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MBC presents on Heartland Park

Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC), based in Halifax, gave a presentation during the Heartland Regional Industrial Development Authority (HRIDA) meeting Tuesday to introduce its initiative to bring companies specializing in technology, advance manufacturing and data centers to southern Virginia, and offered an evaluation of the Heartland Industrial Park in relation to attracting those companies.

Lauren Mathena, director of economic development and community engagement, said the initiative, Invest Southern Virginia, was made after hearing of business prospects that have generated interest in areas of southern Virginia.

“Along the way we have come to the table as different localities within our service area have had different business prospects who are looking to locate or expand in their areas, and last year the MBC board decided to take more of a leadership role in generating prospects,” Mathena said about the concept for Invest Southern Virginia. The initiative is funded by MBC and the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission.

Mathena said the MBC is funding a Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) consultant based in the United Kingdom (UK) to generate potential business leads to bring to the region. The FDI allows one country to establish a business from another country.

Mathena said once potential leads are suggested, the MBC will look at potential locations in Southern Virginia and determine whether factors such as the geographic location, workforce, accessible technology and quality of life will make an appropriate match for those companies. “As we generate those leads, we’re looking within our service area to see what localities might have what that prospect needs,” Mathena said. The pluses, Mathena said, for the region include its mild climate and lack of potential for natural disasters.

Mathena said the MBC will also work with leads that the HRIDA generates independently. Projects that have come to Southern Virginia as a result of the consultant include Hardide, a surface coating facility in Martinsville-Henry County, vehicle manufacturer Overfinch in Danville, Tube bending machine manufacturing plant Unison in Pittsylvania County and Kyocera SGS, which works in the cutting tools industry, in the area of Danville and Pittsylvania County.

Mathena said questions that relate to what makes for a potential site in southern Virginia includes the tax rate, the amount of land needed, the available workforce and the quality of life in the area, including availability and proximity to houses, hospitals and other items.

She noted that for the Heartland Industrial Park specifically, in terms of bringing in a potential data center or other industry, the authority members would need to ask themselves if the park would have room for expansion, the cost of land and of construction on the property, the area’s proximity to a substation, the maturity of the grid, the rate of pay, existing structure for backup or alternative power, sustainability initiatives including solar or other forms of natural energy and how to train the workforce to be specific to the industry the park is attracting.

HRIDA Prince Edward Representative C.R. “Bob” Timmons, who also serves as the Buffalo District Supervisor for the board of supervisors, said the board would need to consider putting more expenses into marketing the industrial park.

“If we’re going to get serious about trying to market the Heartland, there’s some work that we have to do,” Timmons said. “Which means there’s going to be some expenses that we’re going to have to invest.”

He also spoke about making sure the area’s workforce is represented, and look at ways to increase the Heart of Virginia’s workforce capabilities.

“You go into different parts of our region here, and the workforce development is higher on priority than what we already are,” Timmons said. “It’s changing, but they’re a couple of years ahead of us.”

HRIDA Chairman Gary Walker noted that the workforce and skills at the area’s universities and community colleges could be a potential workforce.

“We have Longwood, Hampden-Sydney and (Southside Virginia Community College) SVCC right here in our backyard,” Walker said. “I think those are tremendous assets … we could tap into that energy, and intelligence that they have.”