California coffee company to build roaster in Suffolk, VA

Published 10:28 am Monday, December 19, 2016

Suffolk News-Herald

SUFFOLK, VA – California-based Peet’s Coffee announced plans here late last week to invest $58 million in Suffolk to build a roastery in the CenterPoint Intermodal Center.

“I do think it’s the start of a new day in Suffolk,” Councilman Tim Johnson said following the announcement.

The project will bring 135 new jobs along with a 175,000-square-foot roastery, expected to get under construction this spring.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe was on hand Friday morning at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts to reveal the project.

“I cannot tell you how excited we are about this,” McAuliffe said. “We competed against five other states, and they made the right decision. Honestly, folks, why would they go anywhere else?”

McAuliffe praised the project as further diversification of Virginia’s economy, helping to shore it up from repeated rounds of federal cuts that have affected defense spending during the last several years.

“Suffolk is now the caffeine capital of the United States of America,” McAuliffe said. “We are going to grow together.”

Suffolk Mayor Linda T. Johnson was amped up during Friday’s announcement.

“We’re just so proud to become a part of your future,” she said. “We pledge to you our support. We will work together to create the environment you will grow and prosper in.”

The announcement further solidifies Suffolk’s “Caffeine Capital” claim, which it staked about three years ago. J.M. Smucker, Massimo Zanetti Beverage and Lipton already process coffee and tea here, and companies like Continental Terminals, Pacorini, Vitex Packaging Group and Crown Cork and Seal are involved in other aspects of the business, such as importing and packaging.

“Food processing is a part of our culture here in Suffolk. It has been for many, many years,” City Manager Patrick Roberts said Friday, hearkening back to when Planters Peanuts established its plant here in 1913. “It’s a good fit for us.”

State Sen. John Cosgrove, who represents part of Suffolk, capitalized on the industry’s strength to gain a few laughs from the crowd on Friday.

“You put a NoDoz factory here, nobody will ever sleep again,” he said.

There are good reasons for the coffee industry — which also includes a Keurig Green Mountain facility in Isle of Wight County — to choose this area.

Dave Burwick, president and chief executive officer of Peet’s Coffee, listed some of them on Friday.

“The commonwealth has been accommodating,” he said, adding that he liked the “supportive character” of Suffolk. The region is close to the Port of Virginia and to major highways. Suffolk’s diverse, skilled workforce and retiring military personnel looking for a second career will easily meet the company’s needs, he said.

In addition, the Port of Virginia is certified as an exchange port for coffee imports and is the only one in the Mid-Atlantic.

Burwick said the company has experienced astronomical growth — from $400 million to $800 million in the last four years — and needed to expand from its California facility to the East Coast.

“From the time it’s roasted to the time you consume it, you want to shorten that time as much as possible,” he said. “It’s hard to get it as fresh as you want it when you’re just roasting it in California.”

Burwick praised state, regional and local economic development partners.

“It went as good as it possibly could go,” he said. “It was a true team effort.”

Jim Bevilacqua, senior director for manufacturing operations, said salaries for the 135 jobs will be above average for the area. The average salary will be in the $50,000 range annually, he said.

A number of professionals, including engineering, accounting, legal and craftspeople as well as those skilled in warehouse operations, will be needed, he added.

Burwick said the company will arrange for training to enable the local workforce to acquire the skills needed to work at Peet’s.

Suffolk Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes said the city first heard about the opportunity through the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance.

The city has been working on the project for about two years, Hughes added. Secrecy was key — the project went by the code name “Project Tomahawk,” and the few who were in the know had to sign non-disclosure agreements.

The state Commonwealth Opportunity Fund provided a $1 million incentive for Peet’s to locate in Virginia. In addition, the Suffolk Economic Development Authority approved a $2.7 million package to offer incentives to the company in four phases, based on performance.

Hughes said Peet’s Coffee will be the fifth occupant of the CenterPoint Intermodal Center, located off Holland Road.

(Tracy Askew is the News Editor of the Suffolk (VA) News-Herald, a sister publication of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.)