A recently announced government grant is expected to help bring up to 100 new jobs to Pulaski County.
New River Valley Commerce Park in Dublin will receive $364,000 from an overall $4.9 million Appalachian Regional Commission grant awarded to Virginia, according to a news release from Gov. Ralph Northam's office.
The money will help fund site work to help lure a second tenant to the commerce park, which opened in 2002 and got its first tenant, Mexico-based vegetable grower Red Sun Farms in 2014.
Danny Wilson, executive director of the park said that talks with an unnamed company on a plan to bring an advanced manufacturing facility to 20 acres are well underway, although a contract has yet to be signed.
“We are pretty far along in that process. Grading the land is the last obstacle we need to overcome,” he said.
Wilson said that all of the necessary permits and designs have been completed to begin turning dirt on the site, and the park is just waiting to receive the funds, which are expected to be dispersed later this year.
Wilson said that he expects the lot to be ready for construction by 2020, and he estimates the tenant could move in by 2021.
Authorized by the Virginia General Assembly in 1997, the park is a 20-year collaboration between a number of Southwest Virginia communities. At the time, 15 localities came together to create Virginia's First Regional Industrial Facility Authority.
The original members included Bland, Craig, Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski, Roanoke and Wythe counties; the cities of Radford, Roanoke and Salem; and the towns of Christiansburg, Dublin, Narrows, Pearisburg and Pulaski. Wythe, Salem and Narrows are no longer involved in the projects, according to the park’s website.
For its debut project, 12 of the 15 authority members bought 277 acres of land in 2001. The facility would eventually grow to 973 acres and become known as the New River Valley Commerce Park.
The park opened for business in 2002, but for many years saw little success. Original restrictions required tenants to agree to buy at least 75 acres of land and invest $130 million in machinery and tools — expectations based largely on the semiconductor industry. Officials told The Roanoke Times in 2013 that those figures were unrealistic for one project, and eventually the authority revised its strategy.
After a decade of disappointment, the park got its first tenant, luring Red Sun Farms, a subsidiary of Mexico-based vegetable grower Agricola El Rosal, which opened in 2014. The high-tech greenhouse operation was the first American facility for the company and today supplies tomatoes grown in Dublin to Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina.
Since then, no new tenants have been announced. But Wilson and Pulaski County Administrator Jonathan Sweet said they see signs of progress.
“Shovel ready, site ready is something that is very important to business and industry,” Sweet said. “It makes us very competitive. It makes us a premiere location to be able to have a site like that and access to grant money and to have the sophistication to get those types of things done.”
Pulaski County owns nearly half of the park, according to Wilson, so it has more invested than any other authority member. Sweet said if all goes well, he believes the park could reach its capacity over the next decade.
“Just like neighborhoods, it makes since for businesses to co-locate,” he said. “It means that you are going to continue to grow and have all the utilities and things you need to grow the industrial park. The more businesses we get there, the more synergy it creates.”
Wilson said that the revenue from the latest tenant will allow for more grading of other sites in the park, making it more desirable to potential tenants.
“We have all of the other infrastructure in place that we need. The last piece we are missing is graded land," he said. "Once we have that, there’s no limit to what the future of the park could be."