By MELINDA WILLIAMS
New River Valley Commerce Park in Dublin will be the home of Red Sun Farms’ first high-technology greenhouse production facility in the United States.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell came to New River Community College in Dublin Friday to announce that Red Sun is investing $30 million in 45 acres of multi-span high-technology greenhouses. The facilities will organically produce high-quality, hydroponic (water grown) vegetables, including tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet bell peppers and mini-eggplants.
The operation, which will be nearly double the size of Volvo’s Dublin facility when completed, is being constructed in three phases over a five-year period. It ultimately will employee 205.
Carlos Visconti, COO of JemD Farms, said development of the first phase of the operation begins next month with construction of “state-of-the-art” greenhouses in the Commerce Park, a regionally owned industrial park located adjacent to New River Valley Airport. According to JemD’s website, it merged with Red Sun earlier this year.
Plans call for the first crops to be planted in November and harvested in April 2014.
Visconti said phases two and three are to be completed over the following four years. The Virginia operation will make Red Sun one of the largest organic greenhouse growers in North America.
McDonnell called the 205 jobs the new facility will create a “game changing project for this great county.” He said the company chose Pulaski County (over Tennessee) because “they thought this was the right place on the East Coast. It had the right kind of climate, the right kind of workforce and the right kind of incentives.”
Already one of the nation’s top producers of tomatoes, McDonnell said Red Sun makes the Commonwealth even more important to U.S. tomato production since the greenhouse vegetables will be grown year-round.
Having just come from an announcement of a new $50 million dairy operation, Shamrock Farms, in Augusta County, McDonnell said, “It has been an amazing agriculture week in Virginia.” He pointed out that three agriculture projects announced this week total $176 million in investments and 265 new jobs.
Earlier this week Lipton Tea revealed a $96.2 million investment in expanding its Suffolk plant.
The governor didn’t miss an opportunity to point out the irony in an economic development announcement in Dublin and a new dairy business named Shamrock Farms being announced “on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day.”
McDonnell noted that agriculture and forestry products are the largest industry in Virginia. “Most people don’t think of agriculture as being a part of their economic development strategy, but we do,” he said. As a matter of fact, the project received $100,000 from a new state grant (Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund) designed for businesses that add value to Virginia-grown agriculture and forestry products.
McDonnell also presented Pulaski County with $350,000 from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund to assist the county with costs and matching grants associated with the project.
Pulaski County Board of Supervisors Chairman Joe Sheffey accepted the funds on the county’s behalf.
The governor also pointed out Red Sun will be eligible to receive state benefits from Virginia’s Enterprise Zone and Job Investment programs, as well as funding and services to support recruitment, training and retraining.
“We really do look at this as a long-term partnership,” he said. “We don’t just pat you on the back and say good luck. We try to be an on-going source of help and friendship and training and advocacy for our businesses in Virginia.”
Sheffey said Red Sun is “the first in what we plan to be several other industries to locate in our regional Commerce Park. We see Red Sun as yet another step in our efforts to diversify our local economy.”
According to Pulaski County Community Development Director Shawn Utt, Red Sun’s greenhouses will be located on almost 100 acres in the Commerce Park. He said the most difficult part of the development process will be grading the property on which the greenhouses will be located to ensure it is flat. He pointed out there can be no more than a six-inches variation from one side of the site to the other.
Virginia’s First Industrial Facilities Authority manages the Commerce Park, which is a joint venture of Bland, Craig, Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski and Roanoke counties, Radford and Roanoke cities, and the towns of Dublin, Pulaski and Pearisburg.