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Groups join to develop Wildwood

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — The regional economic development authority has taken on a new partner in the pursuit of developing the Wildwood Commerce Park at Interstate 77's Exit 19 — the regional solid waste authority.

Both groups — Blue Ridge Crossroads Economic Development Authority and Carroll-Galax-Grayson Solid Waste Authority — met at Countryside restaurant in separate meetings Thursday to have breakfast and vote on motions to collaborate in an economic development project.

Both groups also held closed sessions first on purchase of real estate and investment of public funds before coming out to approve the concept.

Before economic development authority members entered closed session, Chairman Mike Maynard noted the matter involved an application for funding to be submitted to the Virginia Tobacco Commission.

The Web site for the tobacco commission has a deadline of June 2 posted for grant applications for $7.5 million available under special projects.

Upon returning to open session, Carroll County Administrator Gary Larrowe made a motion to proceed with the cooperative effort between the two authorities.

Officials from both authorities expect that business and industry locating in Wildwood will provide opportunities for them and for their member localities, according to the motion.

Both authorities agreed to work together "toward the purchase and development of the Wildwood Commerce Park," the motion said.

The motion authorized Maynard and solid waste authority Chairman C.M. Mitchell to sign and seal the agreement for the regional groups "to carry out all reasonable efforts to purchase and develop the Wildwood Commerce Park... with the least amount of fiscal impact upon the partner localities as possible and to authorize applications to be made and for the appropriate use of all funds granted."

The economic development authority members approved the motion unanimously.

Carroll Supervisor Manus McMillian made the motion for the solid waste authority later that same morning, and that was also approved unanimously.

Discussion of the idea in open session was limited to approving the motions.

Local officials have been working on this idea for several months, and they believe they've arrived at a plan everybody can get behind, Maynard said after the meeting. "We've got something we think will find solid support from the Tobacco Commission and the U.S.D.A.," he said.

They have shared the idea with state legislators and federal officials, and all have come away with positive remarks about developing land at Exit 19, he said. All agree that Exit 19's access to the transportation system and coming water and sewer service means that a commerce park there could compete well with other places in neighboring states.

In short, there's good potential at Exit 19, he said.

This effort is unique, acknowledges Ken McFadyen, regional economic developer with the Blue Ridge Crossroads EDA.

Officials are trying this new tack for Wildwood, after the EDA optioned a 221-acre site last year but found through engineering studies that the tract would have been cost-prohibitive to develop, he explained.

Creating a commerce park at Wildwood would build on the accomplishments of the landowners, Mike Turman and Don Branscome, who graded 1,400 acres at the site to prepare it for development.

"We reentered discussions with the owners for a second site and we've now identified a second site of approximately 162 acres, and we are now back in the due diligence phase of engineering," McFadyen said. "This process will show if the project is viable."

Along with that, the economic development authority has identified target businesses to recruit for a commerce park.

"This is not purely speculative that if we build it we hope somebody comes," McFadyen said. "It's a matter of we have some targets for businesses to attract and we feel that we are gearing the development of this site toward that end."

"By working together, Galax, Carroll and Grayson can develop a highly desirable property that can lead to a major economic development tool," Mitchell told The Gazette after the meeting. "It is a project that no one locality could do on its own, but is possible with all three participating."

Mitchell held up the solid waste authority as an example how beneficial regional cooperation between multiple localities can be.

"The authority is committed to helping create jobs and business opportunities for our citizens by working with [Blue Ridge Crossroads EDA] to purchase and develop the Wildwood Commerce Park," he said. "By becoming a partner in this project, the solid waste authority ensures its future waste stream and demonstrates its commitment to regional economic development."