Just like that we go from zero large-scale craft breweries to two — first Deschutes Brewery and now Ballast Point. Or maybe it’s the other way around, since Ballast Point might actually open first (and with more jobs).
Either way, this is now the fourth big economic development announcement the Roanoke Valley has had in the past three months — following Deschutes, the Eldor auto parts manufacturer and the Virginia community college system’s “shared services” office.
Deschutes, of course, was the subject of a well-publicized grass-roots social media campaign that sprang up after the company’s interest in the Roanoke Valley became known. Ballast Point, by contrast, seemed to come almost out of the blue — Virginia Craft Beer magazine had reported the company’s interest a few months ago and Gov. Terry McAuliffe made it clear during a recent visit to Roanoke that something was brewing, quite literally.
That surprise factor actually is one of the many lessons to be drawn from this latest announcement.
Here’s why economic development prospects are kept secret: The first time the Roanoke Regional Partnership economic development agency heard about Ballast Point’s interest in an East Coast facility came in March 2015 — through a Google alert. Someone in Richmond let slip that Ballast Point was looking there.
Partnership officials immediately did what Richmond or any other locality would have done to us had the situation been reversed: They contacted Ballast Point (through its site consultant) to pitch the Roanoke Valley.
In layman’s terms, we stole Ballast Point away from Richmond. (That ought to be another confidence booster — we’ve now beaten out both Richmond and Asheville, North Carolina.) More accurately, we presented the company with another option, which it found superior.
If the “multiple state and local officials” cited in that original story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch had kept their mouths shut, perhaps Ballast Point would be announcing it’s going to Richmond, and not Botetourt County. (Yes, we recognize the irony of a newspaper pointing out the relative virtues of secrecy, but the facts are what they are.)
Nobody’s going to look out for us except us. During the courtship of Sierra Nevada in 2011, the partnership learned something: The Roanoke Valley has a surprisingly good water and sewer system, one that’s perfectly suited for companies that use water on an industrial scale. After Sierra Nevada passed us over to go to Asheville, the partnership launched a campaign to target other beverage companies. That’s where the first contacts with Deschutes and Ballast Point were made. Except … at the time, Ballast Point wasn’t looking for an East Coast site so that cold call went nowhere. Years later, the Google alert citing “multiple state and local officials” popped up.
Why didn’t state officials let Ballast Point know there was also a potential site in the Roanoke Valley? We can only speculate, but we know that some in the Roanoke Valley have groused for years that state economic development officials in Richmond don’t pay much attention to this side of the state. To his credit, Gov. Terry McAuliffe paid a visit to Ballast Point in San Diego last September — on the same West Coast trip where he visited Deschutes. Richmond was still in the running then so he was making a more general pitch for Virginia, but we know this much: The Roanoke Valley was only in the running because the partnership put us there.
We got Ballast Point because of decisions made years ago. In 1994, Botetourt County voters approved a $19.7 million bond referendum that included money for new schools, a landfill, a library, a park — and industrial sites. Those industrial sites turned out to be the purchase in 1995 of the old Greenfield farm between Fincastle and Daleville, which 21 years later both Eldor and Ballast Point have now chosen.
It’s important to remember that both the referendum and the purchase were controversial at the time. Fincastle District Supervisor Ben Griffith lost his seat in 1994; challenger Bonnie Mayo opposed the referendum, calling it Washington-style pork that would only benefit the southern end of the county. History has vindicated Griffith.
The other big decision was the one Botetourt supervisors made in April 2015 to join the Western Virginia Water Authority. Without that municipal water supply, Ballast Point would not be coming today. In 2014, Stone Brewery looked at Greenfield before deciding to locate in Richmond. One of Stone’s concerns: Water.
One of the statements issued as part of the Ballast Point announcement came from supervisors chairman Jack Leffel, who praised that vote to join the authority: “This is another example of bold decisions, such as the development of Greenfield, that pay long-term dividends to the county and its residents.” Which district does he represent? The same Fincastle District that two decades ago voted resoundingly against the referendum. Botetourt voters more clearly understand now that Fincastle’s competition today isn’t the other side of the county, it’s the other side of the state — or the other side of the world.
Three of the four big economic development announcements this spring have been in Botetourt (four of five if you count the Arkay Packaging expansion). How come? That’s where the land is — and in the case of Ballast Point and the community college office, the buildings. Nearly eight in 10 prospects the partnership gets are looking for an existing building. “You can’t sell what you don’t have,” executive director Beth Doughty is fond of saying. That’s why Botetourt County wants to put up a shell building in Greenfield — there’s only one other building available in the whole Roanoke Valley that’s 100,000 square feet or bigger. And that’s why Franklin County is developing a 540-acre business park — which, like Greenfield, may not pay off for several decades, but which succeeding generations will surely benefit from.
Every project is different. Deschutes was courted profusely. Ballast Point had no interest in such salesmanship. Once the partnership connected Ballast Point with the property owner, company officials didn’t even tell anybody in local officialdom when they were coming to visit. They didn’t want a big announcement with the governor, either; a simple news release would suffice.
So, what’s next?