August 31, 2016
The first phase in the creation of the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre is expected to be completed in late October, according to officials with the grading project that began in 2014.
They updated the project for area officials and present and past board and staff members of the Harvest Foundation during a recent tour of the site.
Allyson Rothrock, president of the Harvest Foundation, said the project represents “hope and opportunity.”
“We’ve never had anything close to this,” she said of the 720-acre business center that is designed to attract large-scale industrial projects. She noted that the center’s development comes as manufacturing, including that of textiles and furniture, is returning to the United States.
“We are going to be able to take advantage of that” revival in domestic manufacturing, with an emphasis on advanced manufacturing, she added.
Commonwealth Crossing is a long-term investment in the area’s economy, not a short-term fix, Rothrock said.
“From the start, we knew it would take at least 10 years for the seeds to grow into flowers” at the business center, she said, “and we’re seeing really positive opportunity” now.
Phase 1 involves grading Lots 1 and 4 at the center, located off U.S. 220 at the Virginia-North Carolina state line. Lot 1 has a 120-acre pad and Lot 4 has a 50-acre pad for mega-projects, defined as investments of $250 million which create 400 jobs, according to Mark Heath, president/CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC).
In contrast, the largest pad at the Patriot Centre at Beaver Creek industrial park in Henry County is 25 acres, according to Tim Pace, director of engineering for Henry County. Lot 1 at Commonwealth Crossing is nearly five times larger, he added.
The project, expected to total north of $23 million upon completion, is being funded by Henry County, City of Martinsville, Commonwealth of Virginia, Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corporation, Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, Virginia Economic Development Partnership, U.S. Economic Development Administration and Harvest, which has invested $10.7 million in the effort.
Commonwealth Crossing is being marketed by the EDC, especially targeting suppliers and other companies involved with the growing aerospace industry in the Greensboro, N.C. area, food and plastics, and other industries, Heath said.
When the center was granted a grading permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, two companies said they would be interested in the location if the business park was developed. Today, one of those companies remains an active prospect; the other project no longer exists, Heath said.
“There has been and is serious interest in CCBC,” according to Heath, who added in an email that prospects’ reactions to Commonwealth Crossing have been “very positive.”
He added, “There are no guarantees and it's sometimes a long-term decision process. The worry is creating unrealistic expectations.”
Commonwealth Crossing competes with similar facilities in Tennessee, North Carolina and Wytheville in Virginia, Heath said.
“We know we can compete,” he said. “We are talking to people now we wouldn’t be talking to without this site.”
Rothrock said she hopes companies there will create good jobs that pay living wages that not only will help the employees but also grow the area’s tax base. “Without a living wage, nothing else matters,” she added.
“It’s not about putting 1,000 people back to work at minimum wage” jobs, she said. “It’s never been about that.”
Interest in the business center — “active prospects kicking the tires” — is exciting, said Henry County Administrator Tim Hall.
He said 1,600 people drive past the Commonwealth Crossing location every day en route to jobs in North Carolina.
“I tell prospective industries, ‘Your workforce is driving by every day,’” he added.
He and Heath both said they also expect Commonwealth Crossing to spark new restaurants, gas stations and similar businesses on both sides of the state line when thousands of people are working at the business center.
She and Heath said if a company announced today that it wanted to locate at Commonwealth Crossing, it would be two years before the operation could begin. That would give the community time to train a workforce for the business, Rothrock said.
Blythe Development Co. of Charlotte, N.C., is moving nearly 4 million cubic yards of material for the project, Pace said. To quantify that, Blythe’s project manager, Doug Lawrie, said a cubic yard is roughly the size of a washing machine.
Blythe has hired about 65 area residents for the project, Lawrie said.
Lot 1 runs along a Norfolk Southern railroad line that parallels U.S. 220. The rail line is a major selling point for the business center. Lot 4 is further back on the property.
Lot 2 has 80 acres and could be part of Lot 1 if an industry wanted a larger site, Pace said. Lot 3 is across Reservoir Road and includes about 90 acres.
By the October anticipated completion of Phase 1 — assuming bad weather does not interrupt the work, as it did last winter — all infrastructure will be in place on Lots 1 and 4, and the roads will be completed. One of the most visible structures at Commonwealth Crossing will be a 150-foot tall, 1-million-gallon water tank needed for fire protection. It will bear the Commonwealth Crossing name and will be visible from U.S. 220. Bids will be sought soon for the tank.
The entrance to the business center is off Horsepasture-Price Road in North Carolina. Landscaping work on the entrance will begin next week, and it will look much like the entrance to the Patriot Centre industrial park, Pace said.
The road into the business center is paved to the North Carolina state line, and road work continues into the Virginia portion of the center. Once finished, the Virginia Department of Transportation will take over the roads, Pace said.
On the left of the entrance road is a pond remaining from the land’s past use as a farm, and on the right is a wooded area where a trail system, picnic area and other amenities may be developed, Pace said.
The road winds into Lot 1. Another road atop 70 feet of fill created to accommodate the Patterson Branch creek leads to Lot 4. Blasting and excavation of rock is continuing there.
The county is working with American Electric Power (AEP) on getting electricity to the center, and Hall said a public hearing will be held, possibly in the new few months, on possible routes for the electric lines. The county also is in talks with Southwestern Virginia Gas on providing natural gas to the site.
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