Corporate investments are on the upswing in Southern Virginia, along with a desire to increase production, says Linda Green, executive director of the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance.

“People have a lot of pent-up demand, and companies are responding to that,” she says. “We have lots of interest and activity.”

Companies are choosing Southern Virginia for several reasons, including its proximity to North Carolina’s Research Triangle and surges in economic development produced by the upcoming Caesars Virginia casino.

Kegerreis Digital Marketing, which is relocating its headquarters from Pennsylvania, is investing $1.7 million to renovate a former 7,000-square-foot tobacco warehouse in the Danville River District, creating 62 jobs. Until renovations are completed in fall 2022, the company’s workforce will occupy space at the Dan River Business Development Center.

Many companies want to be closer to their supply chain needs. “The Port of Virginia has helped us with our recruitment, because you are not seeing delays at the port, where turn times are low,” Green says, referring to the amount of time it takes trucks to enter the Port of Virginia, load up, travel to Danville and go back to the port to unload goods.

Danville and Pittsylvania County

“Momentum continues to build within our community,” says Danville Economic Development Director Corrie Bobe, citing more than $480 million in new investment announced in the past year.

Although some development is related to the forthcoming Caesars Virginia casino, which increased its total investment from $400 million to $500 million, other developments include industrial ventures and expansions.

Caesars Entertainment began demolition and abatement work late last year at the former Dan River Mills industrial complex, starting to lay the groundwork for a resort casino that will include restaurants and bars, a 500-guestroom hotel, a 40,000-square-foot conference center and a 2,500-seat live entertainment venue. Caesars Virginia is set to open in late 2023.

New manufacturing facilities for Tyson Foods, Staunton River Plastics and vertical farm company AeroFarms broke ground in 2021, and the latter two projects are expected to be completed this summer.

“In addition, we have celebrated exciting milestones for companies and developers, including the completion of a 43,000-square-foot expansion for Litehouse, the opening of Sterling Lighting’s headquarters and manufacturing facility, and the addition of 54 new apartments downtown,” Bobe says. 

Work also started last year on redeveloping Danville’s White Mill, which has stood vacant for more than a decade. The 20-acre property is scheduled to reopen in summer 2023 with 110,000 square feet of commercial space and 150 housing units, with 100 more units to come later.

“We also launched the Schoolfield Master Planning process this past year, which will focus on historic, commercial and industrial areas associated with the Dan River Mills Schoolfield site,” Bobe says. “This historic district also incorporates a neighborhood plan for Mill Village of 840 residential structures, as well as a corridor study focusing on West Main Street from the border of North Carolina to the River District.”

Neighboring Pittsylvania County also saw plenty of industrial construction and site acquisitions in the past year, including at properties co-owned with Danville.

“We had a lot of building inventory before 2021, but that has been gobbled up,” says Matt Rowe, the county’s director of economic development. “We are now able to develop projects that are new buildings.”

Intertape Polymer Group is investing a total of $45 million to add 40,000 square feet to its existing building, a project that was set to be completed in the first quarter of this year. The expansion is expected to create 50 jobs over the next four years.

Also in the works are two major projects by Tyson Foods and AeroFarms, which both broke ground on large facilities last year in Cane Creek Centre, respectively investing $300 million and $53 million. Tyson is expected to bring 376 jobs to the county (See related story), and AeroFarms is creating
92 jobs, as well as the world’s largest aeroponic vertical farm.

Other economic gains include a $7.15 million investment from Netherlands-based global installation company Walraven Inc., which is relocating its U.S. headquarters and manufacturing operation from Michigan to a shell building in Cane Creek Centre, bringing 46 jobs.

United Kingdom-based plastic and metal component manufacturer MEP Ltd. is making a $6.5 million investment and hiring around 45 people over the next three to five years. The company will operate as Making Everything Possible LLC and will occupy approximately 5,500 square feet at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research while its new facility is constructed.

This year is looking equally fruitful for new economic development announcements, Rowe says. “We have secured four projects that have yet to be announced. They represent hundreds or more jobs.”

Halifax County and South Boston

Even though Halifax County didn’t have any significant economic development announcements in 2021, the year was busy, says the county’s industrial development authority director, Kristy Johnson, who adds, “I suspect that 2022 will be the same or busier.”

Johnson was promoted to lead the county IDA in September 2021, after the IDA went nearly a year without a permanent leader, but she has worked for the authority since 2009. She said last fall that her focus will be on recruiting companies that complement existing industries in Halifax.

The town of South Boston has had a “very good year,” says Town Manager Tom Raab, although its focus was more on infrastructure and housing than business projects.

Piedmont Access to Health Services, a nonprofit health care provider, is building a health center in Houghton Park. The town also added two restaurants and a brewery, and is also starting work on a new public park. Meanwhile, the town is performing lead abatement and other upgrades on the North Main Housing Project, Raab says.

Martinsville, Henry and Patrick

Although the city of Martinsville’s efforts to revert to town status progressed in fits and starts last year, 2021 was a banner year for the city and Henry County in terms of economic development investments, which totaled $247.7 million, with 624 jobs announced last year.

 New announcements included metal packaging company Crown Holdings Inc., which is investing $145 million to establish a manufacturing operation in Henry County. Currently in the process of building a 355,000-square-foot aluminum beverage can production facility, which will create 126 jobs, the company expects to finish construction in the third quarter of this year.

The county notched another economic development victory with German sink manufacturer Schock GmbH, which has agreed to invest $85 million to establish its first U.S. manufacturing facility at the shell building in the Patriot Centre Industrial Park, adding 355 jobs. The company is finalizing engineering, with construction starting in the first quarter of 2023.

“Both Schock and Crown are special deals. Both companies are very forward-thinking,” says Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville Henry County Economic Development Corp.

Meanwhile, neighboring Patrick County is set to renovate a former 16,000-square-foot hardware store into the Patrick County Business Development Center, set to open in 2023. “It will be a multiuse building, providing an entrepreneurship program, business assistance, rentable recreation space, a coworking space and a community meeting space,” says the county’s economic development director, Sean Adkins.

Additionally, Prolam LLC, a Canadian manufacturer of hardwood floors for commercial trucks and trailers, invested $12.8 million to establish its first U.S. manufacturing operation in the former Ten Oaks satellite facility in Patrick. The project is set to create 58 jobs and adds 50% to the company’s total manufacturing capacity. Prolam also committed to purchase more than $20.5 million in Virginia-grown hardwoods over the next three years.