‘Mega-site’ gets backing

Published 8:15 am Wednesday, August 25, 2010

COURTLAND—The Southampton County Board of Supervisors voted Monday to support counterparts in neighboring Greensville County as they look to develop a “mega-sized” industrial site that could bring a large employer to the region.

The site for the proposed Mid-Atlantic Advanced Manufacturing Center, or MAMaC, totals 1,545 acres, and is about three miles north of Emporia on the west side of Interstate 95. The site also has about 1.3 miles of frontage along I-95 and is served by the CSX Railroad.

“While conventional thinking might cause one to conclude that the project is competition against our own economic development initiatives, that type of thinking would really be pretty short-sighted,” Southampton County Administrator Mike Johnson told the board. “In addition to the employment opportunities that the center would provide, there is an opportunity for its suppliers to locate in our own industrial parks.”

Greensville and Emporia officials, as well as the Emporia-Greensville Industrial Development Corp., are seeking state financial assistance with the project.

The state has announced it will make $5 million available through the Virginia Economic Development Partnership — for a program called the MEI Project Site Planning Grant Fund — for “mega-site” development in Virginia. Additionally, the Virginia Tobacco Commission is developing a grant program to support the same type of industry.

Johnson added that more than 250 residents of Southampton commute to Greensville for work, and the MAMaC site is within 30 miles of more than two-thirds of Southampton.

John Smolak, president and chief executive officer for Franklin-Southampton Economic Development, agreed that the MAMaC site would benefit Southampton.

“I think it’s a great project, a good project for the region,” Smolak said. “(Greensville County) identified a site, just as we identified a site with the Turner Tract. It may not be a ‘mega-site,’ but it’s fully developed just like that site would hopefully eventually be, just on a smaller scale.”

In correspondence to Southampton officials, Greensville County Administrator David Whittington said the MAMaC site is the only certified “mega-site” in Virginia, and one of only 10 in the U.S. He said five other such sites across the country had already been sold, with each site averaging more than $1 billion in investment and creating more than 1,000 jobs.

“The Greensville County mega-site received serious consideration from both Toyota and Volkswagen,” Whittington said. “Even though we were not successful in having either one of those two industries make the decision to locate here, ironically both Toyota and Volkswagen landed at one of the (other) mega-sites.”

Natalie Slate, deputy county administrator for Greensville, told the Southampton board Monday that most of the proposed site is timberland, but about 100 acres is currently being farmed.

“We have 1,500 acres under option, depending on the size that the client would need,” Slate said.