In another significant development for our region, a long-planned fish farm project that will provide salmon to a worldwide market and employ at least 230 people has been confirmed for Tazewell County. Another 300 temporary jobs also will be created during the construction phase of the $200 million effort known as “Project Jonah.”

Once operational, it will be the world’s largest integrated indoor salmon aquaculture facility, according to Delegate James W. “Will” Morefield, R-Tazewell County. The project is planned near Richlands.

Morefield has been working with local, state and international officials on the fish farm for about seven years. Construction on the project is expected to start next year.

“Project Jonah is going to happen and I could not be more excited for our region,” Morefield confirmed to the Daily Telegraph last week, after an article in “Fish Farmer Magazine” made details about the project public for the first time. “We desperately need the jobs and diversification.”

In the Bible, the prophet Jonah was thrown overboard during a huge storm and was 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 name of the project, which has direct ties to the nation of Israel. In fact, Morefield was one of several local leaders who traveled to Israel in early 2015 during the early stages of development for the project.

According to Morefield, an Israeli company, Aqua Maof, will provide the farming technology with Pure Salmon LLC operating the facility. He said 8F Asset Management will be funding the project. Morefield said the facility will be one of the largest private capital investments in the history of Southwest Virginia. He says the fish farm facility will be the size of roughly 28 football fields.

An economic impact study estimating the local and regional impact of the project is currently under way and should be completed soon. One thing is certain. It is a transformational project for Tazewell County that will create urgently needed new jobs while also providing economic diversification to the county’s economy. Furthermore, the large-scale fish farm could attract additional support businesses to the region.

“The number of direct jobs is roughly 230 because salmon requires the use of more mechanized equipment (the initial plan was to create 400 jobs by raising tilapia), but the capital investment increased significantly from the original estimate,” Morefield said. “Roughly 300 to 350 construction jobs will be created over a 3.5 year period and hundreds more of indirect jobs will be created when the facility is operational. There is the potential for new support businesses to be established as well. Those businesses would service the facility.”

According to current plans, the farm will rear Atlantic salmon in an uncontaminated environment with complete bio-security.

This is certainly exciting news for the region, and Tazewell County in particular. A project of this size and scope is an economic game changer. The new jobs and tax revenue it will create are urgently needed and will help to strengthen Tazewell County, and the greater Richlands area in particular.

Furthermore, the project is another giant step in economic diversification for Tazewell County.

We congratulate all involved in helping to bring Project Jonah to fruition. We look forward to the start of construction on this important project in 2021.

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