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Wild about Wildwood

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State agency throws its support behind regional commerce park with $3.8 million grant.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Securing a $3.8 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission for the planned business and commerce park at Interstate 77 Exit 19 means there’s a lot of state representatives who are “wild about Wildwood,” Carroll officials indicated in reacting to the news at a Jan. 13 meeting.
The megasite grant for Wildwood, as part of a funding initiative for development of industrial parks in Southwest and Southside, had been virtually assured even by the time of the county supervisors’ December meeting, as it had received backing of the Tobacco Commission staff and the Special Projects Commission.
The full Tobacco Commission gave final approval in Richmond last Tuesday.
The Wildwood Commerce Park is part of a 1,400-acre tract near Exit 19.
Ken McFadyen, director of the regional Blue Ridge Crossroads Economic Development Authority that spearheads the effort, attended the Tobacco Commission meeting.
The authority has optioned 167 acres of this tract, of which 50 acres have already been graded and provided with retention pond access.
The decision by the state authority will spur progress on the collaborative project between the economic development authority, Twin County localities and private developers, he told The Gazette.
“The Tobacco Commission’s grant award of $3.8 million enables us to move forward to acquire the site and to begin site development in 2011,” McFadyen said. “We have additional grant applications pending and financing the land purchase to complete.”
Grant funds will go towards engineering costs as well as construction of water, sewer, road access and fiber communications.
Developing Wildwood is a long-term effort and the officials working on it have big goals in mind.
“As we have been securing funding and planning the site development, the localities have also been working toward identifying the target industries to recruit to the Wildwood Commerce Park,” McFadyen said. “Our focus on recruitment for the park is a minimum 400 jobs and private investments in the area of $250 million.”
This goal goes along with terms of the megasite grant, McFadyen explained in a news release about the grant.
“Megasite projects are defined as those that should generate at least 400 jobs and $250 million in private investment,” he wrote.  “The grant award to BRCEDA of $3.8 million represents the highest award made among the three projects in Southwest Virginia, which also includes Washington and Smyth counties.”
It is the second grant the Wildwood project has received from the Tobacco Commission, the news release said. The first involved a $1 million grant to help acquire the 167-acre site for the commerce park.
“The work that Carroll, Galax and Grayson are dedicating through BRCEDA is showing results,” said Del. Bill Carrico, R-Fries, in the news release. “The Tobacco Commission’s grant award for the Wildwood Commerce Park will greatly assist the region in creating long-term solutions for job growth and private investment that will bolster the local and regional economy.”
“Localities in the megasite program will now need to step up to the plate to invest and create jobs for the region,” said Del. Terry Kilgore, who acts as chairman for the Tobacco Commission.
Sharing the news about grant award with the Carroll supervisors Thursday, County Administrator Gary Larrowe said the project has been finding support among legislators and potential funding agencies.
By its inclusion in the round of megasites funding, Wildwood is one of only seven projects in Southwest and Southside that qualify for $100 million earmarked by the Tobacco Commission for such industrial/business development, Larrowe said.
“We also see that the Wildwood project has been high on the radar within the state,” he said.
Local representatives recently met with the lieutenant governor, has been targeted by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership for a marketing push, and the Virginia Department of Transportation will pay for the access road.
“We’re making a lot of friends in Richmond,” Larrowe said. “We go up and say, ‘Wildwood’...”
“They just go wild,” Supervisor Manus McMillian finished the sentence.