Manufacturing sector expanding in the region
Online retailing giant Amazon.com Inc. continues to expand its footprint in Virginia, bringing 1,500 jobs total to Suffolk and Chesapeake with the construction of operations facilities in those cities. Located less than two miles apart, both facilities are slated to open this year.
In Suffolk, Amazon is building a $230 million, multistory robotics fulfillment center in Northgate Commerce Park. At 95 feet and five stories tall, the facility will be the state’s largest industrial building and second in overall size to the Pentagon. A thousand employees, working in conjunction with robots, will pick, pack and ship customer orders, including books, home goods and electronics.
Amazon also is investing $50 million to build a 650,000-square-foot import processing center in Chesapeake’s Western Branch section. The first of its kind in Virginia, the processing center will employ 500 workers. Amazon is eligible for up to $250,000 in state funding for the Chesapeake project and up to $500,000 for the Suffolk project.
Vinod Agarwal, an economics professor in Old Dominion University’s Strome College of Business who produces economic forecasts for the region, believes Amazon’s decision to expand into Hampton Roads will pave the way for other large companies to look twice at the region. “Since Amazon has decided to come here, it gives the signal to other businesses to look at the area in a much more positive fashion.”
Agarwal adds that the deal exemplifies the benefits of working as a region to attract industries. “If Suffolk and Chesapeake had worked separately, they may not have gotten it,” he says. “This is a good sign for doing things on a regional basis.”
Also in Chesapeake, railway equipment manufacturer Plasser American Corp. is investing $52.6 million to add a 45,000- square-foot, three-story office building and an 82,000-square-foot manufacturing facility to its operations. The company also will renovate its existing infrastructure and add manufacturing equipment. Founded in Chesapeake in 1970, Plasser American employs more than 300 people in the city.
Meanwhile, Oregon-based Total Fiber Recovery LLC is establishing its first pulp recycling facility in Chesapeake. The $49 million project is slated to begin operations this year and is expected to create 68 jobs. The plant will annually process 300,000 tons of mixed paper and recycled fiber from local materials recovery facilities, and the resulting pulp product will be repurposed into boxes at domestic and international paper plants.
Along with the Amazon fulfillment center, Suffolk will be home to the first U.S. production facility for international olive oil manufacturer Acesur USA LLC. The Spanish company purchased a former furniture manufacturing facility on 10 acres of land at 1010 Obici Industrial Blvd. for $5 million to handle the bulk of its oil imports from Argentina, Australia and Spain. In addition, Acesur plans to invest another $6 million in renovations and equipment.
The facility, which will be constructed in phases and include office space, warehousing and production areas, is set to bring 29 jobs to Suffolk. Acesur has been producing, packaging and marketing olive oil since 1840, bottling brands such as Coosur and La Española. It exports to more than 80 countries.
In June 2020, ship repair company S23 Holdings LLC announced that it will locate its corporate and industrial campus in Newport News. The company, whose affiliates include East Coast Repair and Fabrication (ECR), is investing $64.4 million on the project, which is expected to create 332 jobs.
ECR purchased 84 acres for the new facility at the foot of the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel for $17.1 million in 2019. With the new facility, S23 and its affiliates will be the only small ship-repair company with deep-water access in Virginia. The company won a major ship repair deal with the U.S. Navy in 2020, sharing a $217 million contract with seven other local contractors.
Huntington Ingalls Industries is building its 20-acre Unmanned Systems Center of Excellence on the Hampton Roads Center North Campus for prototyping, production and testing of unmanned systems.
Totaling more than 155,000 square feet across two buildings, the $50 million center will feature a high-tech digital manufacturing infrastructure that can be reconfigured for various production and systems integration projects and will have precision machining capabilities, a surface finishing area and a dedicated welding space. The first building was completed in January and will be used to assemble hull structures for Boeing’s Orca Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle program for the U.S. Navy. The second building, to be used to prototype, produce and test unmanned systems, is slated to open in the fourth quarter of 2021.
When fully operational, the center will employ more than 250 people, including machinists, engineers and testers. Duane Fotheringham, president of the Unmanned Systems business group of Huntington Ingalls’ Technical Solutions division, says the center will complement the company’s smaller facilities in Massachusetts, Florida and Washington that have been involved in fabricating and testing underwater vehicles for the Navy for nearly two decades. Hampton Roads was a logical choice for the new facility, he says.
“Huntington Ingalls already has a strong presence in Virginia,” Fotheringham adds, noting the company’s corporate headquarters and its Newport News Shipbuilding division in Newport News. “There is a skilled workforce here with a very capable skill set to do the work to be performed in this manufacturing facility.”
James City County
Navien Inc., a leader in condensing technology for water heaters and boilers, announced in February 2020 plans to invest $77.5 million to establish its first U.S. manufacturing and assembly plant in the former Lumber Liquidators facility, expanding it to almost 900,000 square feet by 2026. The project is expected to bring 180 jobs to James City County, and operations started last year. One of the fastest growing companies in the home comfort sector in North America, Navien Inc. is a U.S. subsidiary of Seoul-based KD Navien.
GMAX Industries Inc., a manufacturer and sourcing agent of medical disposable products for the health care industry, is investing $10.5 million to establish a manufacturing and distribution operation in Pretlow Industrial Park. The announcement came in January 2020 that the company would take over the former Money Mailer building. With its plans delayed by the pandemic, GMAX was set to start distribution in the warehouse in late January or early February this year, with the manufacturing side coming later in 2021, according to city officials.
The new facility will centralize GMAX Industries’ operations in-house and create 40 jobs in Franklin. Headquartered in Hauppauge, New York, the company creates products for Custom Procedure Kit manufacturers, medical disposable items for health care providers through distribution, and finished goods and components for other medical manufacturers.
Acoustical Sheetmetal Co. announced in July 2020 that it will invest $15.8 million to expand its Virginia Beach complex. The project is expected to create 200 jobs.
The company, which produces sound attenuating and weather protective enclosures for on-site power generation equipment, is adding a 100,000-square-foot facility to the three facilities it operates in Virginia Beach. Its 5.5 acres in Virginia Beach include 100,000 square feet for manufacturing, an 11,000-square-foot storage facility, 2,000 square feet of administration space and one acre for staging space.
Virginia Beach-based military-industrial contractor SJS Executives also is expanding, adding a fourth location to its office and industrial space in the city. The company is investing $4 million to purchase a 5-acre, 42,000-square-foot site and plans to add 49 jobs, with average salaries of $59,000.
SJS Executives has more than 200 employees who work on military bases and in shipyards and federal buildings. Its services include marine cargo handling, forklift operations, logistics, program management and engineering.
Meanwhile, Premium-PPE is investing $5.3 million to expand its Virginia Beach operation by purchasing additional equipment to increase personal protective equipment manufacturing capacity and meet growing demand. The manufacturer of AmeriShield-branded masks and PPE also is adding 180 jobs.
In March 2020 the company shifted its full production to disposable face and surgical masks in response to the pandemic, with the Virginia Beach facility able to manufacture more than 20 million masks each month.
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