Chesapeake preps 1,400-acre industrial park
Whenever a big economic development announcement from another state pops up in the news, Hampton Roads Alliance President and CEO Doug Smith can count on his phone ringing.
“I get a call from somebody saying, ‘Why didn’t we get that?’” says Smith. “And the answer is real simple: We didn’t have 500 acres or 1,500 acres … or whatever the need was.”
In November 2022, Chesapeake City Council began addressing the problem, rezoning 1,420 acres of agricultural land for the Coastal Virginia Commerce Park, an industrial park. Council allocated $14.3 million to the Chesapeake Economic Development Authority for a down payment on the property. The EDA has a contract to buy the land for $37 million from Virginia Beach farmer Frank T. Williams, with an option to acquire 2,602 acres nearby.
The city landed a $750,000 state grant in January to help with preliminary surveys and environmental assessments prior to developing the industrial park. City officials expect the preliminary work to be completed this year.
Chesapeake hopes the Coastal Virginia Commerce Park will attract a large semiconductor or microchip manufacturer, according to Brian Solis, deputy city manager for community development.
Virginia Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Jason El Koubi estimates the lack of “project-ready sites” in Virginia has cost the state more than 55,000 jobs and $124 billion in capital investment since 2016, as businesses considered Virginia for projects and then chose to locate assets in other states. In January, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced $90 million in development grants for 21 sites across the state, including the one in Chesapeake.
“The commonwealth has fewer than 10 project-ready sites (certified) above 250 acres,” El Koubi wrote in an email.
Chesapeake City Manager Chris Price says the development is part of an effort to grow the mix of industries in Hampton Roads.
“For a long time [the region has] been heavily dependent on the Department of Defense, but we really are diversifying that portfolio,” he says, noting Dominion Energy Inc.’s $9.8 billion Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project and Fortune 500 retailer Dollar Tree Inc., headquartered in Chesapeake.
Smith says federal initiatives such as the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 will make a sizable amount of federal funding available for growing high-tech manufacturing, from semiconductors to electric vehicles.
But there’s a catch: “If you don’t have a site to put them on, you’re not in the game, right?”