By Markus Schmidt, Richmond Times-Dispatch
Niagara Bottling LLC, a family-owned and -operated bottled beverage supplier, will invest $95 million to establish a manufacturing and bottling operation at Meadowville Technology Park in Chesterfield County, adjacent to Amazon.com’s distribution center.
The company will use state-of-the-art filtration to produce its Niagara brand and private-label bottled water, creating 76 new jobs in Chesterfied, according to a statement released by Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday.
The announcement comes less than three weeks after the State Water Control Board cleared the path for the destruction of a nearly 10-acre swath of wetlands at the technology park.
The proposed development, which has been dubbed “Project Buzzard” to conceal the investor’s identity, is supported by the Chesterfield Economic Development Authority, which acquired the property in 2005.
The project area encompasses 62 acres and will include a 600,000 square-foot warehouse with office space, parking spaces, a loading pay, drive aisles, utilities, datea infrastructure and stormwater management facilities. Officials did not say when the new facility will be finished.
“I welcome Niagara Bottling to the commonwealth. Chesterfield will be a strategic location for it’s new manufacturing and bottling center,” said Maurice A . Jones, the state secretary of commerce and trade. “I am pleased we were able to assist the company in their East Coast expansioni and efforts to reach a growing consumer base.”
Niagara Bottling is the largest private-label bottled watter supplier in the U.S., supplying major retailers across the nation. Headquartered in Ontario, Calif., the company began as a family business in 1963 by offering 5-gallon containers for home and office delivery.
Niagara expanded in the early 1990s to offer single-serve, private-label bottled water for grocery, club, convenience and whole-sale customers.
McAuliffe approved a $500,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund to assist the county with the project. In addition, Niagara will be eligible to receibe sales- and use-tax exemptions on manufacturing equipment. Funding and services to support the company’s employee training activities also will be provided by the Virginia Jobs Investment Program.
Negotiations between Barry Matherly, president of the Greater Richmond Partnership economic development group, and Darieth Sutton, Niagara’s director of economic development and government relations, began in 2012. Both teach at the Univeristy of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute and have remained in contact. The proposals solidified within two years.
“Darieth and I had a meeting in November of 2014 and she finally committed to considering the Richmond region as a future location,” Matherly said Tuesday.
The developers identified 12 potential sites in the Richmond region, with the property in Meadowville making a shortlist in March 2015. Virginia Department of Environmental Quality records show that in its early stages, the project was called “Project Niagara” — a clear hint at the tenant-to-be.
After the project was put on hold for eight months, the region had to again compete with other Mid-Atlantic states for the development that in the meantime had been renamed “Project Buzzard.”
In April, Matherly and Garrett Hart, Chesterfield’s director of economic development, traveled to Rialto, Cailf., to tour the company’s newest facillity, which will serve as the prototype for the Chesterfield location.
Meanwhile, environmentalists pushed back against a pending DEQ permit allowing the filling of wetlands and streams on and around the to-be-developed site. During a public omment period, the agency received 37 written comments,32 of which were in opposition to the permit.
At a July 27 State Water Control Board Hearing, environmentalists urged the board to deny the permit or postpone a vote until other possible sites are looked at, calling the loss of 10 acres of wetlands “huge” and “unprecedented” in Chesterfield. Most permits issued by the DEP in the past decade covered areas of 1 acre or less.
By a 3-1 vote, the board approved the permit for a 15-year period.
“Niagara falls within two of the county’s largest target clusteres, food and beverage and advanced manufacturing,” Chesterfield Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve A. Elswick said in a statement Tuesday.
“Niagara’s manufacturing and filling facility will be the most efficient and sustainable in the world. The 76 manufacturing jobs are just the type of employment opportunities we want for our Chesterfield residents,” Elswick said.
Brian Hess, the executive vice president of operations for Niagara, said the Chesterfield location allows the company “to fulfill that commitment by providing an optimal location that is close to both its existing and growing customer market.”