TAZEWELL, Va. — No announcement can yet be made, but work on an international project to bring a $135 million fish farm to Tazewell County is continuing.

Called Project Jonah, few details on the project have been released.

But Tazewell County Administrator Pat Green said a meeting related to the projected was held earlier this week.

The county’s Industrial Development Authority approved $22,200 from the Tobacco Region Opportunity Fund last year for the project. This fiscal year’s budget has $800,000 earmarked for an access road for the project.

According to a report last fall, an Israeli company would be in charge of the proposed fish farm and about 400 jobs could be created if it moves forward.

The county’s economic development director, Mike Thompson, said last summer the project continues to move along, with many things “in play” to make it happen.

“There are various avenues that are being worked on right now,” he said. “The project is still alive and we’re hoping everything is going to happen.”

The proposed project has been in the making for four years.

A delegation from Tazewell County traveled to Israel in early 2015 to learn more about the possibilities associated with the venture, which was spearheaded by Del. Bill Morefield.

They then partnered with Virginia Tech’s Corporate Research Center and an Israeli company that owns and operates similar types of facilities around the world in hopes of developing the Project Jonah concept for Southwest Virginia.

“It is our hope that proposed aquaculture farm vision can become a reality for Tazewell County,” Morefield said at the time, discussing the trade mission to Israel and Warsaw.

“Sometimes you have to think big when it comes to economic development, and that is just what Tazewell County officials are doing and have been doing for several years now,” he said.

In the Bible, the prophet Jonah was thrown overboard during a huge storm, and is swallowed by a large whale or fish where he spent three days and three nights in the creature’s stomach. This well-known biblical story became the proposed project’s name.

According to Morefield, the project was first initiated when he was selected by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to be part of an official delegation of elected officials and business leaders representing the United States to travel to Israel.

While in Israel, Morefield — a state lawmaker representing Tazewell and Buchanan counties — said he decided to take advantage of the opportunity to be in Israel and stayed a few extra days in the country after the AIPAC delegation returned to the United States with the goal of making international economic development connections.

“I asked the director of the Virginia Israel Advisery Board to join me in Israel to see if we could identify any economic opportunities that Southwest Virginia may be able to take advantage of,” Morefield said at the time. “As a result, we identified aquaculture as one of a few opportunities and from there Project Jonah was born.”

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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