A ‘great fit’
Shamrock Farms finds a kindred spirit in Augusta County
At a groundbreaking ceremony in Augusta County last March, then-Gov. Bob McDonnell noted the county had been “on a roll economically.”
Augusta had seen expansions at Daikin McQuay’s industrial chiller plant, medical instrument supplier Cadence Inc. and snack maker McKee Foods.
The groundbreaking at the Mill Place Commerce Park in Verona, however, was especially satisfying for the county, which takes pride in its agricultural heritage. It is the second-largest producer of agricultural products in Virginia behind neighboring Rockingham County.
Arizona-based Shamrock Farms is building a $50 million dairy manufacturing facility at the industrial park. The company is one of the nation’s largest family-owned and -operated dairy processors.
When Shamrock began the site selection process for its first East Coast facility at the end of 2011, it considered several locations, from New York to North Carolina.
The Shenandoah Valley Partnership (SVP), a regional economic development organization, worked with Shamrock’s real estate consultant to find available properties, says Dennis Burnett, SVP’s executive director. “We try to screen and vet these [inquiries] as much as possible, but we don’t always know who’s behind the curtain,” he says. “That was certainly the case with this deal.”
After narrowing the search to a 40-acre tract in the publicly owned industrial park in Verona, the consultant and SVP officials toured the site twice to make sure it met Shamrock’s criteria. The requirements included proximity to major markets along the East Coast, access to a high-quality local milk supply, and a skilled and available workforce.
The readiness of county-owned land also was a major draw. “They didn’t have to negotiate property rights or worry about rezoning,” Burnett says. “The project was shovel-ready. It was really one-stop shopping.”
Ultimately, regional and county officials were able to deliver on all fronts. “Shamrock’s market continues to grow on the East Coast, so it made sense for them to establish a facility here,” Burnett says, citing the valley’s strategic location near Interstates 81, 64 and 66. “We quickly rose to the top of their list, and, I think, being an ag company, they felt at home.”
Sandy Kelly, Shamrock’s vice president of marketing, says the company has been impressed with the welcome it has received in Augusta. “From a business perspective, we are excited to be working with them, and they have been very forthcoming in helping us establish our business here,” she says. “From a cultural perspective, there is somewhat of a kindred spirit among our company, our people and the people of Augusta County. It’s a great fit.”
McDonnell approved a $250,000 grant from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund to help the county win the project. The governor also approved $50,000 from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund, a grant administered by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and made to businesses that add value to Virginia-grown agricultural and forest products.
Other incentives included funding for road access from the Virginia Department of Transportation and recruitment and training activities through the Virginia Job Investment Program.
The new facility will allow Shamrock to deliver its extended-shelf-life (ESL) milk products to customers across the country. In recent years, the brand has expanded into convenience stores, groceries and quick-service restaurants such as Subway, Arby’s and Einstein Brothers. Shamrock’s Rockin’ Refuel protein-fortified milk beverages are used by sports teams at 150 colleges and universities nationwide. All of these products will be made at the new facility.
The plant will feature the new ESL technology, which allows milk to stay fresher longer. Shamrock was among the first dairies in the U.S. to introduce ESL technology more than 10 years ago.
“This is a key milestone in our company’s more than 90-year history, and a natural next step as we continue to achieve even further national growth,” CEO Kent McClelland said in a statement.
The Augusta facility is on track to open this fall. It will measure 130,000 square feet initially, with room for expansion. When completed, the plant will employ up to 60 people. Shamrock will get its milk from Virginia farmers.
“The new state-of-the-art facility will provide job opportunities that benefit from the strengths of our workforce while complementing our commitment to provide quality jobs to our citizens,” says Jeffrey Moore, chairman of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors.
Shamrock plans to be involved in the local community. To kick off the relationship, the company will donate Rockin’ Refuel products to Fort Defiance High School athletic teams.