By Joan Tupponce
When Essel Propack was looking for a location for a U.S. plant, Danville stood out because of its location and work force. The India-based company, which makes laminate and seamless tubing, wanted the facility to be near Browns Summit, N.C. That’s where one of its customers, Procter & Gamble, produces Crest toothpaste.
“Danville is only 45 minutes away,” says Ted Sojourner, Essel Propack’s regional vice president for the Americas. “We were also looking for a good labor market. Danville had a readily available labor force and a high percentage of very skilled workers.”
The Southern Virginia city of about 45,000 residents was also a good choice from the logistics standpoint. “We import laminate from China, and we bring it in through the Port of Norfolk,” Sojourner says. “We also get resin from around the world.”
Essel Propack is a good example of the international companies that have helped revitalize a regional economy once dominated by tobacco and textiles. After witnessing the departure of many local employers in the past decade, the city has added 6,600 jobs since 2004.
Essel Propack opened its first Danville plant in 2003. It supplies tubes for all Procter & Gamble’s Crest oral-care products sold in North America, Germany and Australia. The plant has the capacity to produce 900 million tubes a year. “We’ve been able to broaden our customer base considerably, adding business with GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson and Unilever,” Sojourner says. The company opened a second Danville plant last year. It supplies plastic tubing products for L’Oreal’s hair-care line. The two plants employ 300 workers.
In addition to its business advantages, Danville offers a number of cultural and recreational activities. The city is home to the “Last Capitol of the Confederacy.” After fleeing Richmond, Confederate President Jefferson Davis held his last cabinet meeting at the Sutherlin mansion in Danville in April 1865. Today the building houses the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History.
Other Danville museums include the Danville Science Center and the American Armored Foundation Tank Museum. The science center features a number of hands-on science exhibits and is housed in a historic train station. The Tank Museum offers a wide variety of tank, cavalry and other military artifacts.
Near Danville is the Virginia International Raceway in Halifax County. Its events include the Grand-American Rolex Sports Car Series, motorcycle racing and the Ferrari Challenge.
Visitors also can take advantage of Danville’s Riverwalk Trail, which offers opportunities for fishing, birding and mountain biking. “There are lots of activities here for everyone,” Sojourner says.
The city’s economy
Danville’s long tradition as a center for the tobacco and textile industries is mostly a memory. A number of new employers, such as Essel Propack, are international companies.
Goodyear Tire is Danville’s largest employer with about 2,250 employees, followed by Danville Regional Medical Center with 1,200. Four of the city’s international companies — Mexico’s Telvista (provides customer care centers), Sweden’s Swedwood (supplies wooden furniture to IKEA), Poland’s Com.40 Ltd. (manufactures mattresses and upholstered furniture for IKEA) and Switzerland’s Nestle (makes refrigerated pasta and cookie dough) — also are listed among top employers.
Luna Innovations, a nanotechnology company in the Tobacco Warehouse district, employs about 35 technicians and scientists. The city’s 330-acre technology park, Cyber Park, houses two educational facilities, the Regional Center for Applied Technology and Training and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.
Where to eat
Ted Sojourner often takes guests to Short Sugar’s Pit Bar-B-Q to pig out on slow-cooked, North Carolina-style pit barbecue. For hamburgers and chocolate shakes, he recommends Ma Possum’s.
Danville’s eclectic mix of restaurants includes Joe and Mimma’s Italian Restaurant, where locals swear by the manicotti, and the Yene Fusion Café and Sushi Bar, which features a selection of sandwiches and sushi.
Other favorite destinations include Back to Bogies at the Comfort Inn, where diners can listen to regional bands in the evenings. If you’re in the mood for New York-style cheesecake, locals suggest trying out Bronx Boy Bagels downtown.
Where to stay
Visitors wanting to stay near Danville’s historic Millionaire’s Row neighborhood can book a room at The II Georges Inn, a bed and breakfast. The Queen Anne-style, Victorian home features period antiques and a gourmet breakfast served on Limoges china. Guests are treated to either afternoon tea and scones or wine and cheese. Other comfy lodgings include the refurbished Comfort Inn and the Courtyard by Marriott.
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