Almost 20 industrial sites in Danville and Pittsylvania County are being upgraded to shovel-ready status, and these localities now have the highest number of developed industrial sites in the state, according to Virginia Economic Development Partnership qualifications.
The locality with the next-highest number of shovel-ready sites is Chesterfield County, with three sites, according to the list of certified sites on VEDP’s website.
The VEDP’s Virginia Business Ready Sites Program designates industrial sites in tiers, ranked one through five, to signify the level of development. Tier 4 and Tier 5 sites are considered shovel-ready.
Four sites are being upgraded to a Tier 5 designation and 15 more will now hold the Tier 4 designation in Danville and Pittsylvania County. And in two other Southside localities, more Tier 4 and 5 upgrades mean that almost 30 sites are now considered shovel-ready in the region.
In Patrick County, two sites are being upgraded to Tier 5. And in Halifax, three sites will become Tier 5, and five more will become Tier 4.
This makes eight new Tier 5 sites and 21 new Tier 4 sites in Southside, according to a release from the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance. All these sites were previously Tier 2.
“Southern Virginia leads the commonwealth in the number of prepared sites, one of the reasons for the success they are achieving in business attraction,” according to the SVRA release.
This area of Virginia sees about a quarter of the state’s leads on economic development projects, said Linda Green, executive director of SVRA.
“We do a quarterly report from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, and they always tell us where the leads went, and what you see is an exceptional number, usually about 25%, of the leads coming to our area,” she said.
This is because higher ranked sites are more attractive to developers, Green said.
Tier 4 sites are those that are considered shovel-ready. Tier 5 sites are shovel-ready with graded pad sites.
In contrast, a Tier 1 designation means that a site has simply been identified, a Tier 2 designation means that there’s been some research on the site, and a Tier 3 designation signifies that some grading and zoning has begun, she said.
SVRA is a liaison between the state and its southern localities, specifically on economic development projects.
This area of the state is also home to the Southern Virginia Mega Site at Berry Hill, a 3,529-acre site in Pittsylvania County. This site already had a Tier 4 designation, with a Tier 5 graded pad.
But it would be a mistake to solely focus on the mega site’s development, and ignore smaller industrial sites, Green said.
“This is not an either or situation,” she said. “These complement each other when you do them together.”
Large developers that are considering the mega site usually also look at an expanded 45- to 60-mile radius of sites across the region, the release said.
“This has enabled the region to focus on small- and medium-sized companies as well as the large industry partners who present the strongest opportunities for long term success,” it said. “Collectively these small to medium sized projects have resulted in mega jobs and investments to the region that has never sacrificed the steady job flow and importance of individual diversification while also looking for large regional wins.”
For example, several high-profile developers have located medium-sized operations at the Cane Creek Centre industrial park, which is jointly owned by Danville and Pittsylvania County.
Walraven, Morgan Olson, Tyson and AeroFarms are all located in the Cane Creek park.
“Morgan Olson could be considered a mega project in and of itself,” Green said of the walk-in van assembly operation, announced in 2019, that created over 700 jobs.
And in the Southern Virginia Technology Park in Halifax County, IperionX, the first completely recycled titanium manufacturer in the U.S., will bring 108 jobs to the area and open by the end of 2023.
The results speak for themselves, Green said.
“It’s really clear that the economic developers aren’t just sitting back waiting,” she said. “There’s been an incredible amount of activity in the small to medium and even large sites.”
These localities can expect an increase in interest from developers with the upgraded tier designations, said Lee Vogler, city councilman and chairman of the Danville-Pittsylvania County Regional Industrial Facility Authority, which owns many of the city and county industrial sites including Berry Hill.
“If you’ve got Tier 4 or Tier 5 sites, you’re telling an industry that they can move in pretty much right away, which is hugely beneficial,” Vogler said.
The interest in the Berry Hill sites “went from occasional to non-stop” when it was upgraded to Tier 4, he said, adding that companies seem to want to get things underway at a faster pace these days.
“When I started on council a decade ago, a company would kind of put feelers out, and it would be a year or two years of slow preliminary work in site selection,” Vogler said. “Now, they might finalize a decision in under a year and want to be hitting the ground running a few months after that. So if you don’t have sites that they can go right into, you’re typically out of the game.”
SVRA received a grant of about $1.5 million from GO Virginia Region 3, and another of about $545,000 from the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission to further site preparation.
Prep was targeted for “areas identified with specific assets for transportation such as rail and highway access, utilities inclusive of significant supply of natural gas, electricity and water supply along with a demonstrated available labor shed and workforce pipeline,” said the release.
Green said the region will continue its work to attract economic development projects of all sizes.
“This is not a region that is fishing for the whale of a megasite project while relinquishing small and medium sized industrial wins,” the release said.