Backers of a proposed $20 million business park in the New River Valley are courting three companies to locate at an interim site in Fairlawn, according to Pulaski economic development director John White.
White, Pulaski County government officers and others are pushing for creation of a nanotechnology business park on a Pulaski County farm beside New River Valley Airport. The team argues that the emerging scientific field of nanotechnology offers economically beleaguered Southwest Virginia a major strategy for new jobs and investment.
Specifically, the plan is to create a home for nanotech businesses on 35 acres of the 900-acre New River Valley Commerce Park. The commerce park is vacant and its owners are in need of a user.
On July 8, the nanotech project earned a conceptual endorsement and $20,000 in seed money from the ownership group, an alliance of 15 Southwest Virginia municipal governments created for joint economic development projects. It is called Virginia’s First Regional Industrial Facility Authority. Eleven of its members own the commerce park.
The authority told its executive director to lay the groundwork for members to study the project in detail and invest if they choose. A broad funding strategy calls for raising about $7 million from investors who may include local governments, institutions and private investors, $6 million from Virginia through the General Assembly and $7 million from the federal Economic Development Administration.
The centerpiece of the nanotech park would be an iconic, multi-tenant building with 26,400 square feet of laboratories, offices and classrooms for worker training. Eight more buildings could fit on the 35-acre site, a conceptual drawing shows.
Nanomaterials are created from atomic-scale particles known for superior physical, chemical and biological properties and are already found in baseball bats and sunscreen, as well as in the energy and medical fields.
The project is being called NEEMO, an acronym of the words nanomaterials, energy, environment and medical operations.
The Christiansburg Town Council will hear White’s pitch for NEEMO at the request of assistant town manager Barry Helms on Aug. 18. Helms said town council members need to know about NEEMO to decide whether to invest when the matter comes up for a vote, possibly not until next year.
While all of that is happening, backers of the proposed nanotech center want to steer companies that express interest in the meantime to the New River Valley Competitiveness Center, a 10-year-old business incubator in Fairlawn with vacancy.
That’s what White said he is talking to the three companies about. Generally speaking, companies like incubators for their relatively low cost of overhead and supportive environment. Details of the confidential discussions, including the names of the companies, were not available.
The authority was presented with an opportunity to allocate $50,000 to prepare space at the competitiveness center as an interim nanotech business center and did not do so at its July 8 meeting.
That does not appear to be a major obstacle. White said the competitiveness center, which is owned by a nonprofit corporation, could itself provide or borrow the money to help with interior renovations if one or more companies signs a lease. The center is owned by some of the same municipalities that make up the authority.
Meanwhile, the New River Valley Economic Development Alliance, in hopes of spreading word about the NEEMO initiative, is planning to contact about 300 nanotechnology companies in the United States not tied to a particular location beginning next month using $10,000 of its funds. White said he expects $10,000 of the $20,000 the authority committed to be contributed to the same effort.
According to current plans, calls will begin to go out in mid- to late August, said Aric Bopp, who directs the alliance.
“Marketing the region’s assets as a nano cluster is our current top priority,” White said by e-mail.
He added: “A key for success will be the region’s agility. The various localities will have to move the project forward expeditiously to insure its success before other regions, with similar clusters and anchor research institutions, beat us to the punch. Time is of the essence.”
According to the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development, at least nine nanotechnology companies operate in the Roanoke and New River valleys and nearby communities. Virginia Tech has $12 million of nanotech research equipment and, as of February, had 100 researchers working with such aspects of nanotechnology as biomedicine and energy.
Consultants with Tech wrote in a September report that Southwest Virginia might not yet have a bonafide cluster of nanotech firms, but one could result if the region builds the proposed business park “enhanced” with such services as specialized equipment, business support and on-site training.
From the Roanoke Times