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Tobacco panel approves EMPOWER loan, industrial park grant award / June 02, 2021
Mecklenburg County and Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative/EMPOWER Broadband were among the applicants whose funding requests were approved by the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission during a virtual meeting Thursday.

The tobacco commission approved a $880,643 loan for MEC’s EMPOWER subsidiary and Mecklenburg County was awarded a $28,000 grant to conduct a study on upgrades to the Kinderton Technology Park in Clarksville.

EMPOWER will use the loan as it continues its work bringing high-speed broadband to customers of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and the former Buggs Island Telephone Cooperative across five counties in Southside Virginia — Halifax, Charlotte, Mecklenburg, Brunswick, and Greensville.

EMPOWER is accepting applications to install high-speed internet service for customers on Highway 47 to Lone Oak and Old Cox Roads, and is working on design and staking for fiber installation along Allgood and Lawson Roads.

EMPOWER Broadband President and CEO John C. Lee, Jr. said, “The communities served by EMPOWER Broadband consist of homes, businesses, and organizations … all of which need the access and opportunities afforded by high-speed internet. When EMPOWER Broadband was established, we emphasized that the only business plan that would allow us to successfully bring this much-needed service to our sparsely populated region, would require a highly disciplined and structured approach.

“In evaluating our ability to build a fiber network and offer broadband service to our region, we worked diligently to put together a plan that would allow us to step in and successfully get it done,” said Lee, “recognizing that no one else would.”

Lee noted that “EMPOWER is growing not only in the number of subscribers but also in the resources used to deploy and maintain those services. EMPOWER has hired additional service technicians, is adding customer service agents, and is hiring both construction and splicing managers.

“We’ve been prudent in managing the increasing demands placed on our MEC team with a systematic approach that will keep the cost of broadband service affordable,” said Lee.

Mecklenburg County was awarded $28,000 for a due diligence study needed to upgrade the 121-acre Kinderton Technology Campus on Iron Gate Road near Clarksville from a Tier 3 to a Tier 4 site for readiness for development and marketing.

The total project cost will be $56,000. The county will provide $28,000 in local matching funds.

The study is the final step needed before the property will be marketed through the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to technology companies looking to relocate to Mecklenburg.

According to the county’s application for grant funding, it is of “critical importance” that Kinderton Technology Campus receive this upgraded rating showing that it is ready for use by tech employers as the property is the only remaining industrial park owned by Mecklenburg County.

In December 2020, Microsoft Corporation purchased nearly all the land in three county industrial parks — Lakeside Commerce Park near Clarksville and Roanoke River Regional Business Park near La Crosse, and Hillcrest Industrial Park owned by the Town of South Hill.

The due diligence study can include, among other things, a wetlands survey, geotechnical borings, boundary and topographical survey, cultural resources review, an endangered species review, and a Phase I environmental site assessment.

The monies awarded by the TRRC on Thursday came from the county’s share of Southside economic development funds administered by the TRRC.

Mecklenburg County previously received a quote from Timmons Group to complete the due diligence study and is prepared to match half of the requested funds. It is expected that the study can be completed by June 30.

This project parallels the first goal of the Southside Planning District Commission’s 2020 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) to attract new business, industry, and job creation. The CEDS encourages localities to develop shovel-ready sites in their communities with Tier 5 capabilities being the optimal goal. This project also aligns with Mecklenburg County’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan economic development strategies to recruit new industry and expand existing industry.

In all, the Commission gave final approval for 17 funding requests totaling $4,627,5037 in grants and loans. The total funds to be disbursed break down as follows: $2,587,628 for Southern Virginia projects and $2,039,875 for Southwest Virginia projects. The individual approved requests ranged in size from $9,000 to $880,643.

Additionally, the Commission approved offering as much as $31,989,000 in Tobacco Region Opportunity Fund (TROF) grants and loans to attract large projects to the region. Some of these projects are in competition for the same location.

The Commission also adopted a new budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

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