‘Economic engine’

Virginia Port Authority CEO and Executive Director John Reinhart presents his State of the Port address Tuesday morning at the Holiday Inn in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Virginia Port Authority CEO John Reinhart on Tuesday hailed the Virginia Inland Port in Warren County as a “regional economic engine” that serves 39 major companies and has generated more than 8,000 jobs.

Reinhart presented the annual “State of the Port” on the economic status of the Port of Virginia as well as its plans for the future during a speech at the Holiday Inn, which is located directly across the road from the Inland Port.

Since assuming the role of CEO last year, Reinhart has overseen a financial turnaround from $16.6 million in consolidated operating losses to $6.2 million in consolidated operating gains for the first nine months of fiscal year 2015 for the Port of Virginia, which includes facilities that handle cargo in Hampton Roads as well as at the Virginia Inland Port and the Port of Richmond.

He noted the Port of Virginia saw record-setting volumes in 11 of the last 21 months, has unified the port’s brand, undergone a corporate reorganization and that due to a stabilization in the port’s finances, the port has received A+ bond ratings from Fitch as well as Standard & Poor’s, and Aa3 from Moody’s Investor’s Services.

Addressing invited local and state lawmakers and regional town and county representatives, Reinhart noted, “You have created a success story. What we’ve gotta do is see just [how] much further we can take this … to grow opportunities in this part of the commonwealth.”

Roger Mello, left, director of career and technical education for Page County Public Schools and Augie Eckhardt, right, market manager for Norfolk Southern Corporation, listen as Virginia Port Authority CEO and Executive Director John Reinhart presents his State of the Port presentation Tuesday morning at the Holiday Inn in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

One opportunity he mentioned during a media roundtable discussion following his speech was French apple production giant Andros Foods.

He said access to the Inland Port is one of the reasons why that company expanded its reach to the valley in 2011 when it purchased Bowman Apples in Mount Jackson. On April 20, Andros announced expansion plans for additional capacity as well as 160 jobs for its facility in Mount Jackson.

“Our economic development team worked very closely with Andros on that expansion, so they are aware of our capabilities,” Reinhart said.

“Part of the reason is they want to be able to get those products to the global market,” Reinhart noted, adding that expansion like this is part of a growing trend across the nation.

In December, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that the state would be increasing its apple exports to India, a growing market in the international trade community.

Virginia Port Authority CEO and Executive Director John Reinhart speaks to the media following his State of the Port speech Tuesday morning at the Holiday Inn in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

“Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore is going out quite aggressively on trade missions to try and raise the awareness,” Reinhart said. “He and [Gov. McAuliffe] have targeted agriculture export as a major economic engine for the commonwealth.”

Potential apple exports to India and possibly China would only add to the success of Virginia’s No. 1 industry. In 2014, Virginia exported $3.35 billion in local agricultural products, 14 percent higher than 2013.

“As Secretary Haymore works with ag folks, oftentimes they’ll call us and I or our team will meet with those producers to see what we can do better,” Reinhart said.

Reinhart also sees an opportunity for the Inland Port from the Procter & Gamble mega site that is being developed off Interstate 81 in Berkley County, West Virginia.

“Whatever they are going to do there, they certainly situated it there so that they can get [products] from there all the way across to Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and up to Pittsburgh,” Reinhart said.

Virginia state Sen. Mark Obenshain listens as Virginia Port Authority CEO and Executive Director John Reinhart gives his presentation on the State of the Port Speech Tuesday morning at the Holiday Inn in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

He said Proctor & Gamble is a big investment that is going to create a lot of jobs. “There will be a spider web of activity that comes off of that facility” in a process he described as a “clustering” — where sub-suppliers will locate near the bigger company, and thus create more jobs.

“One of the things we do not have in the commonwealth are some designated mega sites that are available for development,” Reinhart noted.

A proposed mega site in Shenandoah County was brought up in the media roundtable discussion, and he noted that it’s not just incentives that will attract a company. He said there has to be a quality workforce in place, a responsible political system, a good tax base, and speed to market. If you don’t have that, he said, the company will build where that is offered.

At several points during his address and the ensuing roundtable discussion, Reinhart spoke to the importance of investing in the workforce.

“We have wonderful universities and community colleges … that can help create the workforce that can keep up with these new companies that want to locate here,” Reinhart said. He noted he anticipates establishing a relationship with local colleges in the Northern Shenandoah Valley for worker training.

Virginia Port Authority CEO and Executive Director John Reinhart speaks to members of the press following his State of the Port address Tuesday morning at the Holiday Inn in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Referencing the state and future opportunities to attract business, Reinhart said, “We have right to work … we have a good educated workforce, we have a good quality of life and we have a reasonable tax base. We need to harvest some of this.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com