Primed for industries

Published 11:50 am Saturday, November 14, 2009

FRANKLIN—Officials at the local and state levels agree that despite International Paper Co.’s decision to close the Franklin mill, the region is blessed with several intangibles and predict that several different types of industries will thrive here and will clamor to call this region their home.

What’s your pleasure?

Liz Povar, the director of Business Development for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, said Friday that the state would listen to what the localities want as far as replacement industries.

“From the state’s perspective, we will look to the localities to help us understand who they would like to market to,” Povar said. “We don’t ever dictate the best clients by any means. We look for ways to help talk about the assets in the area and find those target sectors that maybe the communities would be interested in attracting.”

But Povar — and several of her local peers — believes our region would best attract three types of industry: Logistics, advanced manufacturing and information technology.


Two rail lines — the Norfolk Southern Railroad and the CSX Railroad — skirt the southern end of Isle of Wight County, the latter running right past the mill. The John Beverly Rose Airport is across the road from the mill. U.S. Route 58 is a multi-lane, divided highway with interchanges beginning just west of the City of Franklin, and running east across the Blackwater River and into the City of Suffolk. The Port of Virginia is about an hour’s drive away.

“The geographic location of (the region) clearly lends itself to the logistics sector, related to the ports of Virginia,” Povar said.

Isle of Wight County Administrator Douglas Caskey agreed.

“There are a lot of advantages in the area, including the rail lines, the airport, the infrastructure and the skilled workforce that’s in place,” Caskey said Friday. “I would be very hopeful that some industry, regardless of what kind of production they may be in, would take a serious look at that property and the work force and recognize the value that it would bring.”

Lisa Perry, the director of the county’s Department of Economic Development, said Isle of Wight has “very specific targeted industries that we are interested in.”

“With the water capacity that we think we’re going to have on that site, and with the water capacity that we know we have coming to Windsor to the intermodal park, we’ll definitely be looking at potential food processors and other large water users,” Perry said Friday.

Advanced Manufacturing

Then there is the idea to attract industries involved with advanced manufacturing.

“In my view, the area is also potentially well-suited for types of advanced manufacturing,” Povar said, mentioning aerospace, precision manufacturing and component manufacturing as possibilities. “You’re looking at a work force coming out of IP with very strong trade skills. Those trade skills can be redeployed, with retraining, into the advanced manufacturing sectors.”

Of advanced manufacturers, Perry said “any number could make use of the existing (IP) facilities in terms of the ceiling height for portions of the building, and for the layout of the building. But all of that is very specific to what is on-site.”

Power companies were another possibility.

“One of the immediate types of industries that we’ll be looking to attract to the IP mill site are any number of independent power producers,” Perry said. “They typically are the first kind of companies that like to come into closed-mill sites because of the infrastructure that typically remains.”

Perry emphasized that the county was willing to work with IP but also wanted to give the company space.

“IP has agreed to work with us with respect to recruitment of other industries onto the site eventually,” Perry said. “It’s very early. They’re still determining what they are going to do. A lot of the equipment will be dismantled and shipped to other IP locations. The company has to have room and it has to have time to plan strategically and decide what they want to do. This is their property, and this is their company. We have to be sensitive to that. We’ve let them know that we are very willing, very active partners.”

Said Povar: “The ability to remarket that site will depend on what IP wants to do with it. However, the fact that the company was a significant user of a renewable resource — wood — would also lend itself for the region to consider biomass types of projects, or energy-related types of projects in the renewables sector.”

Information Technology

The IT field is yet another option.

“I think Franklin has created a very strong, small business sector of technology-based companies,” Povar said. “Their Incubator is a very successful enterprise. Small service companies, perhaps tied to the federal government but based in IT, might be good targets for the Franklin area to consider.”

Povar added, “The city has the necessary fiber backbone (for IT networks), and probably has some prepared real estate that would be suitable for small office operations.”

Teresa Beale, executive director of the Franklin-Southampton Chamber of Commerce, also said the Incubator was a big plus for the region.

“I think any number of companies will find us attractive,” Beale said Friday. “A combination of businesses could thrive here. The Incubator is a good way to start small businesses. The possibilities are endless.”

That’s a sentiment that is shared by everyone.

“I’d be interested in any opportunity that might find (the region) to be a viable opportunity for economic development,” Caskey said. “We need to find companies that will bring jobs for skilled workers that will re-energize the void that’s going to be created there with the loss of that industrial base.”

Said Povar: “(The region) has been seriously impacted by this closure, but it does represent an opportunity for localities to step back and assess some of the really good assets that they have, and how those assets might be deployed for future types of businesses to locate in the region.”