Pictured above: Members of The Harvest Foundation Board of Directors, staff and guests gather inside the high bay training space at the Commonwealth Centre for Advanced Training (CCAT).
The Commonwealth Centre for Advanced Training (CCAT) likely will be completed in June or July.
That is the forecast of Henry County Administrator Tim Hall and Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. President/CEO Mark Heath. They spoke during a March 21 tour of the construction site for past and present members of the Harvest board, the foundation staff and guests.
When completed, the 25,889-square-foot, $6.75 million CCAT building in the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre (CCBC) will provide space for an industry locating there to recruit and hire its workforce and then train those employees on its own equipment that can be moved into CCAT and its high bay training space.
Once a company’s permanent facility is constructed in CCBC, it will move its equipment out of CCAT to make room for the next industry.
The tour helped Harvest President Allyson Rothrock see the future of Commonwealth Crossing.
“To be on the site and see the (CCAT) structure itself and see Press Glass coming to fruition (next to CCAT) is very exciting to me. I can almost see students and future workers in place at CCAT,” she said after the tour. “To ride to Lot 4 (a graded lot nearby in Commonwealth Crossing), I could visualize what it can hold and what the future can be. … I’m just thrilled.”
The CCAT building, which is visible from U.S. 220 South, is under roof. On the right side, offices, a conference room, a break room and shower facility are being created. The left side of the building will have a glass front and behind that, a gathering space. Next will be a room with about 50 computer stations for training.
Across the entire back of the building is the 15,336-square-foot high bay training space where new industries can place advanced manufacturing equipment. The CCAT high bay is empty now, but natural light pours in, something that industries want more and more, Heath said.
Construction of CCAT is about two months behind schedule due to the epic rains of 2018, Hall said. “If we can get a break on the weather it will make a big difference,” Heath added.
The building is being designed to make a statement.
“We want people to walk in and say, ‘This is first-class. This is a community that knows what it’s doing” and is committed to helping industries succeed, Heath said. He added that businesses today face a challenge in finding employees and “we want to give them every advantage” in hiring and training their workforce.
The training center is a partnership of the EDC, which will own the building with the Henry County Industrial Development Authority (IDA); Patrick Henry Community College, which will conduct workforce training there; Henry County, which owns Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre through its IDA; and The Harvest Foundation, which provided a $5 million grant for the project.
PHCC President Dr. Angeline Godwin attended the tour and said the community college is teaching “foundational skills” and then will customize training programs for companies using the training center.
CCAT is located on part of Lot 1 in Commonwealth Crossing. Next to it but still on Lot 1, work has begun on the business center’s first industry, Press Glass. The Poland-based company is investing $43.55 million to establish a 280,000-square-foot manufacturing operation that will create 212 jobs. It is expected to be operational in the first quarter of 2020, Heath said.
Hall observed that coincidentally, the investment by Press Glass in Commonwealth Crossing matches the amount spent to create and develop the business center.
“Things are going in the right direction,” with increased interest in the area as a result of the progress on CCAT and Press Glass, Heath also said.
Contributing to this progress was the Virginia General Assembly, which approved a pilot program allowing electric utility providers to build substations within business parks that meet a list of strict criteria. Commonwealth Crossing meets those requirements, which include being a designated Opportunity Zone; having a listing of “Tier 4” as determined by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership; and having all other infrastructure in place.
Del. Danny Marshall, who represents the 14th District in the Virginia General Assembly, championed the legislation. Gov. Ralph Northam signed it into law March 20. It takes effect July 1.
“We thought it (the legislation) had no chance” but it was successful because of the planning and investments already made, primarily by the Harvest Foundation, the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, Henry County; and Martinsville, Hall said.
Appalachian Electric Power (AEP) will construct the CCBC substation, at an estimated $27 million cost, and up to two others within its service footprint. AEP will fund construction of the three stations through a not-to-exceed 50 cents per month surcharge on customer bills, which will come off customer bills by the end of the three-year pilot designation.
Once the CCBC substation is in place and when natural gas lines are installed the site would qualify as a Tier 5 industrial park, which is the highest ranking and certifies that the park is fully developed, according to Hall and Heath. Hall said there are some smaller lots at the Patriot Centre that are Tier 5 but no large industrial parks in this region, and possibly beyond, qualify for that level.
Heath and Hall both said the area has been able to develop assets such as Commonwealth Crossing and CCAT due to the support of Harvest and others. The result is surprising to some outside the area, they said.
For instance, Heath told of hosting developers from Greensboro, N.C., who “thought they were going to the dark side of the moon” by coming to Henry County and Martinsville. But after seeing the development here, they wondered why they had not been here before, Heath said.
“We are in 5 percent of communities our size that can pull off things like this,” he added as he stood in CCAT’s high bay area.
But there is more work to be done. Amenities such as green spaces will be created as the CCBC develops, they said. The growth of surrounding businesses, such as gas stations, banks and restaurants, will be done by the private sector, they added.
Also, as Press Glass ramps up and more of its trucks are on the roads, improvements to nearby highways and access lanes will need to be addressed, Hall said.
Commonwealth Crossing’s Lot 4, with a 55-acre pad, also is being marketed, in part with a new website, www.commonwealthcrossing.com. The shell building in the Patriot Centre also remains vacant, and future shell buildings will be smaller, around 40,000 square feet, Heath said. He added that most of the private-sector buildings in Henry County are filled with clients, which is creating a need for additional options.
Rothrock praised area officials for their persistence, patience and diligence in the decade it has taken to develop Commonwealth Crossing.
“They never wavered. They stayed with it, had a strong team and never gave up,” and were flexible when needed, she said. “I’m proud of their work. I’m so proud for this community.”
The Harvest board members also were pleased with what they saw in the tour, Rothrock said.
“This is a big investment for the region,” she added. “This is great news. It’s a new chapter.”