Blue Bell makes comeback

Published 10:41 pm Wednesday, April 11, 2018

After a hiatus, Blue Bell Ice Cream will begin construction on a long-awaited, 14,000-square-foot distribution facility later this year in Northgate Commerce Park.

The facility, which was originally approved in late 2014, is possible due to a $100,000 Economic Development Investment Program grant awarded by Suffolk’s Economic Development Authority at Wednesday’s meeting.

Blue Bell first entered Suffolk with a transfer station in a unit in Northgate Commerce Park in January 2013. In late 2014, the company announced it would construct a new facility in the park in 2015.

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But in early 2015, a listeria outbreak hit the company, and the company shut down production to eradicate the bacteria. The construction project in Suffolk was put on hold, and the distribution facility closed, causing layoffs of 30 to 40 employees.

Later in 2015, the company gradually started ramping up production once again and distributing to markets where it formerly distributed. Virginia was among the states in the final phase of the plan, but until Wednesday’s announcement, the company had not said whether it planned to return to its plan to construct the distribution facility to Suffolk.

There is no concrete timeline for construction, but it is anticipated to be finished in late 2019, according to Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes.

The distribution center will consist of cold storage space with loading docks, fleet parking and administrative offices. The new facility will bring up to 20 jobs to operate the facility as well as distribute the products. The products will be distributed within a 70-mile radius of the facility, according to a press release.