Bonumose, a food technology company, is investing $27.7 million in its expansion in Albemarle County, which will add 64 employees over the next three years.
The company, which specializes in “healthy sugar,” is relocating from University of Virginia’s North Fork research park to a 50,000 square feet section of the former State Farm building on Pantops.
Earlier this year, The Hershey Company and American Sugar Refining, Inc. invested in Bonumose and will partner with the company to research and develop reduced or zero sugar chocolate products.
Ed Rogers, Bonumose CEO and co-founder, said the company wants to make healthy sugar affordable for the global mass-market and to have a positive impact on public health.
“Central Virginia is a beautiful place," he said. “UVa helps attract really, really smart people — there are a lot of smart people here — but there are a lot of smart people that are happy to come here because of all the things that central Virginia has to offer, Albemarle County in particular.”
Gov. Ralph Northam came to the county for the announcement, which also includes a $256,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund and a performance-based grant of $300,000 from the Virginia Investment Performance Grant.
The company will also receive funding and services to support employee training activities through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program.
“We are thrilled to celebrate the growth of Bonumose as it expands production and collaborates with other valued partners in the Commonwealth,” Northam said in a news release. “This innovative company continues to advance our food and beverage processing industries. We look forward to a long and productive partnership with the company.”
Bonumose, Inc. was founded in 2016 in Charlottesville and developed and patented methods for continuous production of high-purity rare sugars, such as tagatose and allulose. The company uses the starch byproduct left over from its supply chain partners’ food production to develop the sugar. The company is also developing enzyme solutions for dietary supplements, crop protection, animal nutrition and other industries.
Rogers said the Pantops location will be Bonumose’s headquarters, administrative offices, labs and advanced research and development. The company will start in the location in early 2022.
“We've got many goals,” he said. “We're going to be doing this facility, we're going to be starting another facility probably early 2023. Most likely, it will not end up being in the state for a variety of reasons related to the availability of feedstock that we use, and then we’ve got a facility that's probably going to be online sometime in early 2024. We're going to be selling globally, we've got a distribution relationship with the Domino Sugar parent company, and so they're going to be selling our products to food and beverage manufacturers all throughout North America, also in Western Europe, and then we've got relationships that we're developing in other parts of the world.”
The sugars are not yet being produced at scale.
The company has 13 employees, Rogers said, and expects to double within the next year. The remaining 51 jobs will be added within the next three years.
Last year, State Farm, one of the largest employers in the area, announced it was leaving its operations center in Albemarle. According to a statement from the company at the time, employees no longer physically report to 12 State Farm operations centers across the country, including approximately 800 workers at its former Pantops location.
The property totals 55.46 acres on three parcels and is owned by JDM II SF NATIONAL LLC. The total building is about 356,000 square feet.
Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Chair Ned Gallaway said Pantops is an important urban core in the county, and this property is significant because of its size and its location next to the Rivanna River and proximity to Interstate 64.
“When one of our largest employers announced that they would not be returning to their offices here … we understand what that impact can mean to our local economy, to employment opportunities and to the large physical spaces that are left behind,” he said. “But if we can find a way to get creative and make it work, like we have in this case, that's going to be a benefit to all of us.”
Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors approved a special exception for the company to permit up to 50,000 square feet of “Laboratories/Research” and “Development/Experimental Testing” in the building. The property’s zoning of Commercial Office only allows up to 4,000 square feet of lab space without a special exception.
Virginia successfully competed with Florida, Idaho, and North Dakota for the project.
Roger Johson, the county’s Economic Development Director, said the Albemarle Economic Development Authority and Board of Supervisors will vote on Oct. 19 at a joint meeting on a performance agreements for the project, which includes a match for the Commonwealth Development Opportunity Fund grant of $256,000 and a match for the Virginia Jobs Investment Program grant of up to $44,800, or $700 per job.
Johnson said Albemarle codenamed this “Project Leppard” after Def Leppard’s 1987 hit “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”