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Shenandoah Valley’s manufacturing successes abound
In terms of business activity and economic development wins, 2021 turned out to be a stellar year for the Shenandoah Valley.
“We have exceeded what we anticipated from a business activity perspective,” says Jay Langston, executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Partnership, which promotes economic development from Shenandoah County to Rockbridge County. “When government shut down in 2020, we thought, ‘What in the world are we going to do?’ That lasted about a month. We only saw a temporary blip in business activity, and it came back in a big way.”
Last year, the partnership collaborated with localities and businesses on more than $165 million in investments, expected to bring in 650 jobs. Those deals include a $30 million investment from the D.C.-based Mediterranean restaurant chain Cava to open a processing and packaging facility near Staunton, and bringing in Veronesi Holding S.p.A., an Italian manufacturer and producer of cured meats, which will establish its first U.S. production operation in Rockingham County.
The partnership is finding that some of the measures it adopted during the pandemic are ones it will continue to maintain.
“Doing business the same old way doesn’t work in the current dynamic environment,” Langston says. “The virtual environment allowed us to deliver our message in more efficient ways. Also, we are much more heavily engaged in outreach marketing with high return-on-investment programs, and we are paying much more attention to talent retention and attraction, as well as quality-of-life messaging.”
There is tremendous cohesion in the valley regarding the area’s economic prosperity, even though “sub-regions have different goals and means of achieving them,” Langston says. “We have been blessed by a region that collaborates and works to solve problems.”
Rockingham County and Harrisonburg
“Securing the deal with Veronesi was a substantial win for us,” says Casey Armstrong, assistant county administrator and director of economic development. “It will help to diversify our financial portfolio. We are dependent on the agricultural and food and beverage industry, and this facility will diversify us and makes us more resilient.”
Veronesi plans to invest more than $100 million and create more than 150 jobs during the next four years. The company’s new facility, located in Innovation Village, will be used to age, process and package products for distribution, increasing its cured meat and charcuterie customer base in the U.S. market.
“This is the company’s first facility in the U.S., and it will be their U.S. headquarters,” Armstrong says. “Phase 1 of the project is scheduled to open by the end of 2022 or the first [part] of 2023.”
Merck & Co. Inc.’s $1 billion expansion of its Rockingham County pharmaceutical manufacturing plant, announced in 2019, is underway and is providing revenue for local tradespeople, restaurants and hotels. “They have over 1,000 employees on the job alone,” Armstrong says. “That deal was a big win for us.”
Additionally, Virginia Industrial Plastics Inc. is investing more than $6.5 million to expand its manufacturing facility in the county, a deal announced in September 2021. The plastic thermoforming and fabrication company will add 92 jobs with the expansion, which will allow the company to increase capacity for its company-owned product lines, Cabinet Savers and VIP Golf Cars.
The city of Harrisonburg worked with more international companies last year than in previous years. For example, Sibo Group, a Slovenian manufacturer of closure solutions, will invest $2.6 million to establish its U.S. corporate headquarters and a new manufacturing operation. The project is set to create 24 jobs.
“Sibo USA has been a great project for Harrisonburg,” says the city’s economic development director, Brian Shull. “The lead was generated by Montebello Packaging, a city manufacturer of plastic tubes for the pharmaceutical and health care industries. Sibo has been supplying caps and closure to Montebello for years, but they were being manufactured in Slovenia and shipped to the Harrisonburg facility. Montebello offered manufacturing space to Sibo within its city facility.”
The city also is assisting with Shenandoah Valley Organic’s construction project, a $65.5 million deal that was inked in 2020 and will create 110 jobs.
The rapidly growing organic chicken company, marketed as Farmer Focus, has reached substantial completion of its 76,000-square-foot retail packaging facility, where production was slated to start in the first quarter of this year.
Augusta County and Waynesboro
Augusta County’s efforts to target advanced manufacturing companies, particularly in the food and beverage industry, paid off in September when Cava, the Washington, D.C.-based fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant chain, announced its decision to open a 57,000-square-foot processing and packaging operation to produce its dips and spreads in Mill Place Commerce Park, the county’s publicly owned business park. Cava plans to invest more than $30 million and create 52 jobs.
“It’s a great fit for the county,” says Rebekah Castle, Augusta’s director of economic development and marketing. “The company is wonderful to work with, and we are looking forward to their opening in the next few years.”
Meanwhile, Waynesboro is in a renaissance phase, working with small local businesses, as well as courting expansions and new development, says Greg Hitchin, the city’s director of economic development and tourism. “We have weathered the storm of COVID-19 pretty well. Most of our manufacturing firms are in hiring mode now.”
Waynesboro, Augusta County and North Carolina-based private developer Mitchener Properties LLC worked together on the sale of the former Ladd Elementary School, which will become Waynesboro Marketplace, scheduled to open this spring or summer.
Another highlight of the year is the Waynesboro campus of Virginia Museum of Natural History. The Virginia General Assembly included funds in its 2022 budget for detailed planning drawings. If all goes as planned, the museum is expected to open in 2025, drawing an expected 65,000 visitors annually, Hitchin says.
Also, electronics manufacturer Virtex added a new product line to its Waynesboro location in 2021, creating about 50 jobs.
Warren, Shenandoah and Winchester
In December 2021, Minnesota-based TFC Poultry LLC said it was investing $31.5 million to establish its second U.S. production facility in Winchester. The project is expected to create 111 jobs. The company is hoping to open the facility this fall.
In December 2020, International Automotive Components Group, a global supplier of automotive components and systems, announced it would invest
$4.6 million to expand its manufacturing operation in the town of Strasburg, creating 47 jobs. The company met its capital investment goals in 2021 and is currently in the midst of hiring, which is expected to be complete by June 2023.
“We foresee a lot of additional growth in our county for 2022 based on current prospect activity,” says Jenna French, Shenandoah County’s director of tourism and economic development.
In Warren County, Montreal-based Nature’s Touch Frozen Foods LLC has broken ground on a $40.3 million expansion, creating an anticipated 67 jobs. The 126,000-square-foot building, which is being built by InterChange Group Inc., should be completed this fall, says Jeff Browne, chair of the Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority.
Rockbridge County is prioritizing economic growth and developing a strategic economic development plan.
During 2021, the county had two major economic development expansion announcements: White’s Travel Center is investing $8 million to expand its building by 27,250 square feet and reconfigure the parking lot for additional retail and service space. And Modine Manufacturing Co., a thermal system manufacturer, will expand its operations in Rockbridge County with an investment of $7.03 million, adding 60 jobs. The project includes reconfiguring and remodeling the company’s existing warehouse into a manufacturing space.
“This project included participation in the [Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s] Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, which is the first time one of our projects has utilized that program,” says Brandy Flint, the county’s director of economic development.
Shenandoah Valley’s recent deals
Innovative Refrigeration Systems Inc.
Veronesi Holding S.p.A.
TFC Poultry LLC
Virginia Industrial Plastics Inc.
Evolve Services Inc.
Nature’s Touch Frozen Foods LLC
Modine Manufacturing Co.
Cava Group Inc.
Valley Guard Supply LLC
Ryzing Technologies LLC
Source: Virginia Economic Development Partnership