Heartland still mostly empty
In November 2000, Lunenburg County joined forces with five others to form the Virginia’s Heartland Regional Industrial Facility Authority. By doing so, they created the Virginia’s Heartland Regional Industrial Park.
Since then, only one tenant is confirmed to call the park home: the Virginia Growth Alliance (VGA).
“As far as I know, I am the only tenant,” VGA Executive Director Jeffrey Reed said in an email from Europe where he was on vacation.
Reed operates the alliance’s daily business, helping its clients market their sites, including Heartland, but has no real relationship with the authority other than as tenant.
Charlotte County Administrator Russell B. Clark Jr. said the VGA’s office opened in April 2014.
“B2X Online Inc. will begin leasing a portion of the building in November,” Clark said. “Also, in November 2015, property at the Heartland Business Park was sold to Forest Pro Inc., which is in the process of getting DEQ (Virginia Department of Environmental Quality) approval to begin construction of a building.”
Heartland Regional Industrial Park is nearly 773 acres with 402 of those acres being suitable for construction, according to a park fact sheet.
The largest lot is 260 contiguous acres. A 36-acre lot has a 10-acre graded pad for an up to 150,000-square-foot facility.
Charlotte County’s website touts Heartland’s designation as a Virginia Enterprise Zone.
As such, the commonwealth can offer certain incentives for businesses and industries to locate in the park. There are Real Property Investment Grants, or RPIGs.
There are also Job Creation Grants (JCG) of up to $500 or $800 per year per net new permanent full-time position earning, respectively, at least 175 percent or 200 percent of the federal minimum wage.
The money trail
Each of the Heartland authority’s member counties, including Lunenburg, has considered an amendment to the ordinance creating the authority and the park. In a memo to the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors ahead of its Aug. 9 meeting, County Administrator Wade Bartlett noted:
“The Authority was created by ordinance in November of 2000 for the purpose of supporting regional economic development efforts. The Authority owns the regional industrial park located on Rt. 360 in Charlotte County.”
Each of the administrators who responded to The Dispatch’s inquiries indicated their counties have not and do not contribute to the park financially. Initial funding for the park came from a $1.375 million grant through the Virginia Industrial Site Development Fund (VIDF) and another $1.375 million from the Virginia Tobacco Commission.
Charlotte County Finance Director Norma T. Tuck provided The Dispatch with copies of every audit since the authority and park’s inception, including one for the fiscal year (FY) ending June 30, 2015.
It shows the authority held $72,014 in cash or equivalent assets and “other assets” of $3.867 million,” for a total of $3.939 million.
According to previous audits, the highest combination of cash, investments and other assets came at the beginning of the 2007 fiscal year at $4.47 million. The authority has lost approximately $531,000 in nine years.
The biggest part of the ordinance amendment authority members began considering in August is to remove term limits for the county representatives who sit on its board.
In September, a number of people who showed up at a Charlotte County Board of Supervisors meeting were critical of Clark’s and Supervisor Gary Walker’s work on the authority’s board.
In response, Walker said, “Most of you are aware of this, but I will say it to the public. When the Heartland Authority was initially built, and the park was bought and established, we had a paid executive director, a paid staff to handle all this information that people are really interested in.”
The Commonwealth Transportation Board approved a $790,000 project to build an entrance on the park’s western side in June.
In a Sept. 21 guest column in The Charlotte Gazette, Wylliesburg resident Kay Pierantoni, was critical of the grant’s purpose, noting Forest Pro purchased land on the, opposite, east side of Kings Highway, where the entrance to VGA already exists.
Lunenburg County Administrator Tracy Gee did not respond to an inquiry about whether the county still feels it is worthwhile to be part of the authority.
Bartlett, who sits on the authority board, said the park provides tracts of larger land with appropriate zoning than are available in Prince Edward County.
“When a company locates there, it will provide jobs for which our citizens can apply,” Bartlett said.
In response to criticism of Heartland’s 16-year-long wait to bloom, he said industrial parks like this are long-term investments that, in the long run, will provide substantial benefits and jobs.
“These benefits (and) jobs are often for future generations,” he said, adding this is not the first time he’s waited to see the results of a similar project.
Bartlett said he is unaware of any conversation to consider pulling out of the authority.