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First tenant could change expectations for New River Valley industrial site.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
The New River Valley Commerce Park was conceived as a magnet to attract large manufacturers and high-paying jobs to the region, an economic field of dreams with the land and infrastructure to support the needs of emerging industries.
Since the park’s opening in 2002, its hundreds of acres have not sprouted the kind of industry coveted by the 11 localities that invest in the site near the New River Valley Airport. The park was developed with an eye toward landing a computer chip manufacturer like Motorola, which tantalized Central Virginia with never-realized plans for a plant in the late-1990s.
Economic developers have tried to lure industries that would need at least 75 acres and would invest at least $130 million in machinery and tools. The expectations proved to be unrealistic and the park sat vacant until this year despite $12 million of public investment that includes annual contributions from localities in the Roanoke and New River valleys.
A tenant emerged in March, when Red Sun Farms announced plans for a 50-acre hydroponic vegetable production facility that will employ 205 full-time workers. Construction soon will begin on the first 18 acres of greenhouses.
Red Sun will not bring the high-paying jobs that localities envisioned when they pooled funds to acquire land and extend water capacity to the site. At least 15 workers in management positions will receive annual salaries greater than $40,000. The average wage for the rest of Red Sun’s workforce will be at least $12 per hour.
But Red Sun may have identified potential in the commerce park that even the site’s biggest cheerleaders hadn’t realized. The region’s altitude, climate and marketing conditions made the New River site ideal for Red Sun’s first U.S. production facility and gave Virginia a leg up over neighboring Tennessee, which had offered the company more lucrative tax incentives. Having Virginia Tech’s agriculture and life sciences experts nearby can’t hurt either.
The NRV Commerce Park was born as a field of dreams for economic developers and the localities that invested in it. But the “build it and they will come” strategy has amounted to little more than wishful thinking so far. After years of disappointment, perhaps Red Sun can shine rays of hope and give life to the fallow fields near Dublin.
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