Sweet valley high
Regional development, prospects on the rise
For Paul Mahoney, chair of the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, the past year has stood out for bringing an “explosion of development” to the county.
Home improvement retailer Lowe’s Cos. Inc. opened a new distribution center. North American Specialty Laminations LLC established a mid-Atlantic production facility. And Würth Revcar Fasteners Inc. began work on its new North American headquarters and East Coast distribution center.
“The business community is willing to take some chances on the optimistic hope that things are getting back to ‘normal,’” Mahoney says.
Last year, the broader Roanoke region received more than 400 inquiries from prospective companies — more than twice the inquiries received in 2019 — according to John Hull, executive director of the Roanoke Regional Partnership, the nonprofit regional economic development organization representing the counties of Alleghany, Botetourt, Franklin and Roanoke and the cities of Covington, Roanoke and Salem, plus the town of Vinton.
Altogether, the Roanoke region added 434 jobs in 2022 and saw $132 million in new capital investment, says Hull.
About 45 minutes southwest of Roanoke, the economic development picture in the New River Valley is also looking promising, says Sherri Blevins, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors.
In October 2022, county supervisors eliminated Montgomery County’s merchants’ capital tax — a tax on businesses’ inventory — even though it generated about $1.5 million annually for the county, according to Blevins. The move makes Montgomery more competitive for attracting businesses, she says.
Meanwhile, the New River Valley Regional Commission, working with leaders in Montgomery, Bland and Pulaski counties, is leveraging $69 million in grant funding from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative, along with private and local investments, to extend high-speed internet to more than 21,000 homes and businesses in the three counties.
In November 2022, the Virginia State Corporation Commission approved a proposal by Appalachian Power to attach fiber-optic cable on its electric poles. Fiber-optic internet will become available to residents throughout this year and into 2024, according to Kevin Byrd, the commission’s executive director.
“Broadband is going to certainly help us to continue to be more competitive in economic development,” he says.
Falling Branch Corporate Park in Montgomery will soon have two new tenants.
Silver Spring, Maryland-based biotech company United Therapeutics Corp. purchased more than 16 acres at the park from the Montgomery County Economic Development Corp. for $1.06 million in June 2022. While a spokesperson for United Therapeutics declined to comment on its plans for the site, Blevins says the company will occupy a 50,000-square-foot facility. A May 2022 resolution passed by the Montgomery County Economic Development Authority noted United Therapeutics will invest a minimum of $20 million at Falling Branch and will have at least 20 employees there.
United Therapeutics owns local biotech firm Revivicor. Based at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg, Revivicor provides pig organs that have been genetically modified to prevent rejection in human transplant patients.
Also moving to Falling Branch is FedEx Ground. FedEx Corp. ground package delivery subsidiary plans to lease a 251,000-square-foot distribution center currently under construction on 41 acres in the park. The Virginia Economic Development Partnership reported that the facility will create 200 positions.
Würth Revcar Fasteners announced plans last year for an $11 million new headquarters and distribution center to be located in the former Home Shopping Network building in Roanoke County. (See related story.)
Also in the county, Lowe’s began shipping appliances out of its new 60,000-square- foot warehouse and distribution center in October 2022, creating about 70 jobs, according to company spokesperson Kara Hauck. Roanoke-based Cherney Development, in partnership with North Carolina-based Samet Corp., built the $11 million facility located in the county’s Valley TechPark.
The county also received news in September 2022 that Wisconsin-based North American Specialty Laminations LLC, a lamination solutions provider serving the building products industry, would invest $2 million to open a mid-Atlantic production facility, creating 44 jobs.
Pennsylvania-based transportation and logistics company A. Duie Pyle Inc. opened a cross-dock service center in Roanoke in April 2022, according to John Luciani, chief operating officer of LTL solutions for A. Duie Pyle. The facility employs 22 full- and part-time workers.
In October 2022, Phoenix Hardwoods, which produces artisan-crafted hardwood furniture and home goods, opened a retail storefront in downtown Floyd, creating eight jobs. Previously, Phoenix had a showroom at its production facility off U.S. 221, but the location meant few shoppers, says owner Jeff Armistead, who, with his wife, Annie, purchased the business in 2020 from company founders Bill and Corinne Graefe. The new showroom has made all the difference, according to Armistead. “We had more people show up at that place in one day than I had in six months at the other place” he says.
Two months later, SWVA Biochar announced it would invest $2.6 million and create 15 jobs to increase capacity at its Floyd County facility, where it produces biochar, a highly absorbent, specially produced charcoal that can be used as a filtration system and a soil conditioner.
In March 2022, Bedford County’s economic development office announced North Carolina-based business and marketing solutions company Source4 would invest more than $4.5 million and add 30 jobs to expand its facility at Vista Centre Drive in Forest. Source4 opened operations in Forest after purchasing Marketing Support Solutions Inc. in 2018. Pam Bailey, the county’s economic development director, says work has been completed on a new 43,000- square-foot-warehouse on the property.
U.S. Sen Tim Kaine and U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm visited the Troutville facility of Virginia Transformer Corp. on Aug. 25, 2022, to promote the company’s plans to build self-contained power modules for electric vehicle charging stations.
“It’s nice when you have a secretary and a senator coming and saying, ‘Hey, this is a big deal,’” says company spokesperson Kevin Lowery.
A business that wants to open a public charging station can order one of Virginia Transformer’s E2V units and be ready to charge vehicles within a day after delivery, according to Lowery. The unit includes multiple elements needed for charging stations, including transformers, switchgears, distribution circuits and breakers.
“Instead of having to deal with the construction of all of that,” Lowery explains, “it’s all packaged in one. We’ve already done it for them.”
Lowery expects the two manufacturing lines being built to produce the E2V to be in operation by July. He declined to say how much the expansion will cost. The company plans to finish hiring 30 workers for the effort by midyear.