Adapting to changing times

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Robert C. Powell III

The recession has led to financial trouble for some of Virginia’s largest companies, including Circuit City Stores Inc. and LandAmerica Financial Group. But many small companies in the commonwealth continue to grow despite the economic doldrums.

This issue of Virginia Business celebrates the achievements of four companies with fewer than 100 employees. They are the finalists in our 2008 Virginia Small Business Success Story of the Year. All of them have shown a talent for adapting to changing times.

Our overall winner is Virginia Prosthetics, a Roanoke-based company started in 1966. Roanoke writer Sandra Brown Kelly reports that since 1992 the company has become a statewide leader in orthotics and prosthetics with 34 workers and offices in five Virginia cities. Owner J. Douglas Call has established a reputation as an industry innovator and advocate for amputees.

Our other finalists include Sperryville Corner Store, a 150-year-old business that now is an epicurean destination in Rappahannock County; The Baby Jogger Co., a Richmond-based company that has become an award-winning producer of specialty baby strollers; and Paul Finch & Associates, a Norfolk architectural firm concentrating on heath-care facilities.

Also in this issue, we look at plans for extending the Metrorail system 23 miles in Northern Virginia.  Robert Burke, a writer based in Fredericksburg, notes that federal officials initially denied a request for $900 million for the project. Supporters, nonetheless, managed to resuscitate the plan. Former Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters signed off on the extension in early January.

Funding of a different sort is the subject of a banking story by Richmond writer Doug Childers. Even with help from the government, banks are having trouble raising capital. That situation makes it difficult for new banks to get started and may contribute to a wave of mergers.

Elsewhere in the magazine, Richmond writer Chip Jones examines growing concerns among business owners about a proposed federal law that could make union organizing easier. The Employee Free Choice Act could be passed this year by Congress.

While executives worry about unions, parents worry about how they will pay for college tuition. The volatile stock market has ravaged many college funds. Amherst County writer Heather B. Hayes offers some tips on paying for college in an uncertain economy.

In our monthly commercial real estate section, Fairfax-based writer Brett Lieberman shines a light on the Ballston-Rossyln and Crystal City areas of Arlington County. That real estate market has held up in the past because of its proximity to Washington, but how will it fare under the changing priorities of a new administration?

Real estate also is a driving factor in Suffolk and Isle of Wight County. Chesapeake writer Elizabeth Cooper says agriculture is still important in this area, but large land tracts close to the Hampton Roads ports are attracting distribution centers.

That shows that cities and counties can thrive by adapting to changing times just like successful small businesses.

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