Governor Bob McDonnell yesterday announced that Virginia Produce Company (VPC), a family-owned agricultural produce wholesaler located in Hillsville, will more than quadruple the size of its operating facility and create 75 new full-time equivalent (FTEs) positions. During the three-year project, VPC will invest more than $2.54 million in capital improvements and purchase an additional $12 million of Virginia grown produce from Virginia farms. A unique aspect of this project will be the employment of 75 packing line workers, accounting for 50 FTEs, from the Mount Rogers Industrial and Developmental Center (IDC), a division of the Mount Rogers Community Service Board that trains and employs disabled Virginians. In addition to the 75 IDC workers, VPC will also employ 25 full-time positions.
Speaking about yesterday’s announcement, Governor McDonnell said, “Virginia Produce Company symbolizes so much of what defines Virginia agriculture, the Commonwealth’s largest industry. It is a family-owned business established on the idea that bringing the grower and wholesaler closer together benefits everyone involved, including the consumer. Incorporating the Nature’s Hope project into this expansion further defines what Virginia Produce is all about. This partnership with Mount Rogers IDC provides a great opportunity for local residents with disabilities to be part of a productive work setting while earning a paycheck.”
VPC currently sorts, processes, packages, and distributes a variety of Virginia grown produce including tomatoes, pumpkins, sweet corn, squash, and broccoli from its 30,000 square foot facility in the Carroll County Industrial Park. The expansion project will involve VPC purchasing a 138,000 square foot facility in the industrial park and making the necessary upgrades, including installation of larger coolers and more production lines, increasing capacity for current products and allowing expansion into new produce markets.
“This VPC project is an excellent example of a company fulfilling the dual purposes of the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) program – making positive impacts both at the processing facility and on Virginia growers,” said Todd P. Haymore, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry. “The additional capital investment and job creation at VPC’s facility is outstanding for Carroll County. I am especially excited about VPC’s commitment to purchase 50% of their increased produce demand, an estimated $12 million out of $24 million in new purchases in the next three years, from Virginia growers. This infusion of additional revenue into the local agricultural economy is a huge boost to our farm families.”
VPC works directly with its growers through a farm-management program, helping farmers grow specifically what the market demands. VPC’s farm-management program currently includes 20 Virginia growers and 1,800 acres with produce being sold into local and regional markets. The new facility will help to serve a significant increase in the size of the farm-management program.
The President of Virginia Produce Company, Moir Beamer, said “We are excited about this opportunity to expand our business operations in Carroll County and provide our customers with a larger selection of Virginia grown produce. With this program, we are working with people with disabilities and providing consumers with more options.”
VPC’s impact on area farmers has been distinctly positive. Working closely with VPC to coordinate production, farmers have greater certainty that crops will be sold and typically bring more acreage under cultivation over time to meet increased demand. As the VPC expansion comes online, there will be greater opportunities for existing and new farmers in the region.
David Hutchins, Chairman of the Carroll County Board of Supervisors said, “The expansion of Virginia Produce in Carroll County is an excellent example of utilizing the resources we have to create economic prosperity. Agriculture is our leading industry in Carroll and to build upon our strengths is vital. We have a local business that we are able to assist in growing that will generate jobs and capital investment. And at the same time, Carroll County will sell the former Sara Lee property to Virginia Produce and that real estate will be back on the tax rolls.”
The expansion of VPC also allows for the growth of another signature agricultural institution in the area, the Southwest Virginia Farmers’ Market. With a retail division owned by Carroll County and a wholesale division owned by the Commonwealth and operated by the County, the market is a tremendous resource for local farmers that provides wholesale, grading, packing and cooling operations. With its relocation, VPC will lease its existing facility to the market with an option to purchase. The lease of the VPC facility will double the market’s capacity and ensure that the produce infrastructure in the facility will remain an asset to the farming community.
The expansion is also made distinctive by VPC’s commitment to the “Nature’s Hope” product label it is introducing. The new product label will involve the employment of up to 75 disabled Virginians in the facility through the Mount Rogers IDC. HOPE stands for “Helping Organizations & People Excel” and is focused on programs that help disadvantaged groups excel in life through integrating them into different aspects of the creation of the product. Involvement at VPC could include harvesting, packaging produce, or any other aspect of moving product from farm to table. With the disabled population facing unemployment rates of 40 percent, “Nature’s Hope” provides a terrific opportunity for these individuals to find meaningful work. The program has already received support and interest from national grocery chains.
Frank Dowell, Director of Mount Rogers IDC said “We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with Virginia Produce Company in the packaging of locally-grown produce under the “Nature’s Hope” label. Through the vision shown by company President Moir Beamer and his team, we will be able to provide more employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities in our region. We would like to express our enthusiasm in eager anticipation of Virginia Produce’s expansion and further collaboration with our agency.”
Steve Smith, President and CEO of Food City said, “We value the relationships we have built with Virginia farmers and Virginia Produce Company. Working together, we have continued to grow and strengthen our partnership, which has provided critical opportunities for part-time farmers to transition to full-time farming and expand their own operations. Virginia Produce has been extremely instrumental in this process through their collaboration with the farmers in Southwest Virginia. The addition of VPC’s “Natures Hope” project will allow us to continue to work jointly with local farmers to increase our supply and explore the potential to further diversify the crops currently produced in Southwest Virginia.”
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) worked with Carroll County to help make the project a reality. Governor McDonnell approved a $200,000 matching grant from the Governor’s AFID Fund to assist Carroll with the project. The project is receiving additional assistance through the Tobacco Commission’s Tobacco Region Opportunity Fund, the State’s Enterprise Zone Program and through its Virginia Jobs Investment Program.
According to a 2013 economic impact study by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, agriculture and forestry are two of Virginia’s largest industries, with a combined economic impact of $70 billion annually. Agriculture generates more than $52 billion per annum, while forestry induces over $17 billion. The industries also provide more than 400,000 jobs in the Commonwealth.