2018-02-14 / Featured / Front Page

Regional chamber endorses megasite


Leaders of a prominent regional business association have endorsed the Chesterfield Economic Development Authority’s plan to develop an industrial megasite in south Chester.

The plan has faced considerable opposition from some Bermuda residents, but ChamberRVA’s board of directors voted recently to support the EDA’s efforts. The vote followed a presentation by Stephen Moret, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe announces plans for the megasite at the historic county courthouse in late August. Photo by Ash DanielFormer Gov. Terry McAuliffe announces plans for the megasite at the historic county courthouse in late August. Photo by Ash Daniel

Moret emphasized Virginia’s need to develop industrial megasites so it can compete nationally to lure large-scale manufacturers.

“We applaud the vision of Chesterfield County and its Economic Development Authority in their effort to develop this parcel. With the right zoning, this megasite can attract major employers that bring thousands of good paying jobs, including quality supply chain jobs,” said Kim Scheeler, president and CEO of ChamberRVA.

When he announced the project last year, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe suggested the EDA could create as many as 10,000 new jobs by acquiring and rezoning 1,675 acres of residential property south of state Route 10 and developing it for a large-scale manufacturer, such as an automotive or aerospace company. Chesterfield is a net exporter of workers to other parts of the Richmond region, and county leaders see the megasite property as a potential job creator.

“It’s a rare site,” said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dorothy Jaeckle, who lives in Chester. “Creating a megasite that brings jobs will have a far more positive impact on the community than the homes that could have been built there.”

ChamberRVA represents business owners in the city of Richmond and the counties of Chesterfield, Henrico, Hanover, Powhatan, New Kent and Charles City, as well as the town of Ashland. The regional chamber also has advocacy “cabinets” made up of local business leaders in each of the four largest localities.

The 16-member Chesterfield cabinet recommended that ChamberRVA support the EDA’s megasite plan “because this important development will contribute to the economic prosperity of our entire region,” said Duncan Stewart, chair of the local cabinet. Not everyone is so enthusiastic about the prospect of building an industrial plant in a densely populated part of Chester.

A local citizen group, Bermuda Advocates for Responsible Development, has a petition containing signatures of more than 1,300 people who oppose the megasite.

BARD’s founder, Mike Uzel, said it’s “troubling” that ChamberRVA voted to support the EDA’s plan “after hearing only one side of the story.”

Uzel cited a study by the Greater Richmond Partnership that found more than 40,000 people live within a 5-mile radius of the proposed megasite.

GRP staff conducted a detailed review of 30 large properties listed on the website of McCallum Sweeney Consulting, a South Carolina firm that evaluates the long-term development viability of industrial megasites. Most had fewer than 15,000 people living within a 5-mile radius.

“I question what consideration was given or presented concerning the negative impact of locating the proposed megasite adjacent to existing residential developments,” Uzel said.

Uzel also questioned the credibility of state economic development officials, noting that the Virginia Economic Development Partnership gave $1.4 million of taxpayer money in 2014 to a fictitious Chinese company as an incentive to build a manufacturing facility in Appomattox County.

The EDA’s proposal is for a “huge heavy industrial site with no identified end-user, only the ‘hope’ that one will come,” Uzel said. “With this proposal, Chesterfield would throw its hat in the ring with hundreds of other localities across the country, gambling with taxpayer money that they will hit the ‘jackpot’ of a huge company landing here. Several sites in Virginia already sit idle with that same hope.”

Danielle Fitz-Hugh, president and CEO of the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce, said via email last week the local business group is “still working through our process on the megasite.” The county chamber hasn’t publicly endorsed the megasite project.

Fitz-Hugh noted county economic development officials briefed chamber members on the megasite proposal last year, but she expects there will be another presentation at some point.

“We are making sure that accurate information is getting out to our members so they too can make an educated decision on the megasite,” she added. ¦

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