Our economic development hits and misses

Published 9:35 am Friday, September 12, 2014

by E. Warren Beale

On behalf of the Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. Board of Directors and the FSEDI Communications Committee, I would like to take the time to provide information regarding the prospect and marketing activities of our region. It is important to note confidentiality is of the highest importance when working on economic development projects, so we cannot divulge some specifics involved in visits made to our region by interested prospects. Doing so would be disastrous to our regional community’s reputation and would hamper economic development efforts greatly.

In many cases, our region has just “barely missed” being named a winner in some major projects. In fact, as a credit to the leadership teams working together in the City of Franklin, Southampton County, and FSEDI, our region has been a finalist in more than four economic development projects just in the last year.

Just to give you an idea, the average prospect development activity takes typically over one year to execute. That is from the first email or site consultant call, to the demonstration of properly zoned and controlled property, environmental and wetland analysis, to the preparation of information on schools, healthcare and other community amenities. When an announcement is made, it has been actively worked for likely many months in advance.

The Hits

Hampton Farms purchased the former International Paper Converting Innovation Center in August of 2013 for the use of a peanut butter processing facility. Hampton is on track to be operational in the first quarter of 2015 and plans to employ approximately 60 individuals and invest approximately $6 million in machinery and tools.

The Love’s Travel Center & Bojangles, which boasts more than $6 million in investment, will add more than 60 new jobs to our roster.

Curtis Contracting has been another big win for the Franklin-Southampton area. The construction of this asphalt and concrete plant has brought more than $6 million in investment to our regional community and more than 40 high-paying jobs.

Finally, Enviva employs 95 full-time staff and has made over $91 million in new investment in Southampton County.

With more than half a billion dollars in economic development investment in our region, we are doing great. I commend Amanda Jarratt, Randy Martin, Mike Johnson, as well as our wonderful elected officials for all of their hard work, time and efforts. Without the true leadership that has been displayed, we would never have achieved what has been done.

The Misses

Provided below are some facts that we felt should be made public knowledge.

In 2013, we had 21 active prospect searches in our community. At least three of them required a minimum of 50 acres of property.

In 2014 year to date we have had 16 active prospect inquiries. Four of these required over 100 contiguous acres. Two required existing buildings with a minimum of 100,000 square feet. Most were in the manufacturing or food processing arena, and they had very specific amenities in mind when visiting us and required natural gas as well as rail access.

The Franklin-Southampton area continues to be among the top regions targeted by those contacting the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance.

And here are what our prospects are telling us:

There is a lack of publicly controlled tracts of land that meet the minimum acreage requirements. Most large scale industrial prospects require a minimum of 100 acres.

There are few areas that are properly zoned for industrial use; Some properties lack access to a CSX or Norfolk Southern rail line; The majority of properties lack natural gas; The lease rate of the existing building is more than the regional average.

Not to give the wrong impression, our area is truly blessed with the amenities we have, given the small size of our community.

With this information we now look to the residents of Franklin-Southampton area to help us overcome these obstacles in hopes of maximizing every opportunity possible to advance the growth of jobs and investments within our community.

In closing, I cannot say enough about how much we thank you for your continued support of economic development in our community and region. Please know that Jarratt and FSEDI Board Members Harrell Turner, Harriet Duck, Felicia Blow and Brian Hedgepeth are available and interested to speak about FSEDI. If you would like to hear from FSEDI and be updated on our news, follow us on Facebook and/or e-mail Ashley Cotton at acotton@franklinsouthamptonva.com.

E. WARREN BEALE is chairman of the Board, Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc.