Article and Photos by Luke Burris
Caswell Messenger Reporter
Caswell County Manager Bryan Miller, Caswell Economic Development Director Cori Lindsay, and Piedmont Community College President Dr. Pamela Senegal recently presented plans for a new agriculture center proposed for the Pelham Industrial Park as a community primer for the Feb. 18 Caswell County Commissioners meeting.
“As county manager, one of the things that I’m tasked with on a monthly if not weekly basis is to provide to the Board of Commissioners projects that work, that are feasible within Caswell County,” said Miller. “From the philosophy of looking at areas of the County who need a hand up, that need some kind of stimulus to create opportunities, it would be a great thing to help Pelham with its lack of fresh produce offerings and to create new job opportunities.”
The facility would be owned and managed by Piedmont Community College and be the location for the school’s newest agribusiness program, but the facility would also be large enough to hold conventions and have amenities to attract businesses conferences from surrounding areas.
“What we know from economic development, if you have economic activity in one area, you are more likely to have additional activity in that same area. That is one of the real driving forces for me in this project,” said Miller.
Located in an opportunity zone as mapped by the state in 2018. Investors don’t have to pay taxes on investments after a period of time invested in an opportunity zone.
According to Senegal, the anchor for the proposed 80-acre parcel usage is the college’s Ag business program, but that’s not all that will be there. In addition to the degree program, they’ll offer short-term continuing education classes, have space for organizations to do other kinds of training, marketing and business training, CDL and truck driver training, and other activities complementary to the Ag business technology program and to the space.
“We’ve also had lots of conversations with North Carolina A&T State University. There are lots of opportunities for research as well,” said Senegal.
Unlike many other education facilities, the parcel has room to grow farms to give students hands on experience with machinery and growing. Concept art showed rooms with glass walls that overlook rows and rows of greenery.
“Every student who comes to us won’t necessarily have their own plot of land. So this creates a great opportunity for us to do incubator test plots for students, where they may potentially have an acre while they’re enrolled in the program that they may be responsible for managing and growing produce and crops on,” said Senegal.
Miller said he and Lindsay visited incubator farmers in Orange County and discovered that people could grow $15,000 to $17,000 in products off of one acre in a year.
“In 2016, Caswell County government and PCC partnered to create an Economic Development/Small Business Center position. It was then that Cori Lindsay was hired. Cori came from North Dakota with a background in agricultural and rural economic development. In her interviews, she spoke to us about Ag and as many know, Caswell County has roots in tobacco and agriculture,” said Miller.
According to Senegal, she, Lindsay, and Miller traveled in early 2018 to an Ag center in Maine. What was once a rundown building was turned into an agricultural resort.
“By building on what this community was strong in, which was agriculture, they were able to create a working farm for students to come in on field trip and see in greenhouses how food is grown all year long. There were also walking trails there and places where local farmers could actually sell their goods. Those goods were used in a catering aspect as well. They had lots of pieces that integrated into the community really well,” said Senegal.
According to Miller, the site had a foundation pumping $3M into it each year and while Caswell County doesn’t have anything like that, the pristine Maine facility was a proof of concept that had aspects that could be repurposed and scaled down for an effective and sustainable operation in Pelham.
The agriculture center, if located in Pelham, would utilize existing water and sewer connections and be on land already owned by the county. The multimillion dollar project would be effectively free to the county through a matching grant, the land’s value appeasing the required match amount.
Miller said the Pelham Industrial Park is comprised of 160 acres, basically two 80-acre parcels divided by a road.
Of the two sides, Miller said he prefers to retain the more attractive parcel for future businesses and use the one that’s more tucked away from the road for the agricultural building, but that’s up for the county to decide.
“I myself have a 10-year old daughter. I want to see the type of opportunities that allow her to get an education at PCC, much like my wife did, who is a PCC alumnus, and then come back and put what she has learned to work here in Caswell County. And I want to the local economy here in Caswell County to be able to support our children moving forward,” said Miller.
The Caswell County Commissioners public meeting is Monday, Feb. 18 at 6:30 p.m. in the Historic Courthouse, Yanceyville.
Photo Front: Economic Director Cori Lindsay discusses an agriculture enterprise center concept art with local farmer Rich Mason of Honey Bee Hills. By Luke Burris, The Caswell Messenger
Photo Above: Piedmont Community College President Dr. Pamela Senegal (right) discusses the potential expansion of the college into the northern end of Caswell County.
By Luke Burris, The Caswell Messenger