PULASKI COUNTY — An international, high-tech organic produce company — an organic greenhouse on a factory scale — announced its arrival to the New River Valley on Friday afternoon, staking its claim as the first official tenant of Pulaski County’s New River Valley Commerce Park.
The company, Mexican agricultural subsidiary Red Sun Farms, will invest $30 million and create over 200 jobs over five years as it builds a series of technologically cutting-edge, climate and environment-controlled greenhouses on its 45-acre plot to grow its hydroponic organic vegetables year-round, bringing much-needed revenue into Pulaski and the NRV and further advancing Virginia’s status as an agricultural leader throughout the United States.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell made the announcement himself at Edwards Hall on the New River Community College campus in Dublin, stating in his speech the greenhouse deal is a “game-changing project” for the area.
“They’re a well-known, well-respected company, and this is the first U.S. high-tech greenhouse production facility, and it’s going to be right here in the New River Valley,” McDonnell said.
He cited Virginia’s unemployment rate, which sits at a comparatively low 5.5 percent, but still means roughly 200,000 Virginians are out of work. The Red Sun facility is a step in the right direction, McDonnell said, in lowering that number even further.
Red Sun had been looking all over the country for a suitable location for its United States facility. In the end, it came down to the NRV and an area of similar geography, climate and altitude in Tennessee.
“They chose (Pulaski County) because it had the right climate, the right workforce and the right incentives,” McDonnell said to an applauding crowd. “(The greenhouse) will further elevate Virginia’s agricultural status (over $2.61 billion in agricultural exports in 2012). … As we welcome Red Sun Farms, we … put Virginia further ahead of the agricultural pack.”
According to Red Sun Farms managing director Carlos Visconti, the company will provide quality, safe, and now locally-grown produce to the United States and its international retail partners.
“(This is) a great accomplishment for our team. We thank the governor and the local authorities for their support and assistance to make this project a reality.
“One of the reasons we want to expand (into the area) is to minimize transportation distance (of our products). We’re proud to call the New River Valley and Pulaski County home.”
Visconti stated the 5-year development will take place in three phases, with the first calling for 100 new jobs and beginning almost immediately. The first harvest is expected to take place in 2014. The following two phases will add an additional 100 jobs and will complete the company’s initial $30 million investment.
A unique feature of Red Sun’s tomato-growing technique involves initially growing each plant vertically, as is the norm. After reaching a height of around seven feet, the plants are then laid on their sides and allowed to grow to lengths of around 50 feet for maximum yield.
According to a release from McDonnell’s office, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with officials in Pulaski County, the New River Valley Economic Development Alliance, the NRV Commerce Park Participation Committee, and the Roanoke Regional Partnership to bring the company in to the area. McDonnell approved a $350,000 grant from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund as an incentive for the company to locate in the NRV, to be used to help grade the land for construction of the massive facility, as well as $100,000 from the Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund. On top of that, the company is eligible to receive state benefits from the Virginia Enterprise Zone Program.
“This announcement establishes a unique, high-tech industry in Pulaski County that supplements our existing agricultural businesses,” PC Board of Supervisors chair Joe Sheffey said. … “It is the first in what we plan to be several other industries to locate in our regional Commerce Park.”
Around 30 people were directly involved in bringing the business into the area since 2010, doing research, investigating the suitability of the area and gathering incentives, among other things. The thing that impressed state officials most was the cooperation involved by different organizations and governing bodies at the local, regional and state level, who all worked together over two years to bring the idea into fruition.
“The people here are ready for this development,” said VEDP CEO Martin Briley. “The community here is ready to be more competitive at a global level.”
By Aaron Atkins