Gov. McDonnell arrives for Sabra groundbreaking
Foreign-owned businesses are a major presence in Chesterfield County, employing thousands of workers here, and a leader at one of them likes the county enough to want to play an even bigger role in its economic future.
“I come here quite often,” said Ofra Strauss, chairwoman of Israel-based Strauss Group, during a ceremony last week to break ground for a $28 million expansion at Sabra Dipping Co. in the Port Walthall industrial park.
Chesterfield has started to feel like a home away from home, Strauss suggested. “We are guests in your country,” she said. “It’s just amazing how accepting you are of people from other countries.”
Speaking to a crowd of Sabra employees and state and local dignitaries that included Gov. Bob McDonnell, Strauss had high praise for Chesterfield as a business location and said she’d like to take even more advantage of the area’s possibilities.
“We want this area to work with us and be successful,” she said. “Partnership is something we really believe in, and we would like to do it here.”
At a time when the U.S. economy is still struggling to recover from the 2007-09 recession, investment here by overseas businesses like Sabra is especially welcome, and Strauss indicated the feeling is mutual.
“It’s a great privilege in this world, in this economy, to create something new … to create jobs, wonderful jobs,” she said.
With its opening in 2009, the county’s Sabra facility created about 400 jobs, a number that’s expected to increase by 90 when the expansion is complete. That total would make the company – which employs about 14,000 workers worldwide – the second-largest overseas-based employer in Chesterfield County, behind the French-owned Alstom Power, which has 582 workers here.
Currently, according to data from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Chesterfield County is home to the fourth-highest number of foreign-owned companies in Virginia, about 38. Chesterfield Economic Development Authority figures show that the 22 industrial companies among that number currently employ nearly 3,000 people.
That’s just the number who work directly for those companies, and doesn’t include the jobs created in transportation and other industries that bring in the materials and supplies those companies need to operate, such as the many container-loads of chick peas and sesame seeds Sabra uses to make hummus and tahini.
A key element of Sabra’s expansion, the creation of a Center of Excellence for research and development in food manufacturing and processing, could become an even bigger generator of jobs and other economic benefits, as McDonnell noted last week.
“This is an important day for the county and an important step forward for manufacturing and food processing,” McDonnell said. The research center will be home to “an amazing amount of knowledge about packaging, manufacturing processes and agricultural processes.”
Strauss said the agricultural aspect is an especially exciting opportunity, involving work with Virginia State University and other institutions to create new plant varieties that can be grown in Virginia.
“I really would like to see the farmers around us look for new chick peas, new sesame” to help provide better and fresher ingredients for Sabra’s foods, she said.
“What this [research and development] center is all about,” she added, “is not only jobs, but the right way of creating jobs.”