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INDEPENDENCE — Ken McFadyen, director of the Blue Ridge Crossroads Economic Development Authority, attended the Grayson County Board of Supervisors meeting this month to give an update on the Wildwood Commerce Park.
McFadyen began his presentation by reminding the board and citizens in attendance that Grayson County is a one-third partner in development of the park located off Exit 19 of Interstate 77 in Carroll County.
While it is not located in Grayson, McFadyen said the county will reap the benefits equally from the park as it continues to develop.
He pointed out that by the end of 2014, the site will have an access road and all required infrastructure with the exception of rail, something that is not necessarily needed in this area.
Utility infrastructure includes:
• Electrical – Appalachian Electric Power will invest $4 million to provide the electric to the park.
• Natural Gas – Carroll County will provide service from a 24-inch high-pressure line east of the site.
• Water – Carroll County PSA will have a 12-inch water line and an new 4 million gallons-per-day water plant with expansion capabilities up to 10 million gallons per day.
• Wastewater – Carroll County PSA will build an 8-inch gravity sewer line with system capacity of 523,584 gallons per day.
• Telecommunication – The Wired Road Authority’s regional broadband network will serve Wildwood with a direct fiber route to the regional Point-Of-Presence with multiple providers. This will be sufficient for large data centers, McFadyen said.
• Access – a four-lane entry access road maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation will begin construction soon.
McFayden said a lot of people ask why it is so important to have this entire infrastructure in place before a company has agreed to locate there. He explained that a company will not choose to locate in the commerce park not knowing what and when utilities will be added.
“It needs to be site ready,” he said. For example, a company looking for a home for a 1 million-square-foot facility have BRCEDA that it’s all about speed to market.
“They don’t want competitors to know what they are doing,” McFayden said. “They want a building permit the day after they agree and be up and operating within six months. If we waited, the park would not be attractive.”
In terms of the funding, McFayden pointed out that in 2010 the localities made a commitment to fund $5 million and the authority had around $1 million in grant money.
Through the end of 2013, the authority has attracted $16.5 million in grants and investments to develop the park. “That speaks to the attractiveness and merits of developing Wildwood,” he said, noting that the ratio of local funding to grants and private investments was 3:1.
Breaking it down even further, McFayden said that for every dollar the localities have put in, the authority has found $14 from somewhere else.
The authority continues to solicit funds from other sources.
“We’ve done our homework,” McFayden said of determining what is needed at the park to make it attractive to prospective companies. “A lot of research has gone into developing Wildwood. We are very confident that we’ll be successful in recruiting a company to this site.”
On the marketing side, McFayden said the authority has spent a lot of time looking at what the local workforce is good at and what types of business sectors would be ideal candidates for the commerce park.
The authority has looked at the workforce within a 60-minute commute – which includes both the Providence and Baywood areas of Grayson County – and determined there are five main business sectors that they feel Wildwood would be ideal for:
• Distribution and Logistics – McFayden pointed out that no commerce park in the state of Virginia has better access to interstates. He added that distribution and logistics companies say they want their trucks traveling at least 50 miles per hour within five minutes of loading. At Wildwood, they can be doing 70 mph within about three minutes on I-77.
• Food and Produce Distributors – having access to the SouthWest Virginia Farmers Market in Hillsville, which does $30 million in business annually, is a huge plus for companies that are looking to source produce for distribution to other facilities. The market is only four miles from Wildwood, something no other site in Virginia is able to claim, according to McFayden.
• Advanced Wood and Textiles Industries – McFayden pointed out that in the Twin Counties there are still some textile and furniture industries thriving. Traditionally, the local workforce has excelled at textiles and furniture manufacturing and the localities are proving it is still a viable option to do those types of jobs in Southwest Virginia.
• Components Manufacturing – with so many large manufacturing operations within a short drive of the Wildwood park (Honda Jet in Greensboro, Volvo in Dublin, for example), McFayden said having a company that builds components for these operations would be extremely valuable. Large companies such as these like to buy things locally and have a supply within a reasonable distance of their facility, McFayden said.
• Professional Services and Data Servers – McFayden pointed out that the commerce park is located in an area with around 12 major colleges and universities nearby, which typically attracts companies interested in intellectual capital and data services. With a lower tax rate than larger areas with equal infrastructure, McFayden said the park would be perfect for a large data server site.
McFayden reiterated that “this endeavor would not be possible without regional collaboration. Carroll County could not do this alone. We’re so much better working together.”
When jokingly asked why hadn’t this been done years ago, Grayson County Administrator Jonathon Sweet pointed out that 15 years ago Wytheville embarked on such an endeavor and now has Gatorade, PepsiCo and a components manufacturer for Toyota, among other large industries.
“It paid off for them,” Sweet said, adding that Bland was a partner with Wytheville on the PepsiCo project and now receives a six-figure dividend in for its investment in that project.
Grayson Supervisor David Sexton was pleased with all the positives, but questioned what the negatives of the project were.
“It’s a bold project,” McFayden answered. “We don’t have a company that has agreed to come yet.”
He added that the park has been pitched to three large companies and that the site was currently a finalist for one of those.
“There is a probability that we won’t get that project,” he continued. “We don’t have a bird in hand and that’s always the risk.”
Sweet doesn’t see a negative, but added that Grayson probably stood to yield the least amount of job opportunities due to distance from site. “We would enjoy the dividend equally, but the job opportunities might not afford themselves as much to Grayson County citizens,” he said.
However, as McFayden pointed out earlier in the meeting, people are driving 60 minutes to work regularly these days.
“We believe that’s the new norm,” Sweet said. “Particularly [if the job] is gainful.”
Supervisor John Brewer questioned where BRCEDA stood on the mill property in Fries.
McFayden said that the authority is currently holding that property and that it has been listed with a local realtor and shown a few times.
Although Fries Town Council asked for the property to be turned back over to the town, McFayden said the state Department of Housing and Community Development has declined that request.
“We are acting as a trustee of the state for the investments made there,” McFayden said. “To an extent, our hands have been tied.”
He added that the bingo hall in Fries is under contract and should be closed on this year.
“The other properties have been shown, but no real interest yet,” McFayden said.