Efforts to attract a major employer to the region by way of a so-called industrial megasite are progressing.
The Chesterfield County Economic Development Authority has filed its application to rezone a 1,675-acre tract southwest of Chester as a megasite to accommodate a large industrial user, specifically a company in advanced manufacturing.
The EDA, which has an option to purchase the land, announced last year its intention to use the site, named “Matoaca Mega Site,” to attract a company that could invest more than $1 billion in the local economy and create up to 4,000 direct jobs and more than 13,000 jobs overall.
The county is targeting advanced manufacturers, such as auto makers and other industries described as clean, low-emission and environmentally friendly facilities using new and emerging technologies. Other manufacturing areas targeted include aerospace, data centers, electronics, glass, scientific instruments and controls, and pharmaceutical and medical assembly and packaging.
The investment is projected to produce $5.5 million to $11 million annually in new tax revenue that the county could put toward improving schools and public infrastructure. The EDA’s projections also call for about $6 billion in total economic output and between $75 million and $151 million in net financial return to the county over 30 years.
The land, south of the intersection of Branders Bridge and Bradley Bridge roads, is currently zoned for residential use and was proposed in 2007 for a mixed-use development called Branner Station, which would have added 5,000 homes to Chesterfield’s already residential-heavy tax base and crowded school system. In the wake of the national recession that followed, the project’s developers determined it was no longer a viable project, according to the EDA’s rezoning application.
The application states that potential users targeted for the site require a minimum of 1,500 acres, heavy industrial zoning, significant buffers to surrounding property, container port and airport access within a 40-mile radius, and rail line access.
At a presentation Thursday hosted by ChamberRVA’s Chesterfield Business Council, EDA Director Garrett Hart said the site meets or exceeds such criteria.
“The EDA believes that this site presents the best opportunity for Chesterfield County, for the region and even for the Commonwealth to be successful in what is called a megasite – a large capital-investment, large job-creation facility,” he said. “If we are successful in getting the property rezoned, we can meet all of these criteria to become one of the most unique large-site developments in this commonwealth.”
County Administrator Joe Casey spoke to the impact the site’s user could have on Chesterfield and the regional economy. Stephen Moret, CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, said the site also could help the state reclaim business-friendly status.
“Nine years ago, we were most commonly ranked the No. 1 state for business in America,” Moret said. “What happened since then is that we’ve fallen, and we’ve fallen in a meaningful way.”
Noting competing states such as Georgia and North Carolina have jumped up in those rankings, Moret added: “It’s not so much that we did anything wrong; it’s more that some other places have been much more aggressive about positioning themselves for growth.”
The project has been touted by the governor’s office, economic development group Greater Richmond Partnership and John Tyler Community College, which hosted Thursday’s presentation. It also has received support from the Chester Business Association, ChamberRVA and the Chesterfield and Virginia chambers of commerce.
A citizens group called Bermuda Advocates for Responsible Development opposes the project. A representative of that group was in attendance Thursday and took to the microphone at the close of the meeting to express their concerns. The project also prompted proposed legislation this General Assembly session that sought to increase governmental oversight of EDAs.
Hart said the rezoning request is scheduled for a work session with the county planning commission on April 17. The county will hold three community meetings leading up to that, on April 10 and 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Carver Middle School, and on April 11 at a time and place to be determined.