Above: Delegate Will Morefield sponsored legislation to clear the way for the facility
Pure Salmon, an aquaculture company based in Abu Dhabi, plans to build what it calls the world’s largest vertically-integrated indoor aquaculture facility near Southwest Virginia Community College, with completion expected by the end of 2023. The Boards of Supervisors of Russell, Buchanan and Tazewell counties made the joint announcement earlier this week. Project Jonah, to be built on the boundary of Tazewell and Russell counties, is planned to raise and process up to 20,000 tons of salmon annually.
The company says it will invest approximately $228 million in facility and equipment. County leaders say the facility will employ more than 200 residents whose individual median wage will equal or exceed the total median family income of families in all three counties.
The three counties have been working with the project for nearly six years to land the big fish. A combination of local and regional economic development incentives was offered jointly by the counties to augment their coal driven economies with this environmentally friendly industry. In 2013, Delegate Will Morefield traveled to Israel to seek out economic opportunities for Southwest Virginia. In 2015, a contingent of local officials traveled to observe similar largescale aquaculture projects. Travis Hackworth, a member of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors travelled with local officials to look at pilot projects and said, “The facility we saw under construction was amazing. It was unbelievably large, and our project is going to be ten times that size. The number of jobs required will give opportunity to so many of our residents to stay home and not have to move away for work. We are thankful to have this tremendous opportunity.”
Beginning in 2017, Tazewell, Russell and Buchanan Counties, all of which had been considered as potential sites for the project, began to realize that the fish project was too big for any one of them to land alone. Together they formed a regional industrial facilities authority, seeking ways to contribute jointly to the local incentives and share the future tax revenue. The counties concluded their negotiations in October 2020, in time to enter an historic revenue sharing agreement, providing the final piece of the local incentive puzzle necessary for the project. Craig Stiltner, chairman of the Buchanan County Board of Supervisors, said, “This project is the realization of the work of many people from Buchanan, Russell and Tazewell Counties to create a regional project that provides for economic diversity, high paying jobs and an increased tax base that will inure to the benefit of all three participating counties. Regional cooperation is the future for the coalfield counties of Southwest Virginia.”
Rebecca Dye, Russell County Board of Supervisors Chairperson, spoke of the project and the importance of jobs and economic development in the county and within the coalfield region, “This regional project will enable our coalfield region to capitalize on the skills and talents of our county’s workforce while giving our children opportunities for the future. By working together, we will strengthen our communities, workforces, and quality of life for all.”
The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority also supported the project by offering incentives funded by the Commonwealth’s Metallurgical Coal Tax Credit Program. The project purchased 203 acres of land near Southwest Virginia Community College in the summer of 2020 and applied for their land disturbing permits this fall. Site preparation will begin in earnest this winter.
Pure Salmon said in a press release, “We are pleased to have chosen Southwest Virginia as the location for our Pure Salmon facility. Our decision was driven by the early support and continued assistance we have received from Delegate Morefield, the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, Tazewell County, Southwest Virginia Community College and the College Foundation as well as the benefits of economic development policies such as HB222. Our aim as a company is to produce clean, healthy and fresh locally produced salmon while providing increased opportunities for the local community.”
Pure Salmon plans another similarly sized facility in Lesotho, South Africa. The company says it will build 10,000-ton facilities in France, Japan, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and will build five facilities in China with a 20,000-ton combined output.