FSEDI: Recent successes and work to be done

Published 9:53 am Wednesday, August 20, 2014

by Amanda C. Jarratt

It is important to reflect on the progress we have made in the Franklin Southampton Community in recent years, the work that is yet to be done, and how you can help. In the past year we have broken ground on more than $100 million in new industrial commercial development in the Franklin Southampton community. This is a huge milestone for our community, particularly in light of the multitude of negative impacts on our region in the past years.

In July of 2012 we were able to break ground on Enviva a wood pellet manufacturing facility that has invested more than $91 million in Southampton County at the Southampton Commerce and Logistics Center. The grand opening was held in August of 2013 and the facility is now fully operational with 95 full-time employees. Enviva also has plans to utilize 1 million tons of raw wood annually. The spin-off jobs in the local trucking and logging industries have been critical for an area of our local community that suffered tremendous decline in recent years.

In March of 2013, we were able to break ground on a new facility for Curtis Contracting on Route 460 just outside of Ivor with a $6 million investment in an asphalt and concrete facility. This facility became fully operational in April of 2014 and now employs approximately 30 individuals. This company is filling a need in the western portion of Hampton Roads and has been the recipient of several local contracts such as the paving contract for Southampton County, 671 road improvements, Rose Valley Road improvements, Hunterdale Road improvements, and many others in the region.

In August of 2013 we were able to announce the acquisition of the former International Paper Converting Innovation Center by Severn Peanut Company/Hampton Farms for a peanut butter processing facility. The facility is planned to employ 60 individuals and yield nearly $7 million in machinery and equipment investment. This facility is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2015. As a part of this project a six-inch, high-pressure natural gas line is being extended from Ashland (formerly Hercules) down General Thomas Highway (671) allowing for additional industrial commercial growth along this corridor.

In December of 2013, FSEDI also was able to announce the successful location of Providence Agriculture in an existing facility in the Southampton Business Park. They are a fertilizer company under the umbrella of Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings. They currently employ nine individuals and provide another valuable service to our local agricultural community.

In addition, a ribbon cutting is scheduled for Aug. 28, 2014, for the new Love’s Travel Center and Bojangle’s restaurant along 258 and 58 in the City of Franklin. This $6 million investment has created over 60 jobs for the city and is projected to generate significant sales and meals tax for the city. This facility is also opening up additional property for commercial development within the city limits which we are planning to capitalize on through partnerships with private property owners. An access road is planned to be constructed through the property linking to Pretlow Industrial Park, significantly improving the commercial access to this property. It is also important to remember that now the City of Franklin is able to capitalize on the presence of Highway 58 and prime property with direct access to a limited access highway. Previously, the area of property that is now available for commercial development was planned for future residential development. The highest and best use of the property for the City of Franklin is for commercial development.

Year to date prospect activity for the Franklin-Southampton community is up over previous years. There are five active industrial projects considering the area. Year to date we have worked with over 15 industrial projects.

As shared previously, our office actively partners with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, and the Port of Virginia. We are leveraging our resources with theirs and touching site selectors and companies not only across the United States but the world.

So with all of this said, there is much work to be done, and how can you as the citizens be an active partner in this process? There are several ways. If we truly want to see industrial and commercial growth in our community we must have land that is under public control and properly zoned. Through newspaper columns, community presentations, our electronic newsletters, and through other public comments, FSEDI has worked to deliver the message regarding this critical need. At every chance, we are working to share the importance of our need to keep making progress. In fact, The Tidewater News has editorialized on this need on several occasions. That is our top challenge. Currently we have less than 150 acres in Pretlow Industrial Park, 80 acres remaining in the Southampton Commerce and Logistics Center, and 25 at the Southampton Business Park. Our neighbors to the east and west have spent years acquiring land into large industrial areas, but this is a topic for another column.

Utilities is another key challenge for our area. In order to attract new private investment into the Franklin-Southampton community and provide people of all income levels an opportunity for employment and to build assets, we must maximize the limited resources we have.

The availability of water and wastewater utilities are critical components of most economic development projects. Collaboration opens the door for development in Pretlow Industrial Park, which currently has limitations in both capacity and the type of wastewater discharge that could be accepted within the City.

These current limitations restrict the types of industries that can be recruited to locate within Pretlow Park without significant increased capital expense. There is additional property within Southampton County in the long-established revenue sharing area, which would generate tax revenue for both communities designated for future industrial development. Currently, this property cannot feasibly be served by utilities limiting its marketability. If even a partial collaboration could be implemented to create capacity within the City of Franklin’s system, utilities could be extended from the city to the county opening up new economic development opportunities in key target areas; increasing the tax base for the entire Franklin-Southampton community. Support and public engagement in this wastewater study is another critical way that you can be supportive of our local economic development efforts.

Please be on the lookout for additional columns to keep you up to date and informed about our efforts and how you as the citizenry can be an active partner in our future successes. Your active involvement and support of areas that will allow us to recruit new industrial and commercial development is critical. We would love to have you as a part of our monthly newsletter distribution list, and in addition please follow us on Facebook. Please e-mail acotton@franklinsouthamptonva.com and we will be sure to have you added. Thank you for your continued support of Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. and the entire community.

AMANDA JARRATT is the president and CEO of Franklin Southampton Economic Development, Inc. Her email is ajarratt@franklinsouthamptonva.com.