Hurt groundbreaking

Hurt council and staff members pose with Governor Northam at Wednesday's groundbreaking as an artist's conception of the new facility hangs above.  L to R:  Vice-Mayor Shirley Barksdale-Hill, Councilmembers Kathy Keesee, Donney Johnson, Rainy Clay and Collin Adams; Treasurer Ellen Brumfield, Clerk Kelsie Sligh, Public Works Coordinator Colleen McGrath, Governor Ralph Northam, and Mayor Gary Hodnett. Correction: Donney Johnson's name has been added.

A day long awaited and a day long remembered. A landmark event for a residential Southern Virginia town of 1,300 after a marathon endeavor. Arguably the story of the year in Hurt, barring any surprises. July 14, 2021 will have its place in local history with such distinctions.

Governor Ralph Northam, Secretary of Commerce & Trade Brian Ball, Secretary of Labor Dr. Megan Healy, Delegate Les Adams, Federal office representatives, town and county officials, along with business leaders assembled at 11:00 AM last Wednesday in Southern Virginia Multimodal Park (SVMP) for a ceremonial groundbreaking to officially launch the construction phase of the Staunton River Plastics (SRP) manufacturing facility to be built atop the former Burlington Industries footprint.

The various guests and speakers gathered in a revival tent-like structure the day of the groundbreaking. It is not every day that Virginia’s Governor and two of his cabinet members travel to a small locality like Hurt to participate in groundbreaking for a new industry − one that represents more than “just” another great economic development project. Rather, this event heralds revival for a community that has struggled to maintain its identity for more than a decade. 

SRP will be the pioneer industry for SVMP and also the first project of the Staunton River Regional Industrial Facility Authority (SRRIFA), an intergovernmental economic development consortium founded in 2018 and now consisting of Pittsylvania County, Danville, and Hurt, specifically for the purpose of developing the 600-plus acre SVMP property.   

County Supervisor Tim Dudley opened the program, recognized attendees, and reflected briefly on the region’s economic challenges since the turn of the century.  

Focusing forward, Dudley proclaimed: “This is a true comeback story for this area...a story of a community continuing to believe in itself, the story of a town working to create a new identity after the loss of a pillar industry. This is a story of multiple governments working together.”

Governor Northam complimented everyone for their respective roles in making the project a reality, reciting the adage “it takes a village.”  Having just left Danville Community College for an earlier function, the Governor stressed the value of the region’s high quality education system to “keep open that pipeline” of emerging candidates for a skilled workforce.

Continuing, Northam praised officials across the region for their collaboration on economic development by stating: “Danville and Pittsylvania County are models for the rest of the state in how you all work together, how you make things happen.” 

At the conclusion of his commentary, the Governor invited SRP Plant Manager Greg Wood to the podium. Extending assurance of the Commonwealth’s full support and emphasizing the value of relationships, Northam presented Wood with a memento and token of appreciation to be displayed at the new facility − a Virginia Flag that had been flown over the State Capitol.   

In his subsequent remarks, Wood conveyed gratitude to everyone for their parts in bringing the proposed project to fruition. Then, in a moment of personal reflection, Wood shared that although he is not originally from Hurt, he has an uncle who worked at the former Burlington facility for around 40 years and who was moved to tears by the advent of something new finally about to occupy its place. 

Pittsylvania County Economic Development Director Matt Rowe provided a general rundown of behind-the-scenes events over the last three and a half years leading up to the day’s results, many of which involved complex interactions between the Pittsylvania County Industrial Development Authority (PCIDA), SRRIFA, SRP, state agencies, and others. 

Rowe also congratulated Northam and the Commonwealth on having recently received the coveted CNBC’s America’s Top State For Business Award for the second consecutive year, and jested with the Governor that he may soon return to Hurt for additional announcements.  

Danville City Councilman and SRRIFA Vice Chairman Sherman Saunders spoke next.  Bringing a splendid, vibrant tone to the mic, he exclaimed: “Today is a milestone moment, and I am honored − and humbled − to be a part of this special day… Today, we take the next step, and it is a giant step forward.”

Expounding on the magnitude and longer-term implications of the project, Saunders continued:  “We celebrate not only the milestone of this groundbreaking, but also the partnerships − the frameworks built and the seeds planted that have brought us to this point. Together, we are building a better future for our citizens.” 

Delegate Les Adams (R-Chatham) reflected on both the people and the natural beauty of the Staunton River region, describing it as “a wonderful place to raise a family, and that is what we want − a thriving community where families can flourish.  We need good jobs to allow for that to happen. We need industry and opportunity, and that is what this day represents.” 

Mayor Gary Hodnett, who spoke in dual roles of town mayor and SRRIFA chairman, declared:  “SRP's locating in our SVMP is truly a success story forged by collaboration between business and government. SRRIFA and SRP have worked tirelessly for several years to bring about our arrival at this momentous occasion… Today the dream becomes reality, thanks to the hard work and long hours put forth by so many who have been involved in the process from its very beginning.” 

Hodnett further characterized the development as “a reawakening for Hurt and all of Northern Pittsylvania County… Now, industry begins in earnest its return to Hurt, thanks to the partnership of SRP, SRRIFA, Matt Rowe and his very talented team. These individuals and events exemplify regionalism on display.”  

Looking forward, the mayor asserted: “As the residue of a legacy industry and a bygone era gives way to an innovative, state-of-the-art enterprise, the entire Staunton River Region will benefit as this outstanding new facility settles in with its anticipated 200-plus new jobs − many of them skilled and technical in nature.”  

Hodnett concluded the program cordially: “Hurt is eager to work with SRP and other industries who find our community attractive... a tremendous thank-you to SRP for your investment in our community, and to everyone who contributed in ways great or small, to the achievement of today’s major milestone.” 

Crews and equipment arrived onsite Monday, July 19 to begin work, with an anticipated early to mid-2022 completion timeframe. The 250,000 square-foot structure, along with its contents and appurtenant structures, collectively represent an approximately $34 million investment into the Staunton River Region. 

Product lines will consist mainly of injection-mold plastic products for use in a variety of health and beauty related consumer products that are marketed globally.

Heat and humidity notwithstanding, the setting and mood throughout the occasion revealed a preponderance of blessedness, excitement, accomplishment, and relief.  

There was also a consensus among attendees that the event does not mark a proverbial “finish line” per se, but rather, completes a critical first segment of a much longer journey that they envision leading to more success stories in the foreseeable future. 

Live video coverage of the event was streamed on Facebook, and is still available for viewing on the RiverCityTV page. 

That “revival tent” is somewhere else now, but economic revival is underway in the Hurt community.