County officials upbeat on local economic development

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By John Barnhart

Although the news media has been full of bad-news stories on the economy, Bedford County officials are upbeat on local economic development.

Sue Montgomery, the county's director of economic development pointed to The Matrixx Group, which built on a 20-acre site at Bedford Center for Business, located off Independence Aveune, in Bedford,

“They are very happy with their location,” commented Montgomery.

She said that Matrixx expects to expand, eventually tripling the plants current size. The company makes plastic from raw materials.

Montgomery is also optimistic about Barr Labs, located in Forest. Barr Pharmaceuticals, which owns the local plant, was acquired this summer by Teva, an Israeli generic pharmaceutical manufacturer.

“All indicators are that it will only be positive,” Montgomery said.

Barr is Bedford county's largest business in terms of the number of employees.

“And, they continue to hire,” she added.

Barr received a two phase grant that combines funds from the Governor's Opportunity Fund and the Tobacco Commission with a local match. The grant comes in two phases and includes a performance agreement from Barr. If Barr did not meet these terms, the second phase money would not be paid out and the company could have to pay back some of what it has already received.

However, Montgomery said that she's been assured that Barr is going through with its planned expansion here.

Montgomery said that the Georgia-Pacific plant in Big Island is the county's biggest business in terms of tax revenue. Koch Industries purchased Georgia-Pacific and have already invested in the plant. They've also signed a three-year contract with the union that represents the plant's employees.

“There is absolutely no thought of closing this plant,” Montgomery said.

In other aspects of economic development, she points to the new Lowes store as the biggest new business in the U. S. 460 East corridor. A number of significant businesses are also doing well further out U. S. 460 in New London. The whole Forest area is humming and Downtown Moneta, on Va. 122, South of Bedford, represents the first project in Bedford County in which a developer is actually building a community.

The biggest coming event in local economic development will take place in the New London Business and Technology Center. The Center for Advanced Engineering and Research (CAER) will set up a research center there on the front lot at the technology center's entrance. Montgomery said that this will bring research into an area that does not have a research university. It's one of four such centers planned for Virginia, according to Montgomery.

“We got the first one,” she said.

CAER has an agreement with Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia and Liberty Univesity and a $7.6 million grant from the Tobacco Commission for construction. Montgomery said that the county's economic development authority (EDA) is making the land available. She said Bedford County will probably retain ownership of the land and lease it to CAER for virtually no cost. The EDA will work with CAER on a master plan for the 28-acre site and may allow limited retail establishments on the site that will compliment CAER's facility.