FSEDI advised businesses

Published 9:41 am Friday, February 19, 2010

FRANKLIN—Since its inception in August 2005, Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc. has been charged with not only trying to lure businesses to the two localities it represents, but it also has been given the task of trying to help existing companies’ plans for expansion.

“Once we find out a company wants to grow or expand, it’s our job to try to help facilitate all the resources we can think of to help them make that come true,” said John Smolak, the president and CEO of FSEDI.

Smolak freely characterizes the local business climate for the last five years as “a challenge,” but cites Southampton Terminal and Feridies as examples of how FSEDI has assisted both new and expanding businesses.

And while the two companies agree that FSEDI has been helpful, they both say the organization played an advisory role at different times in the process of its respective plans.

Southampton Terminal

Southampton Terminal is a warehousing and distribution business that is owned and operated by Gulf American Line of Berkeley Heights, N.J. The company spent $2.5 million to open a 50,000-square foot storage facility in the Southampton Business Park on U.S. Route 58 near Courtland in 2008.

“Their interest was to establish a presence here dealing with the Port of Virginia,” Smolak said of Gulf American Line, which also operates facilities near the port in Wilmington, N.C.

“They began working with several real estate brokers in the Hampton Roads area,” Smolak added. “One of the brokers that we work with brought them out here to look at property. We then began to establish our relationship. They liked what they saw here and felt this was a good place for them to establish that presence in the Hampton Roads market.”

Gulf American Line Vice President Sherief Singer said FSEDI played a key role in getting his company to come to the area.

“They’re more of a ‘middle man’ that tries to help out and point you in the right direction,” Singer said. “They were more or less the guiding force to get us into the area, introduced us to all of the relevant people that could help us develop the facility there, and they tried to bring some state aid to us.”

That aid included grant money from the Virginia Department of Business Assistance and the Virginia Jobs Investment Program, Singer said. The programs helped the company get their Web site for free and allowed them to be reimbursed for some of the training costs for new employees.

“Those are things we would not have known about unless John (Smolak) brought that up to us,” Singer said.

Singer said their operation once employed about 20 people full-time, but due to the economy the number of workers had to be cut to 10.

On the real estate issue, Singer said his company had worked with an agent that brought them to the Norfolk area.

“For the cost value, it wasn’t there,” Singer said of Norfolk. “(The Southampton Business Park) seemed the most enticing, particularly with the fact that it is on the main corridor between Interstate 95 and the port. That was a strategic place for us to put that facility.”


Smolak said Feridies, the Courtland-based company that manufactures gourmet peanut products, approached FSEDI when they wanted to expand their retail operations.

“We worked with them and asked what they needed and how they wanted to grow,” Smolak said. “They had a pretty good idea about what they felt they needed to do. Their operations were in several different buildings, and they wanted to consolidate into one new building.”

Like Southampton Terminal, Feridies expanded into the Southampton Business Park. The company spent $3.2 million to build a 43,000-square foot peanut processing facility in the industrial park. The expansion created 25 jobs.

“Their key objective was to remain close to where they are now,” Smolak said. “They’re a home-grown, family-owned business. They wanted to stay in the county. So we worked with them on a site within the Southampton Business Park. We had collectively at least two or three meetings with them to discuss all the state resources that they could possibly take advantage of (including) financing and job training for new employees.”

Jane Riddick-Fries, vice president of sales and marketing for Feridies, said her company’s plans were well along before FSEDI came into being, but the group was helpful when it came along.

“We actually began working on our expansion project well before 2005 and the creation of (FSEDI),” Riddick-Fries said. “Those plans were well under way prior to that in terms of the research and stuff that we had done on our own. In fact, we worked a lot with (then-Community/Economic Development Director) Cindy Cave. Then that was dissolved and we worked with (Southampton County Administrator) Mike Johnson as well. It was just a matter of the timing.”

She added, “(FSEDI) was involved in coordinating meetings that we had with local and state officials to do some additional research to find out what was available to us.”

Feridies did take advantage of state resources for financing and job training, Riddick-Fries said.

Other major businesses

Additional new businesses that came to the area within the last five years include Lowe’s and Farm Fresh, which opened on Nov. 29, 2007 and March 26, 2008, respectively.

Joseph Poe, human resources manager for the Franklin Lowe’s, said the store currently provides 94 jobs, both full- and part-time. Meanwhile, Susan Mayo, vice president of consumer affairs and public relations for Virginia Beach-based Farm Fresh, said the Franklin store currently employs 43 people full-time and 47 part-time.

Existing businesses also expanded.

Southampton Memorial Hospital completed a $2.4 million renovation of its East Wing in February 2006, which included the construction of single occupancy rooms. The hospital also spent $244,000 renovating and expanding its laboratory.