Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lewis-Gale Honors 'Humanitarians'

Clarine Spetzler (above from left), Bertram Spetzler, BillCaldwell, HCA Physician Services and back row, nephew Michael Spetzler; (right) Sheri Freeman>

Dr. Bertram Spetzler, an orthopaedic surgeon, and Lewis Gale Family Care medical assistant Sheri Freeman have won Frist awards. Spetzler won the Frist Physician Award and Freeman the Frist Humanitarian Award.

Bill Caldwell, VP of HCA Physician Services, “Their exemplary work and compassion sets a high standard for health care professionals and we are proud to have them as part of our family. Our patients benefit from the kind of commitment to humanitarian concerns that they demonstrate each day.”

The Frist Humanitarian Awards were created to recognize one employee and one physician at each HCA-affiliated facility who demonstrate extraordinary concern for the welfare and happiness of patients and their community.

Spetzler was recognized for his work in the community at both the high school and college level as team physician, as well as for being a mentor to athletic trainers. He has done mission work in Bhutan, providing medical services as wellont-family: "Century Gothic","sans-serif";"> as teaching at their main hospital.

Freeman was recognized for her mission work each year in Mexico where she uses her sign language skills by working with children who are deaf.

Linda Staley to Head Carilion Marketing

Linda Staley (right), brand marketing manager for Tetra in Blacksburg, has been named director of marketing for Roanoke-based Carilion Clinic, the largest health care organization in the region.

She will direct system-wide marketing efforts for Carilion Clinic, including market positioning, branding, advertising and promotions, publications and the annual report.

She has considerable advertising and public relations agency experience, including six years at the helm of Linda Staley Public Relations, a Roanoke firm.

Terri Jones Wins top AdFed Awar

Terri Jones (right), a principal with Access Advertising and PR in Roanoke, has received the Silver Medal Award from the Advertising Federation of the Roanoke Valley.

The award was presented during an awards ceremony on tonight at the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center. The award, sponsored by the American Advertising Federation, is the organization's highest honor and recognizes the importance of local leaders to the industry.

The Silver Medal Award is bestowed upon men and women who have made outstanding contributions to advertising and who have been active in furthering the industry's standards, creative excellence and responsibility in areas of social concern.

"Terri is a tremendous asset to the industry, our community, and to the clients served by Access. Her passion and dedication to her profession and to our community is truly commendable," says Advertising Federation of the Roanoke Valley president Lindsey Kirby.

Jones has won numerous Public Relations Society of America awards and was named Agency Executive of the Year in 2007 by PR News, a nationally respected industry publication.

She has led awareness campaigns for area nonprofits including the Children's Trust of the Roanoke Valley and the YMCA. She continues to be a mentor for young public relations professionals and for Virginia's ESL (English as a Second Language) program, and has served on a number of community service boards.

From Tech, a Fuel Cell Solution?

Assistant Professor Kathy Lu's solution stacks and seals^

Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) have great potential for stationary and mobile applications. Stationary use ranges from residential applications to power plants. Mobile applications include power for ships at sea and in space, as well as for autos. In addition to electricity, when SOFCs are operated in reverse mode as solid oxide electrolyzer cells, pure hydrogen can be generated by splitting water.

But, SOFCs have had a flaw - the integrity of the seals within and between power-producing units. "The seal problem is the biggest problem for commercialization of solid oxide fuel cells," said Peizhen (Kathy) Lu, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Virginia Tech. So, she has invented a solution.

Composed of ceramic materials that can operate at temperatures as high as 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius), SOFCs use high temperature to separate oxygen ions from air. The ions pass through a crystal lattice and oxidize a fuel--usually a hydrocarbon. The chemical reaction produces electrons, which flow through an external circuit, creating electricity.

To produce enough energy for a particular application, SOFC modules are stacked together. Each module has air on one side and a fuel on the other side and produces electrons. Many modules are stacked together to produce enough power for specific applications.

Each module's compartments must be sealed, and there must be seals between the modules in a stack so that air and fuel do not leak or mix, resulting in a loss of efficiency or internal combustion. Lu has invented a new glass that can be used to seal the modules and the stack. The self-healing seal glass will provide strength and long-term stability to the stack, she says.

The U.S. Department of Energy has funded Lu's SOFC and solid oxide elecrolyzer cell research to the tune of $365,000 so far. Says Lu, "For solid oxide fuel cells to run, we need to have a fuel. Hydrogen is the cleanest fuel you can ever have since the by-product is water. However, there is no abundant source of hydrogen and it has to be made. The solid oxide elecrolyzer cell process for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen is one very desirable way of doing it.

"Our interest is to work on the critical material problems to enable power generation and hydrogen production in large quantity and low cost," says Lu.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A New Green Certification for Boxley

CEO Ab Boxley talks with Roanoke City Manager Darlene Burcham (right); Mixer trucks are rinsed with recycled water (above) and the waste concrete (in the water) is re-used to make barriers^

Roger Dunagan photos


Larry Bullock doesn't think the uniqueness of Boxley's Green Star designation--the first in Virginia--will last long. "What we're doing is very close to what the standard will be," said vice president-concrete for the aggregate materials company based in Roanoke, as his company celebrated the certification today.

"We were the first in Virginia to do this," said Bullock. "Others are qualifying for it now."

Like LEED certification, which began with a few engineers and architects and now has a wide array of practitioners, Bullock expects this kind of green activity to catch on rapidly--at least partly because it makes both dollars and sense.

Here's some of what Boxley did to accomplish its designation:
  • Reduced concrete waste by 22 dumptruck loads (20 percent) by forming concrete barrier blocks with the waste concrete.
  • Used 100 percent recycled water to clean concrete mixer truck drums (saving 800,000 gallons of water a year).
  • Planted trees for aesthetic purposes.
  • Is using high-efficiency light bulbs and turning off electrical appliances and lights not in use.
  • Reduced use of foam coffee cups by providing ceramic cups.
  • Implemented an in-house recycling program for paper, aluminum and plastics.
Boxley is now working on Green Star status for all its eight Ready Mixed Concrete plants by the end of 2009.

Says Boxley President and CEO Ab Boxley, "This has been a simple transition for us and it was consistent with what we were doing anyway ... Our goal is to be responsible stewards of the environment. The Green Star Award is a natural fit for us."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Students Create Business Guide at Tech

A small group ofVirginia Tech seniors in at Pamplin College of Business have produced a new book for would-be business people called The Online Business Guidebook. It is a 40-page guide for students and e-biz start-ups that provides a good bit of simplified, direct, useful information.

The book is, in essence, an in-depth Web search, and was a course project in Business Analysis Seminar in Information Technology.

Students established a non-profit organization as the book’s publisher and organized into five groups (planning and administration, budgeting and bookkeeping, Website, content and design/printing/distribution) to put it together.

The book, which retails for about $10, has received a number of grants and donations and interest has been expressed in it by several corporations. The guides are to be made available to business professors nationally, students, business incubators, and SBDCs among others. Students compiled a mailing list of about 18,000 business professors. It was handed out to reporters recently at a Tech event whose hose was the Public Information Department.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Teacher Steals the Show at NCTC

James Rancourt of Polymer Solutions (center, white shirt) was the winner of the Entrepreneur Award at tonight's NCTC Awards^

Georgette Yakman could have asked for the world and probably had a good shot at getting it as she accepted a $1,000 grant from Novozymes Biologicals tonight at the NewVa Corridor Technology Council Awards ceremony at the Hotel Roanoke. The Pulaski County High School teacher had just tearfully told how her group of often poor, but brave students struggled to learn, putting in long, hard hours while living a life of uncertainty.

She detailed how their parents had been laid off by Volvo, how their poverty and unsettled lives at home left them depressed, how alcoholism in their families scared and humiliated them and how, after all that, she often had to drive them home from school because they wouldn't leave for want of learning. There was a line in front of her after the awards, people writing checks.

Her emotional acceptance speech highlighted a night of festivities where the technology community celebrates its own. Ms. Yakman was one of two winners in the Educator Award category. Molly Bullington of the Burton center in Roanoke was the other.

Technology award winners included James Rancourt of Polymer Solutions, Entrepreneur Award; Neil Wilkin of Optical Cable, NewVa Leadership Award; Attain, Innovation Award; ADMMicro, the Rising Star Award; and Wireless MedCARE, the People's Choice Award.

FRONT Editor Dan Smith was a nominee for the NewVa Leadership Award and FRONT columnist Anne Giles Clelland of Handshake2.0 was a nominee for the Entrepreneur Award.

Eleven Projects Win Preservation Awards

Ed Walker, David and Ann Trinkle accept awards from RVPF's George Kegley (top); Fork in the City (next down); the Cotton Mill (above); and Access (left) are among the winners

(The following press release is from the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation. The awards will be presented tonight at Access in downtown Roanoke.)

Five renovation/adaptive reuse projects in the Campbell-Marshall Avenue fringe area of Old Southwest and the new Salem Avenue Historic District in Roanoke top the list of 11 awards announced by the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation during National Preservation Month.

Most of the awards recognize outstanding reuse of existing buildings, a familiar theme for preservationists. Each spring, the foundation selects examples of good work by developers and home-owners to raise awareness of the high value of preservation. In the fall, the foundation targets most endangered sites.

“Many of these projects are in the area around the Jefferson Center, which seems to be an up-and-coming neighborhood,” says Foundation President Mike Kennedy. “I think next year we may have more award winners from this part of the city.”
The awards recipients for 2009:
  • Access advertising, adaptive reuse, Todd Marcum, Tony Pearman, partners
  • Fork in the City, renovation, Ed Walker, owner, David and Ann Trinkle, tenants
  • Cotton Mill, adaptive reuse, Ed Walker, developer/owner
  • Nehi Bottling Lofts, adaptive reuse, Dan Flynn, owner
  • Jim and Ann Haynes, renovation of old homes in Old Southwest
  • StageSound, renovation, Reid Henion, president
  • Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea, renovation, David Johnson, principal owner
  • Antique Blue, renovation of an east Campbell Avenue store for an antque shop, owned by Mickey and Nancy Nelson, daughter Hunter Dominick and her husband, Bayard Dominick
  • Roanoke Residential Pattern Book, education, Hill Studio & City of Roanoke
  • Fellers House, renovation, Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare, owner, Gail Burress, director of adult clinical services
  • Ron Crawford, environmental stewardship, organizer of Read Mountain Alliance to save top of Read Mountain with conservation easements
  • Access Advertising is a newcomer to 701 Patterson Ave. The growing advertising agency, renovated the old Blue Ridge Motors Buick dealership in the newly designated Salem Avenue Automotive Commercial Historic District. The 1930s building has original barrel vaulted ceiling, concrete floors, original woodwork in offices and original doors, offset stairs to storage areas
A project taking advantage of tax credits available in the new Salem Avenue District is the Nehi Bottling Lofts, owned by Dan Flynn at 302 Fifth St., SW. This is a yellow brick, light industrial building with an unusual angled corner entry on Fifth and a broad elevation on Rorer Avenue.

Flynn rehabilitated the 1921 building, which has two one-bedroom condominiums on the second floor. Parking is in a downstairs pull-in garage and a courtyard is located on the side. The simple design features hand-fired yellow brick with an ornate cornice. The structure has been restored and rehabilitated to serve in a new residential capacity.

The Nehi Bottling and Cotton Mill projects are expected to encourage more renovation and revitalization in the Salem Avenue Automotive District.

Developer Ed Walker has invested in two projects in a critical edge of the Southwest Historic District, including the Cotton Mill and Fork in the City at the intersection of Marshall Avenue and Sixth Street. Fork in the City, at 551 Marshall transformed a former 1930s blue-collar restaurant/bar into a restaurant with outdoor dining. Fork in the City extends the Trinkles’ successful restaurant following from Fork in the Alley in South Roanoke to this developing area of Old Southwest.

The building, featuring a distinctive cornice and clipped corner entrance, had been painted white and the storefront windows filled in. Now it is chocolate brown with orange and blue accents to emphasize the interesting brick work. The renovated building stands as a cornerstone to the revitalized neighborhood. The storefronts have been restored with sliding windows to enhance the indoor/outdoor experience. The Trinkles uncovered heart-of-pine flooring, faux-painted the tin tile ceiling and added two patios, combining the historic character of the building with its corner location near the Jefferson Center and their own unique recipe for a great neighborhood restaurant.

Key to the success of the restaurant and the revitalization of this area of Old Southwest is the conversion of the former Roanoke Mills building (recently known as the Cotton Mill) into 108 apartments on 6th Street. Constructed in 1919 with later additions, the large 106,000-square-foot building has stood vacant for years.

Walker originally planned to develop condominiums but the mortgage market slowdown changed that plan to studio, one-and-two-bedroom apartments and live/work units, ranging from 450 to 1,200 square feet on four floors. Some have maple floors, exposed brick walls, granite kitchen counter tops and roof-top decks. Most significant to the appearance of the building was the restoration of the original steel-sash windows that had been replaced over the years with glass block. The Cotton Mill apartments and Fork in the City will help revitalize this fringe area of Old Southwest and help link it to downtown and the cultural/recreational hub of the Jefferson Center and the YMCA.

Jim and Ann Haynes have renovated 511 Day Ave., SW, known in the neighborhood as “the pumpkin house,” along with their home at 526 Marshall Ave., their former home at 545 Day Ave. and 614 6th St. Jim Haynes, a contractor, milled the trim at 511 Day to match the old and he retained the wood flooring, stairs and banister. The home, well over 100 years old, has such “green” features as paperstone counters and bamboo cabinets.. The Haynes couple were described as “urban pioneers who have renovated old homes in a transitional part of Old Southwest.”

Reid Henion, owner/president of StageSound, bought the long-vacant, 80,000-square-foot Kroger warehouse and turned about 7,500 square feet into space for more than a dozen offices. The company added a showroom, workshops, a fabrication shop and conference room. The remaining area is an open warehouse with new lighting and a new concrete floor. The sound reinforcement firm, started in 1978, employs 32 people in sales, event and production support. The company remodeled the interior and added a façade. The project is an example of continuing the tradition of industries located along Shenandoah Avenue.

Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea moved across the street to 117 Campbell Ave. to
renovate a declining building in a tax credit project. David Johnson, the owner, also has rehabilitated his Salem coffee shop with tax credits. The Campbell Avenue project was difficult because of its poor condition and its hand-crafted construction. Every roof rafter was different, he said. Much of the roof and part of its structure had to be replaced, the original tin ceiling was replicated and windows were replaced with a tempered material. Without Johnson’s timely investment in the Market Historic District, the district might very well have one less historic building, given its condition.

Antique Blue has opened at 112 E. Campbell Ave., in the former location of
Southern Pawn Shop by Mickey and Nancy Nelson, their daughter, Hunter Dominick, and her husband, Bayard Dominick. The family renovated the 1905, two-story brick building by restoring the façade and retaining the tin ceiling. Original windows were reworked. The building features a strong cornice line with heavy brackets, rising parapet and triple arched windows. Mickey Nelson is moving his interior design business to the second floor and Nancy Nelson will run the antique shop. This project is notable for bringing new and diversified business to the Market District.

The recently published Roanoke Residential Pattern Book is a 177-page publication developed to inform homeowners, builders, developers and design professionals about the city’s unique historic neighborhoods and to encourage renovation of existing housing and appropriately designed new construction. Working in partnership with the City, a Hill Studio team consulted a number of groups to produce a design tool for use by diverse interests. Among the topics are descriptions and illustrations of neighborhoods and architectural patterns, maintenance guide, guidelines for new construction, additions, landscaping and security measures and green building trends.

Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare built a 40-bed treatment center and renovated the 19th century Fellers House on Hollins Road. The house, once placed on the Foundation’s Endangered Sites list, had an extensive renovation—new roof, painting, porch and foundation stabilization and new plumbing, heating and electrical systems. The house is to be used for meeting rooms. The state mental health unit has occupied the building for many years. The recovery center for mental illness moved from 801 Shenandoah Ave., NW. Along with the Burrell Center (formerly the Burrell Memorial Hospital) and the Center at 836 Campbell Avenue, the Fellers House is another example of Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare’s commitment to preserving historic properties in the City.

Ron Crawford, a retired architect, is commended for his environmental stewardship in creating and leading the Read Mountain Alliance, a volunteer organization seeking conservation easements to preserve the top of Read Mountain, extending from Roanoke County into Botetourt County. As a result of his grass roots leadership, volunteers built a popular path up Read Mountain from a trailhead to a viewpoint on top of the mountain, now part of Roanoke County Parks system.. Crawford, a Virginia Tech graduate, had hiked the mountain as a boy from his Northwest Roanoke home. He and his wife, Betty, later moved into a home he designed on the northeast flank of the mountain.

How Clean Was It?

RIDE Solutions has reported that 166 Clean Commute Pledges last week resulted in 3,400 miles, 166 Clean Commute Pledges, representing about 3,270 pounds of CO2 and CO2-equivalent greenhouse gasses not emitted into the Roanoke Valley's air.

The Raleigh Court area in Roanoke City logged the most pledges at 42, but localities from Salem to Riner, Fincastle to Dublin were represented. Pledges were even taken from commuters in Washington and Florida.

In all, 22 localities and 84 employers were represented. Bicycle commuting was by far the most popular choice, with fully 51 percent of all commuters pledging to ride that morning. It was followed by carpooling and walking as the second and third most popular choice.

The Cleanest Team came from the City of Roanoke's Planning, Building and Development department, which finished second last year.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Design for Small Living from Tech Prof

Margarita McGrath, associate professor of architecture in the Virginia Tech School of Architecture + Design, and Scott Oliver, her partner in noroof architects, their New York-based architecture firm, have designed a space-saving interior for the Finger apartment, a family of four's 540-square-foot living space.

The Finger apartment occupies the top floor of a five-story walk-up in New York City. The existing plan is a dumb-bell configuration, with two 16 feet by 11 feet rooms bridged by a long, narrow space.

McGrath’s and Oliver’s challenge was to shift the kitchen and bath from the back room into the narrow middle zone, freeing up the light-filled perimeter for living spaces. This enables private and public zones in the apartment to cross, in order to create a knuckle. Two existing skylights and a sloping roof set up a strategy to activate the interior. Daylight floods the shower and kitchen (the knuckle), while perimeter light coves highlight the air-foil-like, bat-wing ceiling section. A shallow, floating deck under the bathing and sleeping areas sets off a private precinct within the apartment, and provides under-floor storage.

The design has received a New York American Institute of Architects (AIA) merit award and is featured on the cover and in an article in the June issue of Dwell magazine.

A Tough Market and an Unwise Move



You don’t need another opinion on this financial kimchee banking situation, and certainly not from the likes of me who needs Quicken to balance her checkbook, but one thing I know a bit about from my years of marketing experience in publishing is how things appear to the public.

Now John Q doesn’t always know how things are behind the scenes with profit/loss and with dividend shares and such, but lately he’s gotten quite fed up with the banking business in general, having learned of the very bad things that can happen with shaky investments.

So, I guess it would be safe to say that the public is more than a little uncomfortable with the banking biz in general right now. I, for one, know who I won’t be doing business with in the future. It’s a little less clear who the good guys are in all of this.

Which is why I was frustrated today when a regional bank vice president told me that although his bank is solid and has not been touched by the subprime debacle, the bank was pulling all advertising dollars from the budget because it had only made $2.5 million last year instead of the $5 million in the previous year. This is exactly the wrong thing to be doing now.

What a wonderful opportunity to grab market share and promote your security and wise management. John Q is ready for this kind of good news from a banker and will respond. Regional banks who never did a lot of advertising should be stepping up to build and promote their image. Don’t let the public assume anything about you. This is the biggest financial challenge in our lifetime, for Pete’s sake.

Those banks that have moved out with consistent and persistent messaging in the market will ride through this period basically taking names and eating everyone else’s lunch. Hurrah! to those progressive banks who have responded to the times and not left their customers out there hanging, wondering where they stand.

(Jane Dalier is a senior advertising executive for Valley Business FRONT.)

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Steady Expansion of Social Networking at Work

Though personal relationships remain the top source for career networking, use of online professional networking sites is gaining popularity according to a new survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Nearly 20 percent of employees use online professional networking sites such as LinkedIn and Plaxo, while 16 percent use online social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Friendster according to the survey, “Networking Professionally: Employee Perspective.”

The top five sources for career networking include: friends and relatives (67 percent); colleagues (56 percent); conferences/trade shows/conventions (26 percent); supervisors/managers/higher level professionals in supervisory role (also 26 percent); and clients (25 percent).

Career networking via online professional networking sites ranked eighth while social networking sites ranked tenth. The poll includes 15 categories.

Additional survey highlights include:

Roughly 38 percent of respondents said they use online professional and social networking sites to learn about a particular company or someone who works at that company.

Nearly one in four (18 percent) respondents report using online professional and social networking sites as a job search method.

Another new SHRM poll reports that about 72 percent of employees in the U.S. say they work through lunch while 70 percent report working beyond scheduled time and on weekends. Could it be all that social networking that keeps them at their desks?

More Oddball Furniture from the Students

Designed by Catherine Worsham of Chesterfield, a fifth-year industrial design student, the "Urban Artifact" is a bench, edge fencing, and a bike rack^

Your weird, our creative genius. That’ll be the battle cry as a huge group of furniture designers—including a team of faculty and students from Virginia Tech—gather next week to show their wares.

A Tech team is from the School of Architecture + Design and will be an exhibitor at the 21st annual International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York May 19-22.

The exhibition focuses on research linking industrialized processes with innovative use of material. The work will be shown in the Material and Processes section of the fair, and is the result of previous exhibitions at the Cologne Furniture Fair in Germany, and the Salone Di Mobile in Milan, Italy, where Tech had a successful team a year ago.

The New York fair will feature more than 25,000 interior designers, architects, retailers, designers, manufacturers, representatives, distributors and developers. More than 550 exhibitors will display contemporary furniture, seating, carpet and flooring, lighting, outdoor furniture, materials, wall coverings, accessories, textiles, and kitchen and bath for residential and commercial interiors.

Unacceptable Behavior from Roanoke's Not So 'Finest'


The shameful behavior of two Roanoke City police officers during an arts performance on Roanoke City Market yesterday must be dealt with by city officials and the business community downtown before this type of unprofessional bullying becomes acceptable.

A burly police officer arrested a young performance artist who, with about 20 others, was watching a mock television to demonstrate the value of live arts when the policeman demanded that she get off the sidewalk and created a much more significant disturbance with his action than was taking place. The performers were scheduled to watch their TVs for five minutes. The police officers' (there was a second officer who helped) actions took longer than five minutes and left a lasting bad impression for all those who viewed the incident--including thousands who saw it on YouTube and local television.

It was a real low point for a police department led by Chief Joe Gaskins, who must be held accountable for the actions of his officers.

At a time when Roanoke is scrambling to attract and retain young professionals, is trying to keep the city market area strong and is trying to present itself as a cosmopolitan city, this behavior by bullying, abusive police officers is unacceptable.


Simple Answer to a Simple (but Complex) Question

Christine Chmura (right) chats with one of the business professionals attending the Annual Business Appreciation Breakfast this morning^

Christine Chmura, former Roanoke banker and now president and chief economist at Chmura Economics and Analytics in Richmond put just about as fine an edge as was possible to a direct question about the economy this morning.

Speaking at Roanoke's Business Appreciation Breakfast at the Hotel Roanoke, radio journalist Roger Fowler asked Chmura, following a presentation packed full of numbers, charts and graphs, "Just what would have happened if [the Federal Reserve] had not bailed out the banks?"

Precise. To the point. Not much wiggle room. Chumura's answer honored the question:

"If the Fed didn't go in and support the banks as it did, we'd have seen Depression No. 2," she said.

Chmura is one of the most respected and most often quoted economists on the East Coast and her word has weight in some weighty quarters.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

LEED Certified: It's an Inside Job at Clark-Nexsen in Roanoke

General Contractor Bob Fetzer (right) of Building Specialists and Al Williamson of Sign Design, which did the Clark-Nexsen signs

The Roanoke office of architecture and engineering firm Clark Nexsen showed off its new look last night at a crowded open house in downtown Roanoke. The firm, founded in Lynchburg some years ago and based in Norfolk now, has grown from 12 employees to 20 in less than nine months in Roanoke, with one more coming in June.

The office has been expanded from roughly 4,400 square feet to more than 6,000 square feet, the renovation being accomplished in less than 16 weeks. The general contractor was Bob Fetzer’s Building Specialists. The goal was to create an environment showcasing creativity and using “green” design practices used in LEED Certification.

“Designing our new space to qualify for LEED Certification [within an existing building] was important to us,” according to Lora Katz, director of architecture. “Although we are in a facility that has shared HVAC, which limits one of the main components of certification, there are many other choices a business can make that can really affect their energy efficiency and impact on the environment.”

Materials designed and specified on this project for LEED certified qualification were, Teragren Bamboo Wood Flooring, Armstrong natural linoleum, and InterfaceFLOR which is comprised of 35 percent pre-consumer recycled content and 33 percent post-consumer recycled content. All cabinetry was produced from green board. No urea formaldehyde was added during the manufacturing process of the cabinetry. It was finished with low VOC paints.

Building Specialists filtered out construction dust and debris by installing a MERV 8 filter on the existing HVAC system return during the construction phase. “In our industry we are seeing fewer businesses expanding, much less focusing their budgets on meeting environmental standards,” said Fetzer.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Home Sales Continue To Take a Tumble Here

The Virginia Association of Realtors today released some interesting home sales figures, putting prices in perspective for the moment. (Here's the chart.) The average price of a home in the Roanoke Valley for the first quarter of 2009 was $180,000, down from $195,000 at this time last year and about where it was five years ago.

Realtors sold 629 homes in the first quarter, compared to 932 last year in Q1, down more than 32 percent. Homes in Martinsville have dropped below $100,000 on average and even in West Coast expensive Northern Virginia, prices are off $100,000 and below $400,000 for the first time in a while. New River Valley sales are off an astonishing 45 percent and prices have dropped from $182,000 to $168,000.

A Delicate Touch From Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech-developed robotic hand^

The Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) of the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech has developed a robotic hand that can firmly hold objects as heavy as a can of food or as delicate as a raw egg, while dexterous enough to gesture for sign language.

The fully articulated robotic hand is powered by a compressor air tank at 60 psi and a novel accordion type tube actuator. Microcontroller commands operate the movement to coordinate the motion of the fingers.

The grip derives from the extent of pressure of the air. A low pressure is used for a lighter grip, while a higher pressure allows for a sturdier grip. The compliance of compressed air also aids in the grasping as the fingers can naturally follow the contour of the grasped object.

"There would be great market potential for this hand, such as for robotic prosthetics, due to the previously described benefits, as well as low cost, safety and simplicity," Dennis Hong, director and the faculty adviser on the project says.

The concept has won RoMeLa first place in the recent 2008-2009 Compressed Air and Gas Institute.

Ewald-Clark to Ritz to Bankruptcy: The Demise of the Local Camera Store

Gordon Ewald (above) saw the demise of the small camera store coming 10 years ago^


Gordon Ewald can cite the day and date exactly: April 12, 1999, almost 50 years to the day after his father, Tink Ewald, opened the first Ewald-Clark camera store in Roanoke. That's the day it was sold to national chain Ritz Camera.

It was, he says, the result of "a feeding frenzy" between Ritz and Wolf camera chains, the nation's largest, who "gobbled up all the local stores and small chains." Ewald-Clark had become something of a Roanoke Valley institution by 1999 with six stores. I recall that when I was with The Roanoke Times in the 1970s, our photo department sent out color film for development to Ewald-Clark because we didn't have the proper equipment and newspapers were using more and more color all the time then.

Wolf and Ritz, owned by cousins David Ritz (a third generation owner) and Chuck Wolf, were caught in the middle of a war between Kodak and Fuji for market share, says Ewald, now a flight instructor for Falwell Aviation in Roanoke. Wolf was loyal to Kodak and Ritz to Fuji, he says. "It was a global battle to the death" between the photography giants. At this moment, Ritz is in bankruptcy (closing all its Western Virginia stores) and five years ago Wolf filed for bankruptcy (owing Kodak millions) and, irony of ironies, Ritz jumped in and bought Ritz, says Ewald.

"We saw it coming," says Gordon Ewald today. "We were going to have to have a capital investment of the equivalent of 100 percent of our worth to adjust to the needs of a digital shop." In addition, Ewald had expanded aggressively at the end of the 1990s and had bought a lot of equipment based on film and paper photography. That would be of little use in a digital world.

Ewald, a good photographer, still uses film. But he's one of a fading breed. "Nine years ago," he says, "I saw the scale tipping toward digital and it has gone fast."

Ewald says that "six weeks ago, we were advised of the Ritz bankruptcy" because the Ewald family still serves as a landlord for one location "and I noticed that Ritz owns Boater's World, a boat supply company. I took it from the notice that Ritz wants to sell that company and save the camera stores."

Ewald is the former president of the Dixie Division of the Photo Markers Association and vice president of the International Division and he ponders: "I wonder what a convention looks like today."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Theoretical Answers for Real Problems from Tech A&E Students


A group of Virginia Tech students and teachers in urban planning, architecture and engineering made interesting theoretical presentations on six different projects they're working on in the Roanoke Valley this a.m. at the Claude Moore educational complex downtown. Let's emphasize that these were theoretical solutions to some dicey problems, but the practical aspects--how to pay for it, how to accomplish it--are all left for another day.

I loved the kids' work. It is imaginative, considerate of the environment, uses the latest technology and construction philosophy and, in one case, even considers using a building as a billboard that would help pay for its renovation (never mind that the law would likely prohibit that).

The projects covered a broad area ranging from brownfield rehabilitation to renovation of historic or traditionally African-American neighborhoods. It looked at railroad and bridge crossings as part of the "urban effect" and examined property values in the historic Old Southwest neighborhood. In most cases, though, there were gaping holes caused by a lack of information on how these projects might be accomplished.

In the case of Old Southwest, there was a good bit of comparative information of property values in Roanoke, but there was a glaring omission: what happens to all that data when the renovated Cotton Mill complex opens next month? This complex, in conjunction with several other projects that are dramatically changing the area, could well add a dynamic that is far more important than anything that has happened there in the 25 years of the "historic" designation because it's running off the hookers and pushers and residents expect values (and safety) to soar.

The brownfields presentation was great if you don't have to do it. Cleaning up the urban messes in some of these properties--caused by toxic chemicals, petroleum spills and a host of other permanent pollutants--is what a physician would call a "primary disease" that has to be cured before anything else can happen. That part was skipped.

It is good to have these young people working on problems like this--real problems in real places. It is not good to withhold vital information and problems from them. When they're working for the companies that have to do this work, they'll be required to solve these very problems, so why not give it a test run here? Real-world problems need real answers, not theory.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tweetboy Joins the Battle


My pal Jill Elswick left the office a while ago and I now have in my immediate possession ... TaDum! ... a Twitter account.

With my naturally addictive personality, I'm not so sure this is a good thing. I've spent nearly the last two hours tweeting and playing with my little tweeter (sounds vaguely suggestive, huh?). In October, Anne Clelland of Handshake2.0 led (pushed) me into blogging and we all see how that turned out. An average of more than an essay a day since Day 1. And loving every minute of it.

I had thought--and still suspect--Twitter of being a bit on the frivolous side, but, when you get down to it, so's most of what's on my blog (and probably all of what's on yours). I was especially interested in the ruler that comes with Twitter, measuring who's reading it and where they are. That's intriguing. Response is, of course, immediate and gratifying. I hadn't had my account for more than five minutes when I already had seven followers. I 've been blogging for nearly seven months and have only 27 or so registered followers. Do the math. I guess people like their information shorter than I've been providing it.

Anyhow, thanks Jill. Another trick for the old dog. Fetch, boy! Fetch!

We're Tweeting!

We have just set up a Twitter account, so look for our Tweets, coming soon to a device near you.