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$3M In County Grants OK’d

irginia Tobacco Commission members approved a pair of grant awards Thursday totaling $3 million — $2 million for a “buildout” of space at Riverstone Technology Park and $1 million for additional start-up funds for the new advanced manufacturing initiative at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center. The full tobacco commission met Thursday in Wytheville.

In addition to $3 million in new tobacco money designated for county projects, on Thursday the commission also consolidated three previous grants for the Modeling and Simulation Center for Excellence and the Riverstone Energy Center, both housed at Riverstone Technology Park.

According to Dr. Carole Cameron Inge, chief strategist of the Virginia Clean Energy Incubator and executive director of the Modeling and Simulation Center for Collaborative Technologies, the Halifax Industrial Development Authority (IDA) now will act as the fiscal agent for the three grants — totaling $1.2 million for the Modeling and Simulation Center, $2 million and $375,000 for the Riverstone Energy Center - with the program’s focus remaining the same.

Previously, Virginia Tech had served as the grantee for the Modeling and Simulation Center grant, and the Halifax Education Foundation had acted as the fiscal agent for the two energy center grants.

High Bay Riverstone Pilot Plant Project — $2 Million Grant

Originally, the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority had sought  $2 million in tobacco funds to develop a shell building at Riverstone Park, but last month the IDA withdrew its original submission and replaced it with the High Bay Riverstone Pilot Plant Project request for $2 million.

According to tobacco commission documents, the $2 million will be used for “buildout” of the Riverstone high-bay manufacturing space in Building One and for equipment to be leased for seven years to a Fortune 500 prospect that is considering the site to research and develop energy-related polymer filtration products.

The prospective Fortune 500 company is anticipated to lease a total of approximately 27,000 square feet of manufacturing and office space in Building One for seven years and is estimated to create 11 jobs at salaries ranging from $50,000 to $80,000, according to tobacco commission documents.

The proposal also seeks funds for equipment that will be installed in the space and leased to the company. At the end of the lease some portion of the equipment, totaling $1.3 million or more, would be considered building upfit and would continue to be owned by the Halifax County IDA beyond the seven-year lease, the document further states. Process equipment would revert to the company at the lease’s end.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $11,970,000, according to commission documents. The project budget is based on estimates provided by two local building contractors, an architectural/engineering firm and the prospect company.

The IDA states the company is considering Halifax as a permanent production site for these technologies beyond the research and development lease period. It appears a significant portion of the TICR-funded equipment would be permanent improvements to Building One, the construction and financing of which was assisted with TICR grants totaling $10 million, the tobacco commission document adds.

HEF Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Center

Halifax Education Foundation’s request for additional start-up funds for operations at Southern Virginia Higher Education Center’s Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Center met with commission approval, and $ 1 million to potentially accommodate this request was transferred to the Southside Committee at the July 2009 commission meeting, according to tobacco commission documents.

The center will be housed in the former American Tobacco Warehouse (old bag factory) where renovations are expected to be complete by December 2010 using an FY09 TICR Special Projects grant of $6 million for research centers. The facility is expected to be fully operational by July 21, 2011, the documents further state.

A “Smart Factory” will be created with research-led solutions to manufacturing design and process challenges for utilization by new and existing companies in creating prototypes of new or improved products and components, the document continues.

A December 2008 study identified 37 manufacturing businesses in a five county and one city area to be served by the center.

The tobacco commission transferred $1 million of unobligated FY2010 surplus funds to the Southside Economic Committee specifically for Halifax Education Center to provide start-up operating funds for the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Center.

According to commission documents, this money would supplement $375,000 of operational funding approved from the TICR Research and Development Fund in July.

The program was initiated in the past two years using funds budgeted under a portion of an education committee grant.

The wood industry incubator being developed as the primary initial focus for the center will allow entrepreneurs and small business to utilize CAD/CAM software, machining technology, and services offered through center partners such as Virginia Tech to enhance their potential for success, the tobacco commission documents state.

The commission on Thursday awarded $1 million as the fee and grant-based business model identified as the approach that the center will use to achieve sustainability.