Dominion fuel switch great news

Published 10:31 am Saturday, April 23, 2011

To anyone who is really paying attention, Dominion Virginia Power’s recent decision to convert the Southampton Power Station from a coal-burning facility to one that operates on waste wood products is great news.

There are the obvious, immediate impacts worth celebrating; the old jobs that will be saved and the new ones that will be created, the generation of hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional local tax revenue, the boost it will provide to our existing forestry and wood products industry and the money that will be spent locally on support services highlight just a few.

But what I find even more exciting, and what more attention should be focused on, is the message that this decision really sends: the fact that Franklin and Southampton County are not on the decline, but instead ready to rebound and soar to new economic heights.

As someone whose business depends on the economic growth and stability of the region, I’m a shameless cheerleader for this community. I focus on what can be in the hope that it inspires others to continue working towards a brighter economic future. And when I see a major corporation like Dominion pledge to spend tens of millions for capital improvements to rebuild a power plant that will be sustainable far into the future, it lets me know that great things are on the horizon.

It’s not incurable optimism that leads me to this conclusion, but the realization that a company of Dominion’s size and vast resources would have no interest in investing in a community on the decline.

While I have shared in the general sense of disappointment over the fact that we have yet to recruit any new businesses to the area, we’ve done a few things right in recent years to position us well for success in the near future. Local investment made by Southampton County leaders to develop the Turner Tract into a great new industrial site and to expand the county’s wastewater treatment capacity to meet the needs of tenants at that location and others will undoubtedly pay dividends.

The work done by local officials encouraging International Paper to abandon its traditional business model and repurpose the Franklin mill into a bio-fuel producing facility should, if efforts are successful, position us once again to capitalize on our local wood products industry.

Potential economic development prospects need not look far beyond existing industrial infrastructure either in deciding this is a great place to locate and begin or expand operations. Great proximity to the soon-to-expand port in Hampton Roads, newly announced improvements for our highway infrastructure, and a ready and willing workforce with additional training resources at the college and workforce development center should all be fantastic enticements to a firm looking for a new home.

We have a long way to go and are by no means out of the economic woods yet. But Dominion’s decision reaffirms my healthy sense of optimism and once again provides encouragement that we are headed in the right direction. Dominion Virginia Power knows this is a great place to do business. Soon enough, I suspect, others will come to know that as well.

TONY CLARK is the general manager and advertising director at The Tidewater News. He can be reached at