With major manufacturers’ eyes on the Southern Virginia Megasite at Berry Hill and the upcoming Caesars Virginia casino resort, there is the potential for thousands of additional new jobs in the Dan River Region.
Local officials are banking largely on a labor shed of 500,000 potential workers from four surrounding metropolitan areas and a small pool of residents in Danville and Pittsylvania County who commute outside the region to their jobs.
Industries looking for a place to open up a facility consider not just the number of available workers in the immediate area where they want to operate, but the wider market covering a surrounding geographic region.
For industries offering more lucrative positions, the Dan River Region’s four surrounding metropolitan areas include Lynchburg and Roanoke in Virginia and Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill and Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point in North Carolina.
All those areas combined represent a labor pool of a half-million workers, Green said.
“That’s as large as Richmond’s labor shed,” Green said.
Albemarle Corp. considered Berry Hill in southwestern Pittsylvania County for locating a lithium hydroxide processing facility, but chose last month to take its project to Chester County, South Carolina, instead.
Late last year, a $3.5 billion Ford electric-battery manufacturing project — which would have brought about 2,500 jobs to the region — was shut out of contention in Virginia by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Ford ended up deciding to build its plant in Michigan after Youngkin removed Virginia from consideration for the project due to the project’s partnership with a Chinese company.
Also, the Berry Hill megasite nearly landed a $5.5 billion Hyundai plant last spring that would have brought 8,500 jobs to the region. The plant opted to locate in Georgia, where it was called the largest economic development plan in Georgia history.
As for Caesars Virginia casino being built in Schoolfield, it is expected to bring 1,300 jobs when its permanent facility begins operations in late 2024. The company plans to open a temporary casino at the site this summer.
Caesars is looking to hire about 450 workers for the temporary facility. The company has held recruiting events and employees have already been hired.
“Caesars Virginia is proud to have hired a diverse group of individuals right here in Danville to as far as the West Coast,” said Chris Albrecht, general manager for Caesars Virginia.
The company is marketing and hosting hiring events in areas close to Danville, he added.
Every industry coming to a community can face challenges in recruiting and hiring, Albrecht said.
“With any industry new to an area, there is an education curve to understanding the opportunities available,” he said. “We have worked diligently to meet with the appropriate community groups to explain what is available at the casino.”
Bristol, where a Hard Rock Bristol casino is being built and is expected to open in July 2024, has a tri-city area also including Kingsport and Johnson City in Tennessee, from which to draw workers.
Bristol, which is located in both southwest Virginia and Tennessee, has a population of almost 500,000 people to pull from within a 30-mile radius, according to figures provided by Mack Chapman, economic development specialist for Bristol, Virginia.
“We have the workforce,” Chapman said. “’We’re trying to get our other industries filled as well.”
Like Danville, Bristol faces a housing shortage.
As for how far people are willing to drive for a job, employers who come to the Dan River Region have access to a population of nearly 1.1 million, said Corrie T. Bobe, director of economic development and tourism for Danville. Bobe added that there are more than 541,000 potential workers in that labor shed.
She also mentioned commuting patterns in the region.
“New and existing industry can benefit from the in-and-out commuting patterns within our region,” Bobe said. “Since we are a border community, nearly 30% of current employees come into our community from North Carolina. In addition, nearly 16,000 workers commute outside of Danville-Pittsylvania County for job opportunities.”
Those figures offer local industries an opportunity to target residents who choose to live in the Dan River Region due to its quality of life, but are traveling 45 to 75 miles elsewhere for work, Bobe said.
As for the new jobs taking workers away from local existing businesses in the Dan River Region, Bobe said supporting current industry of all sizes remains a priority.
“The health of our small- and medium-sized businesses ensures a diverse economy that will be better insulated should there be a shift or change in the market,” she said. “Larger employers coming into our region will also benefit from our existing industry as each job created has the ability to bring a new family into the community.”
Relatives associated with one employee may also seek local job opportunities, she added. There have been “industry multipliers,” or additional jobs created for every job generated at a new facility, associated with prospects looking at the Berry Hill megasite that range form 1.5 to four, Bobe said.
“This means for every one job created at that facility, between 1.5 and four new jobs will be created to support its operation,” Bobe said. “This multiplier effect can be realized through new opportunities with existing businesses within our community.”
The spouse of an executive or other employee at an industry here may be an entrepreneur who decides to open a new business, Green said.
To help attract new residents who may want to work in the Dan River Region, Green’s group has a website, www.sovaishome.com, that promotes amenities within a 75-mile radius of the region as well as within a day’s drive. They include outdoor recreation opportunities such as hiking, biking and kayaking, and destinations including the Blue Ridge Parkway, Richmond, Charlotte and Mid-Atlantic beaches.
“We’ve got to make sure that they understand those assets and resources,” Green said.
She pointed to the upcoming Accelerated Training in Defense Manufacturing, a regional training facility in the Cyber Park in Danville, as a source of potential new residents.
“We expect some of those [trainees] to live and work here,” Green said.
The facility will be located next to the Center for Manufacturing Advancement and will include more than 100,000 square feet. The program plans to provide 800 to 1,000 qualified candidates to fill vacancies in the defense industrial base by 2024.
As for the multiplier effect from new industries, Morgan Olson is doing a lot of with secondary suppliers, she added. The company, located in Cane Creek Centre Industrial Park, makes walk-in vans and work trucks.
Besides bringing in secondary suppliers, large industries hiring hundreds or thousands of workers also entice restaurants and retail stores to open where those employees can spend their money, Green said.
Those manufacturers and other large industries can tap into the market of graduates from schools such as Virginia Tech or North Carolina State University, some of whom may come from Danville or Pittsylvania County, Green said.
There is also the talent accelerator program under the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Green said. That was used to train and recruit employees for Morgan Olson, she said.
Danville has used Greenville, South Carolina, as a model for downtown redevelopment efforts, but that city can serve as an example in other ways, as well Bobe said.
After Greenville brought in a BMW plant in 1991, it saw a gradual population growth from just under 59,000 to more than 72,000 due to attraction of additional employers and workers to their region, Bobe said.
“This example is to briefly showcase how these large-scale employers could assist in further expediting the population growth that our community is currently seeing,” she said.
To support growth in the Dan River Region, Bobe said, the community is investing in areas such as:
Housing: expanding single- and multi-family housing options across all price points;
Workforce development; more than $93 million has been invested over the past decade to develop programs to ensure industry has access to a pipeline of skilled labor;
Tourism: marketing amenities that the community offers to visitors and future residents;
Education: residents approved a 1% sales tax referendum to support nearly $205 million of facility improvements and the expansion of programs in both Danville and Pittsylvania County Public Schools.
Quality of life: Over $52 million of public funds has been invested in the River District that has resulted in over $310 million of new private sector investment. Bobe said they are expanding redevelopment efforts to now include the Schoolfield District and North Main Hill. In addition, there are new investments being made on the main streets of Chatham and Gretna.
Danville Register & Bee | John Crane
April 8, 2023