2021: A year in review

Published 11:02 pm Tuesday, December 28, 2021

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By Karl Heck

In August, I was excited to join the Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. (FSEDI) team as President and CEO. The past five months have been spent getting to know businesses, community stakeholders and, most importantly, residents. Additionally, I have been meeting with regional and state officials to make sure our community is well-represented on a broad spectrum of economic development-related issues.

Karl Heck

As we look back on this past year, the FSEDI staff is extremely grateful for all the community support we’ve received and the accomplishments we celebrate together. As the year ends, we want to take time to look back at some of our exciting business expansion and attraction projects, and opportunities for economic growth in Franklin Southampton.

In September, Global Concentrate, a New Jersey-based supplier for traditional and organic fruit and vegetable juice concentrates, purees, puree concentrates, NFC (not-from-concentrate) juices and IQF (individual quick freezing) products, announced the purchase of approximately 170 acres of industrial land in Pretlow Industrial Park in Franklin to establish their largest processing operation in the United States. Global Concentrate will invest a minimum of $121 million and create a total of 50 new full-time jobs within 36 months. The City of Franklin closed on the sale on Dec. 1, receiving $2 million in the sale. Global Concentrate is moving ahead with their plans to construct approximately 2 million square feet in industrial space, with construction anticipated to begin in 2022.

Our partnerships led to another successful community business launch competition, STARTUP Franklin Southampton. We included the entirety of the City of Franklin and Southampton County for the boundaries that participants could open their business. Scott and Heidi Maynard of Simply Prepared won the $20,000 grand prize, while Arcel and Paula Dullas of Farm Fed secured the $10,000 prize amount. Additionally, this program has helped launch three additional new businesses in our community, The Graceful Baker, The Lighthouse Project and Studio SoCo. STARTUP was made possible by funding sponsors Franklin Southampton Economic Development, Inc., Bronco Federal Credit Union and Farmers Bank, along with the following program sponsors: Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce, Main Event Franklin, Camp Community College, Real Country 101.7, and The Tidewater News.

FSEDI also oversees the management efforts of the Franklin Business Center (FBC). The business incubator program welcomed seven new businesses in 2021 and is the home to 37 individual businesses. One celebratory milestone from the program came in December, as the building celebrated 100% occupancy for the first time since complete build-out. The FBC houses entrepreneurs, startups and expanding businesses looking to grow for-profit businesses. This year we have had one business graduate. Helping Hands Sitter Services moved into a permanent office space in Downtown Franklin. For more information on the program or to tour the facility, please call our office at 562-1958. 

On the small business development front, two of our Franklin Southampton businesses were recipients of awards during the 2021 Hampton Roads Chamber Small Business of the Year event: Belmont Peanuts for the Western Hampton Roads Small Business of the Year, and Serve Restaurant as a 2021 Top to Watch, awarded to stand out young businesses (operating three years or less) in the Hampton Roads area. 

From a tourism perspective, the brand managed by the office, ‘Visit Franklin Southampton VA,’ received regional exposure in the form of two thirty-second commercials produced by WAVY-TV 10. The spots highlighted local shops, restaurants and attractions and played in the greater Hampton Roads market for a total of four months. Additionally, the office applied for a Marketing Leverage Program grant from the Virginia Tourism Corporation. The awarded funds were utilized in updating the FSEDI billboard, with a tourism emphasis, along Route 460 east bound. We continue to highlight all the events and small business updates on the Visit Franklin Southampton VA website, Facebook and Instagram pages. 

We are excited to share that along with our partners, Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, Isle of Wight County and the City of Suffolk, we were successful in being granted funds to build out fiber broadband in Southampton County, Isle of Wight and City of Suffolk. This fund is referred to as the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative and resources from the American Rescue Plan Act are being utilized. Southampton County and the surrounding communities are also in line to receive broadband access through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. The total combined funding amount will serve 12,223 new locations throughout the three communities, with 4,962 of the total amount located in Southampton County.

From the entire FSEDI staff and board of directors, we are incredibly grateful for the partner and community support we receive. We wish you all a wonderful Holiday season, and anticipate another year of exciting economic growth and progress in 2022.

KARL HECK is President and CEO of Franklin Southampton Economic Development, Inc.