Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Judge Reverses Couvrette Decisions

The conviction of former Couvrette Building Systems’ accountant Richard R. Jenkins, who worked for a Utah-based church that worked to lower its members’ tax levies, has been set aside by a U.S. District Court judge in Roanoke, according to published reports.

Salem-based Couvrette’s recovery from losses in a fraud was the topic of a cover story in Valley Business FRONT in December.

Judge Samuel Wilson put aside a guilty verdict and dismissed two other charges, all related to obstruction of justice in the case. The judge wrote that the indictments were not specific enough in detailing the charges.

The U.S. Attorney’s office is looking at a retrial on the one count where there was a deadlocked jury. Jenkins and two others (officers with the Church of Healing Arts and Sciences, as well as former Couvrette CFO Roy A. Dickinson, were charged with federal crimes. Dickinson is serving time in California.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Roanoke SBDC Names New Director

Wayne Flippen (right) has been named director of the Roanoke Regional Small Business Development Center, replacing the recently-retired Roy Baldwin. As director of the SBDC, Flippen counsels new and existing small businesses, offers training to small business owners, and works to secure local funding partners for the RRSBDC.

Flippen, a Virginia Tech graduate with a degree in industrial engineering and operations research, has more than 35 years of technical, managerial and operational experience, and most recently was employed as general manager at John C. Nordt Co. Inc.

The Roanoke Regional Small Business Development Center was established in 1990 and is a program of the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce. It provides free business counseling, training, and a resource center to support the growth of small businesses.

(From press release.)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Liberty University Buys Falwell Aviation

Liberty University, which has a relatively new school of aviation, now has its own airport. The Lynchburg university purchased Falwell Aviation, named for Calvin Falwell, brother of Liberty founder Jerry Falwell, who founded the fixed base operation, private airport.

The deal between Falwell Aviation and Liberty will be final Jan. 1, but no price has yet been set because an inventory must be completed. A fixed base airport provides services for commercial airports like charter service, gasoline and flying lessons.

Liberty Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. was quoted in the Lynchburg News & Advance as saying, “The school will attain the status almost immediately that it hoped it would attain over the next decade. It will be a really unique place for students to learn not only to fly planes, but also about the charter business and mechanics.”

bought three maintenance and storage hangars, maintenance workspace, flight operations, classrooms, aircraft dispatch, student study areas and customer service facilities, a total of 55,000 square feet. Five planes are also part of the deal.

Founders Calvin and Lawrence Falwell, cousins of the late Jerry Falwell Sr., are the owners, but they are advanced in age. Lawrence Falwell’s son, Jimmy, is director of operations and he says the Falwells asked Liberty to buy Falwell Aviation “because they wanted to honor and support the mission of their late cousin, Jerry Falwell Sr., and because, as men in their late 80s, they wanted to find an exit from the business,” the News & Advance reported.

Calfin and Lawrence Falwell own Falwell Airport, which will not be part of the sale. Liberty University’s aeronautics programs have worked with Falwell Aviation in the past to train Liberty students in flying.

Calvin Falwell is a member of the Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Job Fair Scheduled Dec. 29 in Roanoke

This job fair held in March drew a full house.^

The jobless rate in the region has settled in at a high rate and, as a result, the City of Roanoke has scheduled yet another job fair. This one is Tuesday, Dec. 29 at the Roanoke Civic Center Exhibit Hall and is called the Holiday Career and Lifestyle Fair. It runs from 9 a.m. to noon.

Sponsors include The Renick Group, Express Employment Professionals, National College, WDBJ7 and The City of Roanoke Department of Economic Development.

Exhibitors include companies offering jobs, entrepreneurial organizations showcasing resources to assist with business startups, and lifestyle organizations offering a diverse mix of social and cultural amenities. Among the exhibitors will be Valley Business FRONT.

“Our recent job fairs have been successful and we continue our responsibility to provide opportunities for job seekers to interact with employers,” says Roanoke Economic Development Specialist Lisa Soltis. “We hope to reach those living in the region, as well as individuals returning home for the holidays considering a move back to Roanoke, and December graduates entering the job market.

"The Holiday Career & Lifestyle Fair offers the opportunity for job seekers to meet face-to-face with employers to learn what opportunities are available for them and the best way to proceed with the application process.”

More than 40 organizations will be represented at the event. Admission to the fair for attendees and exhibitors is free. For more information on being an exhibitor, call Lisa Soltis at 540-853-1694.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Savannah City Veteran Roanoke's New Manager

Photographer Eric Brady takes a shot of new Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill, flanked by councilmen Sherman Leah and Court Rosen^

Assistant City Manager Brian Townsend and City Manager Darlene Burcham watch the proceedings.^

Here's Darlene Burcham's view of the introduction of her replacement.^

The Morrill family accepts a gift from Mayor David Bowers.^

New Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill with his wife, Kim, sons Declan and Daniel and Mayor David Bowers.


Roanoke City Councilwoman Gwen Mason went right to the heart of the matter. Saying new Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill has been hailed as one “with a calm demeanor,” she cracked, “Council will do its best to test that.”

Indeed. After the past few stormy years with City Manager Darlene Burcham at the helm, council has gained a reputation for a lot of things, but calm demeanors aren’t among them. Burcham retires by mutual agreement early next year and Morrill, the assistant city manager of Savannah, Ga., will take over.

The 47-year-old former Peace Corps volunteer (Ukraine, with his wife, Kim) will begin work at a time, he admits, when “local governments will face a lot of challenges for the next three or four years.” Among those challenges will be severely tightened city and state budgets and a new governor in Virginia who is not inclined to attempt to increase revenues through taxes.

Christopher Paul Morrill starts his service with a salary of $170,000. In Savannah, he worked with a staff of 2,600 and an annual budget of $280 million. “Chris is an experienced local government leader with 24 years of local government management,” says Councilwoman Gwen Mason, who chaired the search committee.

“With his strong economic development successes in Savannah, expertise in financial planning, and a citizen-oriented leadership style, Chris is a perfect fit for Roanoke’s future growth. Each member of Council is impressed with Chris’ experience in infrastructure planning and construction, priority-based budgeting, intergovernmental approach to service delivery, innovation, and neighborhood strengthening. We welcome him and his family to Roanoke.”

“People in Roanoke are really going to like this guy and his nice family,” says Mayor David Bowers. “He’s bright and eager, and we are very excited about starting a new era in Roanoke.”

Morrill began his position as assistant city manager of Savannah in August 2001. During his tenure, he led the Management and Financial Services Bureau with duties that included overseeing financial, human resource and strategic planning, directly supervising 12 departments, coordinating major economic development projects, and leading special projects and analyses.

From 1999 to 2001, he was senior municipal finance advisor to the Southern African National Treasury under a United States Agency for International Development project. In this position, he assisted the South African government with developing local government finance legislation, municipal budget reforms, and capacity-building programs.

He has served as a research and budget director and a senior management for Savannah, a budget analyst for Catawba County, N.C. and a downtown project manager in Lynn, Mass.

“It is an honor to be selected by City Council as Roanoke's new city manager,” says Morrill. “This is a premier community with an outstanding quality of life and a national reputation for progressive, forward-thinking local government. It is also an area of exceptional natural beauty with great neighborhoods, good schools, a vibrant downtown, and friendly people. My family and I are excited about becoming part of the community. I look forward to working with the city council and the whole community to build on Roanoke's past successes.”

Morrill earned a degree in political science from Holy Cross and a master's in public administration from UNC. He completed a three-year fellowship in the Kellogg National Leadership Program, exploring conflict resolution and community building in Peru, China, Northern Ireland and South Africa.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

An Interesting New Marketing Approach at Virginia Tech

"Local business owners should consider GPS navigation devices as virtual roadside billboards."^

The Virginia Geospatial Extension Program at Virginia Tech will be host for a workshop for small-business owners on how to use geospatial technology to advertise their businesses. The workshop, “Marketing in a Virtual World,” will show business owners how location and place-based services--made possible through the use of GPS devices such as car navigation systems--can be used to geographically connect potential consumers with nearby businesses.

The half-day, hands-on program will be offered in Blacksburg Jan. 8, and repeated in Stuart Jan. 22, and in Abingdon Feb. 11.

Participants will also learn how to make use of free, online tools to support their Internet-marketing efforts. At the conclusion of the workshop, business owners will have registered their businesses with GPS databases and other national business databases. “We are trying to use global positioning to inform people, especially those traveling on highways, about small businesses that are located in close proximity to the traveler or tourist.

"Local business owners should consider GPS navigation devices as virtual roadside billboards. These applications can help to level the playing field for smaller businesses,” said John McGee, Virginia Cooperative Extension geospatial specialist and assistant professor of forest resources and environmental conservation in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources.

According to McGee, small, rural businesses face many challenges--especially when it comes to marketing and advertising their products and services. Business owners may be preoccupied with more traditional forms of advertising such as signs, Yellow-Pages advertising, and print advertising, which are often expensive and do not always target the intended audiences.

The workshop, held in a computer lab, will offer an overview of national trends associated with location-based services and provide participants with step-by-step instructions on how to register their businesses on car-navigation databases, among others.

More information, registration for the workshop is available online here, or contact the Virginia Geospatial Extension Program at (540) 231-2428. Registration is $40 per participant.

(From press release.)

Happy Holidays From the Boys (and Girls) at FRONT

Valley Business FRONT's head honchos, editor Dan Smith on the left, and publisher Tom Field, want to wish you a joyful snow and a happy holiday, whatever your seasonal preference. As you can see, we're gearing up to battle the army of publications in the region during 2010 and we're well stocked with snowballs. Hope you're on our side. We're certainly on yours. Happy Holidays.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ann Masters: Remembering a Marvel

Ann Masters taught businesses how to be green and how to benefit from it^


I suppose that losing Ann Masters, as we did today, shouldn't come as a huge surprise to those of us who knew the health challenges she faced during the past few years, but, as my wife said, "Ann just seemed eternal."

Yes, eternal. Sitting here, holding forth, her court around her--as she did at a seasonal party last week at the home of Hollins President Nancy Gray. I didn't go across the room and hug Ann as I almost always have done because we work in the same building now and I could do that any time. Except that I can't now. She can't drop in on me, either, and and announce, "Smith, you're not working. You're just typing. That's not work." And she'd laugh out loud.

Ann, who spent the last number of years as the inspirational and visionary head of the Clean Valley Council, moving it from an almost ceremonial role in "beautification" to a very real environmental force, had this infectiousness about everything she believed. She believed in the environment and in the people who had the power and the resolve to improve it. She was ever pointing out this or that unlikely hero, some business that sounds filthy, but which was making herculean efforts not to be.

Every once in a while, I'd call over to her office and ask what she had in the way of good stories of businesses who were coming around to the environmental movement and she'd laugh. "You've come to the right place again," she'd say and then she'd tell me about this cement manufacturer who'd cleaned up a process, or a quarry operator who was being a little kinder to the environment or some other unlikely hero. Then I'd say the obligatory, "Ann, you're a genius. I bet you had something to do with" whatever the success was. "Sure, I did, Smith," she'd bellow, "and don't you forget it." And she'd laugh that big laugh.

Ann didn't judge the polluters; she simply worked her magic on converting them. I saw it too many times to think it was anything but her smile, her encouragement, the mother in her bringing out the best in even the worst of us. Ann was a woman of impact. She was important and she lived a life that mattered.

It's going to take a little while for me to feel really awful about the news of her death because, as Christina says, she's not somebody who'd be dying. Eternal. That's Ann. Yes. That's Ann.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Giant Owner Buys Ukrop's Chain; Roanoke Store Was Leased, Not Owned by Ukrop's

Ukrop's President and CEO Bobby Ukrop (right) with Rick Herring, Giant-Carlisle Division President Rick Herring looks on.

(Updated 10:30 p.m. Thursday and 9:50 a.m. Friday)

Twenty-five of the 27 Ukrop’s stores in Virginia have been sold to Royal Ahold, operator of the Giant chain, according to a number of published sources. Two Ukrop's stores are not part of the deal, according to the Washington Post. Roanoke recently-closed store is not likely a part of the deal, since it was leased.

The Roanoke store at Ivy Market is owned IMD Investment Group and developed by Painter Properties of Botetourt County. Ukrop's leased the Ivy Market property. The company is looking for a new tenant. The other closed market is in York County and Ukrop's retains ownership of the building, according to the Virginia Gazette. Neither store is mentioned in the reports on the sale. Ukrop's has 27 Virginia stores. The Fredricksburg store will be closed and a in Spotsylvania and Richmond (Joe's Supermarket) were not bought, according to Business Browser.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, "The [Ukrop] family is selling ... 25 stores--24 in the Richmond area, one in Williamsburg and possibly a piece of property in western Henrico County off Nuckols Road for a future store."

According to the Post, "The deal, which encompasses all inventory, equipment and leases agreements, will close in the first quarter of next year. Ahold spokesman Jochem van de Laarschot said the company plans to retain Ukrop's more than 5,000 employees."

Royal Ahold is a Dutch company that owns Giant-Carlisle, which has 26,000 employees at its 150 stores in the U.S. and 2,893 stores internationally, according to reports. Ukrop’s is a 62-year-old chain based in Richmond.

The Henrico Citizen says the sale price is $140 million and that Ukrop's will continue to operate under that name, at least for now, though the Times-Dispatch says that eventually the stores will become Martin's Food Markets, another small chain Giant owns with a presence in Virginia. Giant-Carlisle Division President Rick Herring says officials also look at whether stores will open on Sunday and whether to sell alcohol. Ukrop's did not.

The Citizen reported, "Leaving the grocery retail business was a difficult decision," Ukrop's President and CEO Bobby Ukrop said, his voice wavering at times during portions of the press conference. "There's a time for everything. We've had a really long run."

According to The Citizen, the sale will provide "long-term security and an even greater growth opportunity for our associates." Ukrop's, a small chain, has struggled in recent years to deal with rising costs and lack of bargaining power with suppliers. That will change with the introduction of a much larger owner, he said. (Ahold operates 2,893 stores internationally.)

Compiled by Dan Smith

(Henrico Citizen photo.)

Broker Named Roanoke Valley's Top Realtor

William G. “Bill” Mangus Jr., associate broker with Coldwell Banker Townside Realtors in Roanoke has been named 2009 Realtor of the Year by the Roanoke Valley Association of Realtors.

The presentation was made at the Association’s annual Installation Luncheon Dec. 11 at the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center.

Mangus has been a Realtor for 38 years, serving in many volunteer capacities at both the local and state Association of Realtors. The award recognizes a local Realtor who demonstrates outstanding spirit, business accomplishments and community involvement.

The Roanoke Valley Association of Realtors is comprised of 1,600 members in the Roanoke Valley. It is one of more than 1,750 Associations of Realtors nationwide that make up the National Association of Realtors, the nation’s largest trade association.

Roanoke Convention Bureau Hires Director From Mobile Bay CVB

Landon Howard of the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau has been hired by the Roanoke Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau (RVCVB) as its executive director. He starts February 1, 2010.

Howard replaces retiring Executive Director Dave Kjolhede.

In making the announcement, RVCVB Board President Susan Short, thanked Kjolhede and said, “Landon Howard possesses and has clearly demonstrated the talent and experiences we sought in our future leader for the Bureau. He is a collaborator and a dynamic, creative leader and we look forward to working alongside of him as we continue to grow our convention and tourism industry in the Roanoke region.”

Since 2001, Howard has served as the VP Marketing and Communications for the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau and former Director of Marketing and Communications for the Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

He holds a bachelors degree in public administration and a master’s degree in business administration from the University Tennessee. “My family and I are excited about our relocation to Virginia’s beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and I look forward to the privilege of working with the community to promote the areas as a vibrant and growing visitor destination.”

Prior to Howard’s arrival, Catherine Fox, RVCVB Tourism Director, will serve as interim Executive Director.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cycle Systems Opens 9th Facility in State

Cycle Systems, one of the region's largest recyclers, has opened a new facility in Covington, its ninth location in Virginia. The expansion will enable Cycle Systems to collect additional scrap metal to feed its metal shredding and shearing operations in Roanoke and Lynchburg while boosting production of processed scrap metal. The company sells that metal to steel mills and other customers in the region.

The Cycle Systems location at 9306 Winterberry Ave. will initially employ three people. "Our new Covington facility will enable businesses and the public throughout the Alleghany Highlands to drop off scrap metal at a convenient location for an environmentally friendly way to turn scrap into high-quality steel," says Jay Brenner, president of Cycle Systems.

Some of the metal collected in Covington will be taken to Cycle Systems in Lynchburg, where a shredder that runs in part on biodiesel can crush old cars and refrigerators into fist-size pieces at a rate of 60 tons per hour.

Franklin County Establishes $1 Million VWCC Scholarship

The Smith Farm will provide $1 million in scholarships for Franklin County students^

The Franklin County Board of Supervisors has established a $1 million scholarship program over 10 years with Virginia Western Community College to benefit residents of the County.

To facilitate the transaction, Franklin County will purchase a parcel of land adjacent to Smith Mountain Lake that was bequeathed to the community college over 30 years ago by James Turner Smith, which has been known over the years as the Smith Farm. The transaction was approved by the State Board of Community Colleges of the Commonwealth of Virginia Board of Directors at its November 12, 2009 meeting.

Smith died in 1979 and stipulations in the will restricted the land to educational, training, and public uses and also requested that the land be preserved in its farm like and woodland condition to the largest extent possible. The desire to donate the family farm was a decision jointly made by James Smith and his sister, Gladys Smith, who predeceased him.

The Smith Farm is in the Gills Creek area of Smith Mountain Lake, near the intersection of State Routes 668 and 944 in the Union Hall Magisterial District. The board of the community college system has determined that it would not use the land to create an additional community college or a secondary campus operated by Virginia Western.

Given the restrictions in the will, Franklin County is the "most appropriate owner" of the property because the will prohibits the traditional development of the property for residential or commercial use.

The Virginia Western Community College board of directors and the Virginia Western Foundation board of directors had previously unanimously approved the sale. Under the terms of the sale, the County will pay $100,000 annually to the community college foundation for a period of ten years. The proceeds from the purchase of the Smith Farm, totaling $1 million, will be used for scholarships for residents of Franklin County.

The criteria for the administration of the scholarships will include technical and vocational training as well as traditional certificate and degree programs and will be coordinated with the Franklin County School System. The vision for the use of the Smith Farm, which totals approximately 307 acres, could include a future combined County Park and environmental education opportunities.

Discussions concerning the appropriate use of the Smith Farm have been ongoing for over ten years between the County and the Virginia Western. Franklin County expects to be partnering with a number of organizations as the planning process proceeds as the property is adjacent to the 4H Center and has opportunities for a multitude of uses.

“The establishment of this scholarship fund allows Franklin County to expand its commitment to providing workforce development opportunities for its citizens,” says Board Chairman Charles Wagner. “We must be able to provide a trained workforce for future businesses desiring to locate in our County.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Goodlatte Introduces Imminent Domain Bill

While Virginia state legislators are talking about introducing bills banning certain types of eminent domain land acquisitions by the state and its localities, 6th District Congressman Bob Goodlatte and a bi-partisan group of his colleagues has introduced a federal bill on the topic.

Goodlatte introduced a bill called the Strengthening the Ownership of Private Property (STOPP) Act, H.R. 4288,with Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD)and co-sponsors Representatives Allen Boyd (D-FL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

The legislation would cuts off all federal economic development aid to state or local governments that abuse their eminent domain power by seizing private property for private development purposes. It was introduced in response to the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Kelo v. City of New London, which gave local governments broad eminent domain power to seize private property from one party and give it to another.

The STOPP Act passed the House of Representatives in the 109th Congress by an vote of 376-38.

In Goodlatte’s own district, there has been a high-profile case of eminent domain that has caused considerable controversy. The case pits the Roanoke Housing and Redevelopment Authority against owners of three acres of property adjacent to Carilion Clinic’s Riverside development.

Says Goodlatte, "The appalling Kelo decision struck a serious blow to a core value of our nation, and has far reaching implications. The Court essentially erased any protection of private property as understood by the Founders of our Nation. As the saying goes, ‘A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take away everything you have.’"

The Supreme Court's ruling gives local governments broad power to seize property to generate tax revenue. State and local governments can now use eminent domain to take away the property of any individual for nearly any reason, including taking property for the benefit of another individual or corporation. Cities can now bulldoze private citizens' homes to make way for shopping malls or other development.

STOPP will prevent governments from taking property from one private party and giving it to another private party. When abuses occur, the STOPP Act will prohibit localities and states from receiving federal economic assistance on all economic development projects, not just those upon which abuses occur, for two years for each violation.

Goodlatte says, “I believe this legislation is necessary to ensure that our homes, farms, businesses, churches, and other private property will not be bulldozed in abusive land grabs that only benefit private individuals and organization.” While this legislation cracks down hard on private to private transfers, it would not prohibit the use of eminent domain for traditional, purely public purposes such as roads, schools and public utility rights of way.

The STOPP Act has been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, on which Congressman Goodlatte serves.

(From press release, staff reports.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Luna, Hansen Reach Surprising Settlement

Luna's Kent Murphy says the settlement "clears the largest hurdle on our pathway to emerge from Chapter 11 reorganization and pay our creditors what they are owed."

Luna Innovations and Hansen Medical have reached a lawsuit settlement that will include a supply and development agreement over a period of years that will integrate Luna's fiber optic sensing technology into Hansen's surgical products. That is huge and positive news for this region of Virginia, where Luna has made a significant economic impact and has promise of even greater success.

The settlement resolves the outstanding litigation between the companies. Roanoke-based Luna Innovations develops and manufactures new-generation products for the healthcare, telecommunications, energy and defense markets. Hansen Medical, based in California and a former partner with Luna on projects, designs and manufactures medical robotic instruments.

Luna has filed with the bankruptcy court its First Amended Joint Plan of Reorganization and other bankruptcy documents to implement the Settlement Agreement and allow the Company to emerge from Chapter 11 reorganization as quickly as possible.

Under the plan, the Luna proposes to pay 100 percent of its alid claims and Luna stockholders will retain their shares of Luna's Common Stock. All agreements are subject to court approval. The agreement suggests that Luna and Hansen will enter into a number of additional documents, which will include:
  • A development and supply agreement between Luna and Hansen for purposes of integrating Luna's fiber optic shape sensing technology into Hansen's medical robotic instruments.
  • A license of Luna's shape sensing technology to Hansen in the fields of medical robotics and medical non-robotics.
  • A $5 million secured promissory note payable over four years from Luna to Hansen, whose security interest may be subordinated in favor of a working capital credit facility.
  • Issuance of shares of Luna Common Stock to Hansen in the amount equal to 9.9 percent of the total outstanding shares and a warrant for Hansen to maintain that equity position for three years.
  • A mutual release of outstanding claims in litigation between Hansen and Luna.

"This settlement with Hansen Medical clears the largest hurdle on our pathway to emerge from Chapter 11 reorganization and pay our creditors what they are owed," says Kent Murphy, Luna's chairman and CEO. "We look forward to integrating our shape sensing technology with Hansen's surgical devices, as we expand the potential market for our products in robotically assisted procedures. It's exciting for Luna and Hansen to move forward together in a long-term partnership that is focused on creating enhanced procedures that help save lives."

Luna's shape sensing and localization technology can provide real-time position measurements to help surgeons navigate through the body. The system consists of software, instrumentation and disposable optical sensing fiber. Luna's technology, originally developed at NASA, is unique and designed to provide the user with an accurate, direct and continuous measurement of device location with no adverse effect from line of sight limitations and without introducing electrical signals or radiation into the body.

(Adapted from press release.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Earnhart Explains Carilion's PR Positions


Eric Earnhart's message was simple: "We try to stick to the high road."

And he admitted that's not always easy to do, especially when the bricks keep flying, as they have for the last two years. Earnhart is the public information director for Carilion Clinic, a job not a lot of people would want in these times. But it's a position he attacks with the relish of a former newsman, who has moved to the opposite side of the room at news conferences.

Carilion has been criticized on a number of fronts recently and many of those criticisms, says Earnhart, have little to do with Carilion's mission. The pounding the health care organization has taken on a piece of property that the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority had condemned that is near a Carilion development, for example, "has about this much to do with our mission as a health care organization." He held his thumb and index finger about 1/4 of an inch apart.

Earnhart says his most significant challenge in the nation's 72nd largest media market is the sheer number of media outlets. The FRONT surveyed niche publications alone a year ago and found 26 of them. That doesn't count the local daily, television and radio stations, blogs and anything else out there that carries news. "Look at how much [local] media there is," he says, "and how many pages and newscasts they have to fill." Because Carilion is one of the region's largest employers (12,000) and because it is a huge economic engine, "everything we do is in the spotlight."

Earnhart also insists that "the nature of the media ... does not lend itself to complicated issues" and many of those being reported are far more complex than is being explained in stories. "We have to depend on catch phrases," to explain those difficult issues, he says. To explain Carilion's clinic model--which has received considerable criticism in the community and from the press--he says the organization settled on the phrase, "More doctors working together for you," but that gave rise to the question, "How much detail is lost in that? A lot."

As Carilion has evolved since the late 1980s, says Earnhart, "we've tried to maintain a consistent message" with major changes hitting "every few years." The solution: "A simple message repeated over and over."

Despite the negative reports on Carilion in the past two years, says Earnhart, "our market share has remained pretty stable. It has changed very little."

His advice in handling a difficult press:
  • "Stick to the high road ... Don't say bad things about other people even though they're saying bad things about you.
  • "Correct inaccuracies, but respect opinion that does not agree with yours.
  • "Don't elevate the opposition's status.
  • "Don't take things personally even when they're meant personally.
  • "Don't fight your battles in the media.
  • "Remember that the more you talk about it, the more you talk about it.
  • "Media coverage is a finite commodity, so push the positive.
  • "Let your actions speak louder than your words."

Magazine Names Carilion's Dr. Ed Murphy One of Country's Best

Becker's Hospital Review magazine has named Dr. Ed Murphy of Carilion Clinic in Roanoke among its 30 best physician executive leaders of hospitals and health systems. “These are physicians who excel on the leadership side of healthcare in an extraordinary manner,” says the press release. Murphy is the only physician on the list from Virginia and one of only two from the region (the other is from Chapel Hill, N.C.).

View the story here.

Here’s what the magazine says of him: “Dr. Murphy is president and CEO of Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Va., and Professor of Medicine at the newly organized Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. In his position, Dr. Murphy oversees eight hospitals and a 500-physician multi-specialty group practice. Prior to his affiliation with Carilion Clinic, he served as president and CEO of Seton Health System in upstate New York. Dr. Murphy obtained his medical degree from Harvard Medical School, graduating cum laude. Prior to leaving New York, Dr. Murphy was a member of the New York State Hospital Review and Planning Council.”

Tech-Ford Work on Pregnant Problem

Virginia Tech and Ford Motor Company are in the baby business together these days. After a fashion, anyway. The goal here is to solve a serious problem and they’re working on it in conjunction with Wake Forest University.

Although states are not required to report fetal deaths in accident data, between 300 and 1,000 unborn babies die in car accidents each year. This accident fatality rate is about four times the rate for victims between infancy and four years old, said Stefan Duma, head of the Virginia Tech/Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. “There is no silver bullet to solving these problems,” Duma says.

In response to these numbers, Ford Motor Company has worked with the school for the past three years to gather data in support of future development of a computer-aided model of a pregnant woman for virtual crash test simulations.

The effort builds on 15 years of Ford research that helped lead to one of the first adult whole body computerized crash models. These virtual crash models combine advanced computer simulations and medical research to virtually test how crash forces affect the human body. The model being developed could help Ford safety researchers better understand how crash forces specifically affect pregnant women.

The "pregnant" crash test model would add to Ford's use of computerized adult test models in safety research. Computer models show how crash forces might injure skeletal structures, internal organs and even the brain. Starting in 2010, Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury models will include owner's guide information and instructions specifically to help pregnant women buckle up properly.

The nearly complete Ford-funded research project with the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences is now expected to provide Ford's safety researchers with important data about pregnant women and their developing babies, such as abdominal shape and tissue properties.

The data, collected by the school, will help in the continuing development of the realistic "pregnant" human body model for virtual crash test simulation. Duma said that despite the fact that the automobile industry is 15 years away from new technology that will help protect the unborn, "this project is another example of how industry and academia can work together to conduct important safety research.”

"Traditional crash dummies are very important, but the computerized human models allow us to see underneath the skin inside the body during a crash," says Stephen Rouhana, senior technical leader, Ford Passive Safety Research and Advanced Engineering. "Not all virtual models are the same. We chose to work with Virginia Tech and Wake Forest because we believe they better understand the biomechanics of pregnant women and could translate that into effective computer crash test models."

The virtual models used in this research project simulate regions of the body such as the head, neck, rib cage, abdomen, thoracic and lumbar spine, pelvis, and the upper and lower extremities, as well as the internal organs of the chest and abdomen. The models contain detailed representations of the bones and soft tissues of the human body.

"We developed new methods and techniques for this project in order to collect detailed internal pregnant geometry from MRI and CT scans, including accurate size and location of the uterus, placenta and fetus," says Joel Stitzel, program leader and director of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University Center for Injury Biomechanics. The Center for Injury Biomechanics performs research investigating human tolerance to impact loading, especially as it relates to automobile safety, military restraints, and sports biomechanics.

(From press release.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Investment in Wireless MedCARE Soars

Roanoke-based Wireless MedCARE has raised $535,000 in equity and debt offerings since October 2008 to develop the VivaTRAK Activity Monitoring system for use in long-term care facilities.
Investors include Carilion Biomedical Institute, Optimum Sensor Holdings and individuals, primarily in southwest Virginia.

Wireless MedCARE (WMC) was created in 2006 to address quality of care and efficiency problems in the skilled nursing sector. Many occupants of the 1.6 million beds in U.S. nursing homes in the United States are at risk for pressure ulcers and falls. WMC's first product, VivaTRAK, is a complete system that uses wireless and sensor technology to track the activity of patients and their caregivers in nursing homes.

The system ensures that care tasks are completed on time and documented in healthcare records for quality assurance, reimbursement, and liability risk mitigation purposes.

After completing its first clinical evaluation in a Virginia long-term care facility, WMC sought funds to transition from prototypes to production. "We are pleased that even in these difficult economic times, especially as investments are highly scrutinized, we've been successful in communicating to the investment community the value proposition for healthcare IT systems that address quality of care and staff efficiency issues," said Dan Wrappe, CEO of Wireless MedCARE. "Our funding has supported development of an innovative system that promises real solutions for a critical population."

David Perry Named Top Contributor for FRONT

From left: David Perry, Alison Weaver, Kathy Surace (not pictured Rachael Garrity)^

David Perry walked off with the top honor of Most Outstanding Contributor at the Valley Business FRONT's Writers Awards Luncheon at Hunting Hills Country Club today. Perry's work was cited by Editor Dan Smith for its clarity, humor, creativity, resourcefulness and for being on time, accompanied by superior photos--which Perry took.

Alison Weaver's cover story "Niche Itch," about the niche publications in the region, was named Story of the Year. Kathy Surace, who writes the Business Dress Column (and did a cover story on business dress, as well as other features) and Rachael Garrity were selected winners of the Editor's Award.

Jane Dalier, the FRONT's senior advertising executive, was selected Most Valuable Player on the staff of Valley Business FRONT. "If it weren't for Jane's outstanding performance," said Publisher Tom Field, "we simply wouldn't be here celebrating 16 months of publishing."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

'Emotional Intelligence' Partnership Announced

Dana Ackley of EQ Leader>

ITESA and EQ Leader (ITESA-EQL) have announced the first partnership focused on developing emotional intelligence for the call center industry. Roanoke-based Dana C. Ackley, EQ Leader president, is widely recognized for his role in developing EQ skills.

Ackley says, "Focusing on EQ provides call centers with the chance to solve some of its most vexing and costly problems. It is a new ground for them which can provide the competitive edge that all call centers seek. The chance to partner with ITESA, a long time established name in the call center industry, provides us with instant expertise in the problems that call centers face.”

While IQ is essential, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) might just be the key to unlocking further potential for quality performance, lower attrition and operational performance. The partnership brings together the first scientifically validated measure for star performers, with proprietary coaching techniques to manage and grow emotionally intelligent leadership teams and customer service representatives. The ITESA EQ Leader team have together over 50 years of expertise in call center knowledge and skill with psychology.

Pointing to several successful Emotional Intelligence implementations, showing dramatic results, they refer to American Express, Prudential Insurance and the US Air Force, where results have demonstrated that individuals with higher Emotional Quotient scores make better leaders, and communicators.

Higher EQ scores indicate that the individuals can better handle all kinds of stress more effectively and efficiently, thus making revenue graph go higher with every passing day.

Keith Fiveson is president/CEO of ITESA.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Report: Roanoke Growth Looks Strong

A leading index of economic growth shows a dramatic improvement for the Roanoke Region. Roanoke rose 42 positions to No. 126 out of the 200 largest U.S. metro areas, according to the 2009 Milken Institute/Greenstreet Real Estate Partners Best-Performing Cities Index.

The Roanoke Region was the highest-ranking of Virginia's major metropolitan areas for high-tech GDP growth from 2007-08. The overall index ranks U.S. metropolitan areas by how well they are creating and sustaining jobs and economic growth.

The components include jobs, wages and salaries as well as technology growth. While Roanoke's overall position improved, other Southern metro areas, including Asheville, N.C., Greenville, S.C., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Raleigh, N.C., fell in the overall ranking. Roanoke was higher than Chattanooga (172) and Greensboro, N.C. (154).

"Once again, a comprehensive national index shows the Roanoke Region improving in a variety of measures," says Beth Doughty, executive director of the Roanoke Regional Partnership. "What's particularly gratifying is that the Roanoke Region climbed in the rankings while many cities in the South declined."

(From press release.)

Shelor Buys Old Sarmadi Car Lot

The former Dave Sarmadi Mitsibishi automobile dealership lot in West Salem has been purchased by a division of the Shelor Automotive Group for $3.7 million group with no plans to create another car lot, say the new owners.

A report in Roanoke’s local daily today says that the new owners have no definite plans for the eight acres, but that it will be developed in some way. Sarmadi moved his dealership to Roanoke where, he says, his customers are.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tech Landscape Architecture Ranks at Top

Virginia Tech’s undergraduate landscape architecture program, in the School of Architecture + Design, College of Architecture and Urban Studies, has been ranked No. 1 in North America in the 11th annual America’s Best Architecture and Design Schools study by DesignIntelligence on behalf of the Design Futures Council.

Virginia Tech’s graduate landscape architecture program in the School of Architecture + Design College of Architecture and Urban Studies, has been ranked No. 2 in North America, behind Harvard University in first place. In category rankings of the preparedness of recent graduates in a range of vital skills, Virginia Tech’s landscape architecture program ranked No. 1 in communication and computer applications, No. 2 in design, and No. 3 in sustainable design concepts and principles.

Last year, DesignIntelligence initiated a classification system for architecture programs that sought to look beyond a one-year ranking to a more multi-dimensional stratification of excellence. Since this new system, the Cramer Report, looks at a longer history of performance than the best schools rankings do, it will be presented every other year for each academic program area.

Last year, DesignIntelligence reported on architecture—Virginia Tech was ranked No. 1 with Harvard, Columbia and Yale. This year, the Cramer Report ranks landscape architecture. Virginia Tech’s landscape architecture program is named one of America’s World-Class Landscape Architecture schools with highest distinction.

Patrick Henry Hotel Furniture Sale To Benefit Goodwill

The Patrick Henry in downtown Roanoke plans a public sale of items from the historic landmark, recently purchased by Ed Walker. Walker intends to create more than 100 apartments with offices and possibly retail space in the building.

Originally opened as a hotel in 1925, the building has been sitting idle for several years filled with furniture and antiques. While many of the items are of historical significance and will be used in the renovation, a substantial amount of furniture, fixtures, and equipment will be available to the public at a series of sales with proceeds benefiting Goodwill Industries of the Valleys and Habitat for Humanity in the Roanoke Valley.

The first sale will take place on Saturday, Dec. 12, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The one day event will feature small mementos such as original room keys, brass wall plaques, signature antiques and a sampling of art deco and traditional furniture.

The sale will be held at the Goodwill Jobs Campus located at 2502 Melrose Avenue in Roanoke. A larger sale with remaining items will be held in January of 2010 at the Roanoke Civic Center.

(From press release.)

'Father of Internet' To Speak at Tech

Vinton G. Cerf, the co-designer of TCP/IP protocols and basic architecture of the Internet, will lecture at Virginia Tech on Monday, Dec. 7.

His talk, “The Unfinished Internet,” is from 11 a.m. to noon at the Holtzman Alumni Center’s Alumni Assembly Hall. Sponsored by Virginia Tech’s College of Science, the event is free and open to the public, no tickets needed, though space is limited.

Widely known as a "Father of the Internet," Cerf is the co-designer with Robert Kahn of TCP/IP protocols and the basic architecture of the Internet. In 1997, President Clinton recognized their work with the U.S. National Medal of Technology. (He has said, by the way, that Al Gore is, indeed, one of the key figures in the development of the Internet, leading Congress to fund some of its development.)

In 2005, Cerf and Kahn received the highest civilian honor bestowed in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It recognized that their work on the software code used to transmit data across the Internet put them at the forefront of a digital revolution that has transformed global commerce, communication, and entertainment.

Cerf is now vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google. He is responsible for identifying new enabling technologies and applications on the Internet and other platforms for the company.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Roanoke's Big Give Scheduled Saturday

Goodwill Industries of the Valleys, Habitat for Humanity in the Roanoke Valley, Roanoke Valley SPCA, and Southwestern Virginia Second Harvest Food Bank will participate in a collaborative, community donation drive Saturday, Dec. 5, at the Roanoke Civic Center, Parking Lot A, from 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

Project Give brings together four area non-profits to help collect much needed donations to support their missions. The need in the community for assistance from non-profit organizations is greater than ever before.

Material and food donations will allow each organization to provide necessary services in the community. Items that will be collected include: clothing, housewares, canned & other non-perishable food items, furniture, building supplies and fixtures, dry or canned pet food, computers, games, and toys. Material donations should be in gently used condition or better.