc. Augusta County 34
NIBCO of Virginia Augusta County 30
Provides US Inc.* Augusta County 20
Mohawk Industries Inc. Rockbridge County 15

*Company has headquarters in another country                             Source: Virginia Economic Development Partnership





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