Suffolk’s industrial parks give diversity a home

Published 2:05 pm Monday, March 1, 2010

Improving the economy, adding jobs and increasing tax revenue are obvious goals of any government. But just because they’re obvious, doesn’t make any of the tasks less complex.

One major tool that Suffolk has used to help it meet its economic goals during the past four decades has been the industrial park.

Wilroy Industrial Park opened in the early 1970s. “Now, Wilroy is essentially sold out, with only a couple of small parcels available,” said Kevin Hughes, acting director of the Suffolk Economic Development Authority.

“When talking about bringing industry to a city, we’re looking at it as a marathon, not a sprint,” Hughes said.

Currently, Wilroy Industrial Park includes plants, offices, warehouses and buildings from large corporations such as QVC, Sara Lee, Golden State Foods and Massimo Zanetti.

But not all of its occupants are big companies with a national presence. Other companies that call Wilroy home include Machining Technology Inc., Schwan’s, Berry Plastics Design, Supply One, Penske, Amark, Crown Corn and Seal, White Oak Equipment, Business Technologies, Inc., Supreme Foods, Supreme Petroleum, Holiday Ice, Vitex Packaging Group and Mrs. Irene’s Country Cooking and Catering.

“Often what happens is that suppliers move in next to the bigger companies,” Hughes said.

Approximately 2,000 employees work in the businesses in Wilroy Industrial Park.

Wilroy Industrial Park, located on Wilroy Road near the entrance to Route 58, and Suffolk Industrial Park, located on Carolina Road, are industrial parks where the land was owned by the Economic Development Authority and is leased or sold to companies.

The EDA completed important and costly infrastructure such as utilities, storm water management and roads to make it less expensive for companies to initially build on the property.

Using the example of Suffolk Industrial Park, railroad access and the distance from major roads are part of the lure to bring in new businesses. That park is 10 miles from Interstate 64, and trucks going to or from the Interstate are on highways all the way to the front door of the park.

Suffolk Industrial Park is 17 miles from the Port of Virginia in Portsmouth. Close proximity to the third-largest port on the east coast is a main reason why Suffolk has an opportunity to grow economically, and to attract new industries from a wider range of backgrounds.

In 2008, 66 percent of cargo being imported or exported through the Port of Virginia came in via truck. Rail cargo made up 30 percent. A little more than $58 billion of imported and exported cargo moved through the Port of Virginia.

Suffolk is experiencing rapid growth of privately owned, or joint public/private industrial parks.

Virginia Regional Commerce Park on Rt. 460 to the west of downtown Suffolk, Virginia Commerce Center on Kenyon Road, CenterPoint Intermodal Center on Rt. 58 and Westport Commerce Park on Rt. 58 are all 100-percent privately owned. The proposed Waverton Commerce Park on Carolina Road is a privately owned project.

In some cases, the private owner leases or sells subdivided land in the park. In others, speculative buildings are put up to draw new companies looking for a quick start-up.

For example, the Virginia Commerce Center is home to a 1.37-million-square-foot Class A distribution building, a 385,000-square foot speculative building and 76 acres of land to build on.

Northgate Commerce Park is a public/private park between the city and a private land owner.

Suffolk has long been a hub for food production and distribution industry. City officials continue to juggle the demands of building that necessary part of Suffolk’s economy while aiming for diversity of industry, which means a wider range of jobs created.

“It is important, and will continue to become more important, in Suffolk to have diversity in our growth, to have planning that helps us to continue to diversify our city’s economy,” Hughes said.