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W.Va. businesses in line for $4 million in loans

June 16, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The bulk of more than $6 million in loans preliminarily approved by the West Virginia Economic Development Authority would go to two Eastern Panhandle companies.

Gov. Joe Manchin announced Thursday in a news release that the Berkeley County (W.Va.) Development Authority could receive $2 million - a sum it plans to use to purchase equipment for a new business that could potentially bring 400 new jobs to the area.

Summit Point Automotive Research Center (SPARC) in Jefferson County, W.Va., would receive $2,126,250. SPARC is the holding company for Summit Point Raceway Associates, which operates the raceway, and BSR, which conducts specialty driver and counter-terrorism training at the facility.

The remainder of the loans would go to businesses and projects in Preston, Raleigh, Fayette and Putnam counties.

Robert Crawford, Berkeley County Development Authority executive director, said his agency will be using the loan to purchase equipment it will lease to BlueSky Brands Inc., a direct-to-consumer retailer. The business, he said, is new to the area and has leased or is in the process of leasing 400,000 square feet in the Shockey Commercial Center.

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The money would be used to purchase a new conveyor system, racing, packing stations and other equipment, Manchin said in a release. BlueSky Brands Inc. markets gift items, apparel and household items mainly through a print catalog - Paragon Gifts - according to the news release.

"We're thrilled with the project," Crawford said. "It has the potential of 400 jobs being transferred (here) and the possibility of another 400 jobs as well."

Manchin said the company has 400 employees, and the business is expected to create another 400 jobs in the next three years.

BlueSky Brands Inc.'s subsidiary, Bits & Pieces, specializes in puzzles, models and craft items. In 2005, BlueSky Brands Inc. acquired AB&C Group, one of the largest processing and fulfillment providers for direct marketers, Manchin said in a release.

Crawford said the company's operations will include a distribution center and a call center, and the equipment leased to them will benefit both operations.

He said the county's Development Authority worked with BlueSky Brands Inc. to apply for the loan.

"This is another good example of teamwork being involved to bring good jobs and development to Berkeley County and the state of West Virginia," he said.

The loan SPARC is in line to receive would assist with development of a 277-acre research and training campus adjacent to Summit Point Raceway, Manchin said. SPARC was established in 1979 and sits on 537 acres in Summit Point, W.Va.

The new campus, in a business park setting, would provide space for private firms and security-related companies, Manchin said.

A representative with the company was unavailable for comment Thursday.

"The expansion of our existing industries and investments by new companies are equally vital to our state's economic future," Manchin said in the release. "These loans provide the long-term financing that companies need to care new economic opportunities for West Virginia workers."

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