Enviva groundbreaking uplifting

Published 11:45 am Saturday, July 28, 2012

I was privileged this past Wednesday to have witnessed a defining moment for Southampton County. As we live in a region so rich in history and heritage, that’s not a statement I make lightly.

The groundbreaking for Enviva Pellet Southampton’s new wood pellet manufacturing facility at the Turner Tract Industrial Park was an event that celebrated the company’s investment in the economy, the people who made it happen and those who will make the relationship a lasting and meaningful one.

The economic value to the county’s bottom line of Enviva’s investment, both in terms of tax revenue and employment, is well documented and significant. And being able to count such a dynamic, cutting-edge company as a member of the local business community is a bonus that will pay additional dividends beyond what is measurable today.

Yet, in spite of all the tangible aspects of what made the day so noteworthy, it was a celebration of something far greater than what can be calculated in terms of investment dollars and future tax revenues, more than a commemoration of the years of hard work, difficult economic choices and the tough leadership decisions that led to the day’s events.

It was proof that Southampton County can move forward, on to bigger and better and newer things. And that, my friends, is truly worth celebrating.

I was moved by a number of things on Wednesday. The opening remarks delivered by Board of Supervisors Chairman Dallas Jones were as joyful and sincere as any you will hear from an elected official.

For the Board of Supervisors, including those no longer in office who have taken a public beating for the decision to invest in the Turner Tract, Wednesday’s groundbreaking was a moment of vindication. But rather than deliver a well-deserved “I told you so,” Jones, still obviously proud of the board’s decision to see its commitment on the Turner Tract through regardless of the political price paid by former and current members, focused his remarks on how significant this accomplishment is for the people of the county.

After years of service on the Board of Supervisors, it had to be one of his finest public moments.

I also was struck by the image of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, ordained by the governor as the commonwealth’s chief jobs creation officer, delivering his remarks from a podium emblazoned with the county seal.

We’ve become accustomed to high-ranking government officials making campaign stops and public relations visits, yet Bolling’s visit was symbolic of something more. His economic development team has delivered results that are indisputably some of the most impressive in the nation. To see him here because of the quality working relationships that our local economic development team has developed, lets me know we have the right people in the right place doing the right things.

Bolling presented a state flag, flown over the Capitol in Richmond, in honor of Enviva’s investment in the economy, to Enviva Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Keppler.

I look forward to seeing it fly over the new facility.

I was impressed, too, by Keppler’s remarks. Obviously passionate about his company’s work and the positive impact its product has on efforts to produce cleaner, more efficient energy, it was clear that he sees Southampton County as an ideal place to grow his business.

He pointed out our obvious advantages — abundant natural resources and ideal proximity to the ports — but also remarked that he hoped to employ what I consider our greatest asset — the hard-working and talented people who live in Western Tidewater.

If a successful global enterprise such as Enviva finds this an inviting place to do business, certainly others will too.

Which brings me back to my original thought about what the groundbreaking ceremony really meant.

On the surface, it commemorated the beginning of a new facility for Enviva and a partnership with a community that is grateful for the jobs and revenue.

But more important, it was a celebration of the county’s ability, if leadership is willing, to make the difficult and unpopular decisions to invest in our future, to move forward and prosper.

More tough decisions lie ahead, and we need to face the future with the courage and conviction required to make them. We know what we’re capable of achieving, and what’s required to accomplish more. Wednesday’s celebration gives me hope that we will.

TONY CLARK is the associate publisher at The Tidewater News. He can be reached at tony.clark@tidewaternews.com.