Progress 2015: Business may be blooming in valley this year
Despite the harsh winter, 2015 is already shaping up to be a landmark year for business in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, as the economy continues to claw its way out of the after effects of the recession.
In Shenandoah County, there is expected growth in industrial, commercial and residential development, said Brandon Davis, director of community development for the county.
“There are significant growth plans with some major companies in the county and we hope to see them come to fruition this year,” Davis said. “Obviously the hospital expansion is one we’re excited to see in Woodstock.”
Davis said there is a chance the Strasburg and Mount Jackson industrial parks may see new occupants, however nothing is set in stone. He said the better bet was growth of existing businesses on their own properties.
“You don’t necessarily see the existing businesses taking down space in the industrial parks we have,” Davis said. “The biggest development I would hope to see this year is the development by the Strasburg industrial park by the town … they are looking at doing strategic planning and marketing.”
Davis said the Strasburg industrial park is “a very nice tool” for business recruitment to the county. He said the town and county would work together to market the properties.
Davis said the county may see residential development, because owners of land set aside for subdivisions during the building boom are starting to show signs of developing the sites.
“I don’t expect us to return to the building boom this year, certainly, but I would expect an incremental, marginal increase, but if one or more of the subdivisions is purchased or contracted by a homebuilder, then we may see a significant spike,” Davis said.
He said he is not as optimistic about large-scale commercial development, such as an addition of a shopping center.
“When you can commute [from] Strasburg to Front Royal and shop at that new shopping center in eight minutes, or go to Woodstock and be there in 15 minutes, what do you do?” Davis said. “When they decided to site a big box store, they look for population centers.”
Davis added, “Commercial development is a challenge because our population centers are spread out and people can drive to bigger population centers with those kind of facilities.”
Cheri Wright, director of the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce, said she expects commercial development to be more small business oriented in the county.
“I expect to see a lot more small businesses opening up … people are being freer with their money and I think people are starting to take risks again,” Wright said. “Opening a business is a risk … I think we’re seeing growth in Strasburg and we’ll see it through the valley.”
Wright added, “I think we’re going to see some mom and pop shops, some coffee shops, some antique shops … I think now people are lot more freer and willing to go after their dream, finally … I know I have inquiries about what time of year to open, that sort of thing.”
Pop-up boutiques, retailers that establish a storefront seasonally, may come into the area, Wright said. She said she expects to see significant growth in Strasburg, Woodstock and New Market.
“I think New Market is going to see a lot of growth this year,” Wright said. “I think they’re on the cusp of a huge growth spurt and the town has done a lot of things to make it attractive to entrepreneurs.”
In Warren County, there is expected growth in industrial, commercial and residential development as well, said Jennifer McDonald, director of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority.
“It’s going to be a pretty busy year,” McDonald said. “This is going to be better than last year’s developments.”
McDonald said while she cannot name companies, she anticipates there will be expansions on the 522/340 corridor, totaling $27 million in investment and 64 additional jobs. She said for all expansions, there is “no real timeline.” One project she expects completed by December 2015 is the expansion of InterChange with a new distribution facility on Toray Drive.
In the commercial sector, McDonald said she expects development for the former Afton Inn on East Main Street in Front Royal, which may be a distillery, a microbrewery or mixed use office space. She also said 17 apartments will be available on the second and third floors of the former Second Chance building on Main Street, with a restaurant on the first floor.
McDonald said there are also plans for the former K-Mart building to be at least partially rented within the year, as well as ground breaking for the Marriott and the completion of the Aldi grocery store near the Riverton Commons. She said pinning down commercial investment and jobs numbers is difficult because those figures are tied to sales.
“It’s so hard to nail down the numbers with commercial, but I would say it’s safe to say there will be about 500 part-time employees due to these developments,” McDonald said.
With the Dominion plant constructed and operating, retailers will not be enjoying the influx of out-of-town workers shopping, dining and lodging in Front Royal, McDonald said.
“It will definitely be a big adjustment for them, but at the same time, the town will be doing their treatment plant as well as other projects that might bring in outside labor, so it won’t be much, but hopefully it will ease some of the pain,” McDonald said.
Nikki Foster, director of the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce, said she expects 2015 to be a great year for small businesses.
“I keep hearing a lot about business picking up with the shops in downtown,” Foster said. “I think the economy is really turning around … programs like the shop local one launched in downtown are really promoting small business.”
The area is taking steps to encourage growth in the independently owned retail sector, Foster said.
“I think everybody, from the town to the county to us at the chamber, are working hard and together to address the needs of our local business owners, such as with the business forum and the work the town has done with the Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center,” Foster said.
Foster added, “When we work together on a little things, it can lead to big changes.
Frederick County is also on deck to see major economic development, Patrick Barker, executive director of the Frederick County Economic Development Authority, said.
Barker said as far as major developments are concerned, the exit 310 interchange will be “huge” for the county, as well as the FBI building, which is vetting a short list of sites for the building. He said in the Middletown and Stephens City area, there would be limited development.
“The McDonald’s coming to Middletown will be a big deal and Thermos Fisher might expand more, if their track record over the past year is any indication,” Barker said.
As far as industrial growth is concerned, he estimates it will match last year’s growth in the county. He said there would be plenty of activity in the county’s industrial parks and he expects small business to grow as well, due to the loosening of bank loan money.
“The forecast for the area is looking great from Virginia Economic Trends studies and those have put us at an upper level,” Barker said. “It’s hard to pin down a figure … I think that’s a figure that should be left for when we close out the year.”
Barker said this year would be a great year for people looking for a job or thinking about changing careers.
“If folks are in that career changing mindset or in a job that feel they’re underemployed, this year is a great year to look at resources offered in the area for career skills training,” Barker said.
Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org