Complex will help solve affordable housing need in the industrial park
The first of two innovative projects aimed at improving the quality of life for the local workforce and the industrial community is nearing completion of its first phase.
Valley Oak Apartments — a development of one- and two-bedroom units built on 22 acres at Valley Oak Commerce Complex — is the answer to concerns from the industrial community that there is not enough affordable housing within close proximity to this growing commerce park.
In the last four years, Valley Oak has seen a significant increase in workforce with the expansion of the Team Modern distribution center and the addition of AppHarvest, Conner Logistics and HT Warehousing. But there hasn’t been a significant increase in housing to match it. Because this has been a top concern for industrial leaders for some time, the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) board of directors wanted to find a way to address it.
“The need for affordable housing and more people in the workforce is at an all-time high in Somerset-Pulaski County, and the rising costs of inflation are not making it any easier to improve either situation,” Girdler said. “At SPEDA, we’ve made a concerted effort to listen to our industrial leaders and try to find creative solutions to their problems. It isn’t common for an economic development organization to take the lead in this way. At the end of the day, however, we believe we are exactly the organization to do so because if there is no affordable housing, there is no workforce, and no economic growth. We knew we had to start thinking outside the box.”
That’s when Girdler recalled the 22 acres at Valley Oak SPEDA owned that had been on the real estate market for two decades. Girdler said its topography was unsuitable for industrial development, which is why it had been a tough sell — but the land could be perfect for housing or another type of development. So he went to his board with an idea: Issue a nationwide request for proposal for this property, allowing the private sector, entrepreneurs and developers to come forward with plans they think may be successful and that they would be willing to implement.
“I was so excited to issue this RFP because I knew it could be transformational for the people who work in Valley Oak,” Girdler said. “SPEDA’s board is willing and eager to serve as the conduit between our existing businesses and the private sector to come up with solutions to complex quality-of-life problems they face. Through the RFP process, we were able to make meaningful use of property we own while encouraging a specific type of development to meet a need. It’s a win-win.”
Enter Valley Oak LLC, a new development company owned by Jacob Clark and Colton and Makayla Ping seeking opportunities to solve some of these challenges. Clark said he and his partners often heard about the demand for housing in the eastern part of Pulaski County, especially around the factories, and upon seeing SPEDA’s RFP decided to tackle the project by submitting a proposal.
It was a winning one. Valley Oak LLC immediately went to work on Phase 1 of the project, a $4 million investment, which includes eight two-bedroom apartments and 32 one-bedroom apartments. Completion is expected in November 2023.
Colton Ping, who recently graduated from college but has been working in his family construction and development business for more than 10 years, said the unique topography of the land has certainly been a challenge, but he believes their team has developed something of which the community can be proud.
“I have heard folks refer to the project as low-income housing, but this is a misconception,” Ping said. “Our goal is to develop affordable, energy-efficient housing not only for the working community in the area but also for anyone in need of housing. We have designed a lot of one-bedroom units in the first phase that will be good for young families, single individuals, and the elderly.”
Once occupancy is stabilized, Phase 2 will most likely begin in early 2024 and include 15 single-family dwellings, as well as duplex units and additional apartments, Clark said. By the end of the project, total construction investment could reach $14-16 million.
Valley Oak LLC has partnered with a number of local firms, vendors, contractors and construction companies to complete the project, expanding its local economic impact.
“It’s been gratifying to already see the impact this development has had on the numerous workers and local companies it affects in a positive way,” Ping said. “These are hardworking folks that make things happen in our community. We are fortunate to have them on the team.”
In early August, SPEDA awarded an RFP for another project that meets a similar need for the Valley Oak community — child care. SPEDA’s board selected Janice Clark, owner of PJ’s Primary Care Center, to build a state-of-the-art child care center on a 2.27-acre tract at the industrial complex. The facility will be a minimum of 7,500 square feet, care for a minimum of 150 children and create between 20 and 25 jobs.
“It is incredible to think that through the public RFP process, we’ve been able to solve two significant challenges for our industrial community in SPEDA’s first four years,” Girdler said. “I am so grateful to the private-sector businesses who have come to the table eager to provide these amenities and services to our community. And I can’t wait to see the way it will change the economic landscape in eastern Pulaski County.”