May 22, 2015
Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre is attracting attention from prospective companies even though the grading project there is seven months from completion.
The industrial park is "on the radar screen for three or four major projects," Mark Heath, president/chief executive officer of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) said this week.
He added that those projects are in addition to the two companies whose interest in the development helped convince the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to grant a permit for the project in 2014 after several years of discussions.
No companies were identified Wednesday as Heath and officials with Henry County and Blythe Development Co., which is doing the grading project, toured the site with staff and board members of The Harvest Foundation. The foundation is among the groups funding the project.
The business center is being developed to accommodate a mega-project, or one that will bring at least 400 jobs and $250 million in investment to the area, Heath said. One company that expressed interest in the center but did not meet the criteria for it has been turned away, he said, adding that will become more difficult to do as the project proceeds. Commonwealth Crossing has been targeted for major rail-served projects, he added. Commonwealth Crossing is on U.S. 220 south of Martinsville, along the North Carolina line. The entrance is in North Carolina, but Henry County Administrator Tim Hall said that state will receive no tax base from the development. All the tax base will be in Virginia, he said.
Officials in Rockingham County, N.C., have been helpful on road issues for the project because they understand it will benefit that area in job creation and development in the area, Hall said.
"They are eager to be part of it," he added.
The business center is within a 60-mile radius of a 1.1 million-person labor pool and a population of 2.45 million, Heath said. "We can't be successful without North Carolina" and its labor pool, he added.
At the same time Henry County and Martinsville lost more than 10,000 jobs in the 1990s and early 2000s, "Greensboro lost over 90,000 jobs," Heath said. "You don't hear about that … but it is part of what we're banking on."
Hall added that even if industries locating in the center hire people living in North Carolina, Henry County will benefit.
Commonwealth Crossing also improves local access to the Piedmont Triad International Airport, Hall said, and it is the "gateway to Henry County."
Heath said Commonwealth Crossing is well positioned to benefit from the growing aerospace hub that North Carolina is developing. Hall added that suppliers to that hub could be well-suited to locate in Commonwealth Crossing.
The project under way now involves grading lots 1 and 4, with 120 acres and 50 acres each, respectively. Also, the mile-long road into the industrial park is being created, and by the time the project is expected to be done in January, there will be 170 acres of flat land, according to Tim Pace, director of engineering and mapping for Henry County.
"You can't find that within 150 to 200 miles" of Henry County, he said, adding that the sites will be planted in grass with signage, utilities and streetlights in place.
Doug Lawrie, project manager for Blythe Development Co., said the company was contracted to move about 4 million cubic yards of dirt to create the business center. So far, he added, it has moved about 2.5 million cubic yards and is doing about 22,000 cubic yards a day.
"Henry County has not done anything like this" before, Pace said of the magnitude of the project.
The tour of the area revealed that scope. Vast expanses of land have been cleared and leveled, with some areas already seeded. Other hills are being leveled, in one case revealing a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Heavy earth-moving equipment and other off-road trucks move constantly around the site, loading and unloading dirt.
Sixty-two people were hired to do the work, and most were area residents, Lawrie said. Many were trained on the job, and they often work seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day, he said.
Pace and Hall both praised Blythe, saying it was committed to the project during the years of negotiations with the Corps of Engineers, and it remains committed to finishing it now.
Henry County bought the land for Commonwealth Crossing for about $3 million and has committed $3.3 million for the grading project. Martinsville has committed about $1.6 million for grading,Heath said.
The Harvest Foundation has committed a total of $10.86 million, and $15.62 million has been provided or committed by the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission toward developing the industrial park.
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