Friday, January 29, 2010

Hutchison Law Group Opens Blacksburg Office

Raleigh, N.C.-based Hutchison Law Group, a leading provider of strategic business and intellectual property counsel to the Southeast’s life science and technology communities, has opened a Virginia office in Blacksburg, which will be operated by Ken Maready (right).

Hutchison Law Group, founded in 1996, represents technology and life science companies and provides venture capital financing advice, merger and acquisition counsel, licensing assistance, securities law advice and intellectual property protection, employment law advice and counseling, and other business legal services to a wide variety of businesses at all stages of development. It will be located in the Corporate Research Center, where many of this type of businesses operate in conjunction with Virginia Tech.

Maready, who has more than 10 years of experience, worked as an associate at Hutchison Law Group from 2002-2005. He later went on to serve as general counsel and director of strategic affairs at venture-backed Integrian Inc. He has been operating a law practice serving entrepreneurs and startups in Blacksburg and Roanoke most recently. “This expansion is a natural move for us,” says Hutchison member Helga Leftwich, “because Virginia regularly launches the kinds of technology-based innovative companies that we serve, particularly in the areas around its leading research universities, including Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia.” Maready earned his B.A and J.D., magna cum laude, from Wake Forest University, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the law review. He provides legal counsel to entrepreneurs and technology companies, primarily regarding corporate, securities, contract and intellectual property issues, with a particular emphasis on startups, spinouts and angel or venture financings.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Liberty University Buys Lynchburg Shopping Center

Candler's Station shopping center is near the Liberty campus.^

Liberty University, which recently purchased an airport, is the new owner of Candlers Station shopping center, adjacent to campus. The university closed today on the 270,000-square-foot property, with major tenants that include Staples, Cinemark Movies 10 and T.J. Maxx, among others.

Chancellor Jerry Falwell says Liberty’s board of directors sees the property as a “golden opportunity.” “We see it as a long-term investment for Liberty University’s endowment,” he says. “Liberty University is finally in a position, after years of pioneering growth and financial struggles, where our management decisions are centered around how to invest for the future.”

With a return of between 11 and 14 percent annually on the $16.3 million purchase price, the property could pay for itself in seven to eight years, he said. There are no plans to change the use of the property in the short term, he added, and the university is already talking with two possible tenants to fill the 55,000 square feet of available space.

“The stores are doing very well; it’s a healthy shopping center,” Falwell says. He says Liberty’s board, which met and approved the decision to purchase the shopping center in November, thought the acquisition “made perfect sense” not only because of the return, but also because of its close proximity to campus, allowing the university, should needs arise, to use that space in the future.

“If we happen to lose enough tenants [in the long term], we would convert it to university use in the future — but our hope is that that will not occur until long after we have recouped our investment,” Falwell says.

Liberty already owns a commercial lot adjacent to the center (beside Applebee’s), donated to the university by the shopping center’s original developer, Bob Hughes, in 2008.

This is not Liberty’s first real estate investment venture. Liberty became the owner of the 50-year-old Plaza shopping center in Lynchburg in 2007 and has spent more than $500,000 in repairs and enhancements there. According to Falwell, the Plaza is generating a large return for the university every month.

(From press release.)

Carilion, N.C. Company Enter Lab Agreement

Carilion Labs has entered into an agreement to merge with Greensboro, N.C.-based Spectrum Laboratory Network to form a major laboratory company offering comprehensive clinical, anatomic pathology and esoteric testing services.

The merger will create a new and stronger regional hospital laboratory company, serving 37 hospitals and 14,000 physicians in eight states, with more than 2,600 employees and annual revenues above $300 million. Carilion Clinic will own 33 percent of the new company.

Carilion President and CEO Edward G. Murphy, M.D., and two other Carilion appointees will sit on the board. Novant Health, a minority owner in Carilion Labs, will remain an equity owner in the new company and will also hold a seat on the board. The company will be jointly headquartered in Roanoke and Greensboro.

The pending merger, which was facilitated by Carilion Labs' financial advisor Lazard Middle Market LLC, follows the purchase of Spectrum by Welsh, Carson, Anderson and Stowe (WCAS), a private equity firm with experience in the health care and laboratory industry.

“A new company that combines the strengths and shared values of Carilion and Spectrum with a focus on hospital laboratory services will significantly improve services to our customers and their patients, and provides a strong platform for further expansion within the region and across the nation,” says Dr. Murphy. David Weavil, a 30 year veteran of the laboratory industry will serve as the new company’s CEO.

Following regulatory approval, the merger is expected to close by the end of February, 2010.

City Properties Go at Auction

Walker Associates' auctioneer gets the bidding started.^

John Turner and Bobby Draper of Miscellaneous Concrete were bidding on a property adjacent to their business.^

Potential bidders line up to get registered.^

These photos give some indication of what's being sold.^

The crowd was scattered around at the auction.^


If you're living in the illusion that you own that property you occupy or that your business rests upon, Roanoke City gave you substantial reason to disabuse yourself at noon today with its "Judicial Sale of Real Property" at the Jefferson Center.

Twenty five parcels of property in the city, most owing taxes, were put on the auction block to be sold to the highest bidder. Taxes were owed on the properties and in some cases the amount in arrears was, at best, niggling. But the city wants its money and the "rights" of the owners met their match when confronted by that need.

The city advertised the sale (somewhat misleadingly) with a full page listing of about 200 properties in Monday's edition of a local daily. The sale of those properties actually takes place March 5 and you had to have good eyes to determine that. Some of those properties have outstanding tax bills as low as $166 (Julius Geter's property on Fairfax Ave.) and $195.51 (Debra Preston's lot on 7th Ave.).

Wednesday's auction was conducted by Walker Properties in Roanoke, a veteran of these sales, and Roy Creasey, an attorney for the city, said the sales had to each be approved by a judge who would take any "reasonable bid." "Reasonable," says Creasey, has a wide range of definitions, but if you're somewhere around the assessed value of the property (some astonishingly low; $800 for a lot on Norfolk Ave., for example), you're in the clear.

John Turner, owner of Miscellaneous Concrete in Roanoke, showed up to bid on a piece of property adjoining his, hoping to expand the company's footprint. There were probably 50 bidders in the room and the auctioneer promised to move it along slowly in order for bidders "to think about what you're doing." Taking the impulse buying aspect out of it.

Roanoke Cost of Living Lowest in Metro Va

The Roanoke Region offers the lowest cost of living of the seven Virginia metro areas included in a new cost-of-living index from the Council for Community and Economic Research.

The annual review is an average of data accumulated from the three pricing periods of the previous year. According to the 2009 report, the region has the lowest cost of living index among the metro areas and the second lowest of the nine participating Virginia communities.

Overall, the Roanoke Region's cost of living index is 95.3 compared with the national index average of 100.

"This latest survey highlights the Roanoke Region's continued competitiveness as an affordable place to live and run a business," says Beth Doughty, executive director of the Roanoke Regional Partnership. "When combined with other recent good economic news--a stabilizing real estate market and falling unemployment rates--it is no wonder we're starting to be noticed by national publications such as -The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, and Business Facilities. The 2009 average is higher than last year's 92.6, in part of the relative health of the local home prices.

Data recently released by both the Roanoke Valley and National Associations of Realtors shows the December-to-December growth in home prices. Locally, prices rose 15.4 percent from $171,332 to $197,748. Nationally, home prices rose just 3.6 percent. Housing accounts for 28.99 percent of the overall cost of living, which is derived from costs in that and five other consumer categories: groceries, utilities, transportation, health care and miscellaneous goods and services.

(From press release.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bedford County To Get Broadband Service

The Bedford County Broadband Authority voted on Monday to enter into negotiations with Ashburn-based DigitalBridge Communications Corporation to deliver digital broadband service to unserved and underserved areas of the county.

Monday’s decision followed a similar vote last week in Amherst to move broadband talks forward with the same firm. DigitalBridge was one of two firms to express interest in taking on this endeavor in the two counties. The Authority votes were necessary to allow negotiations to take place on an agreement between each county and the firm that could result in the expansion of high-speed Internet coverage to the rural areas of each county.

“The Board of Supervisors and our Economic Development Authority identified broadband service as a top priority for our community and this partnership with DigitalBridge is a major milestone in achieving that work,” said Bedford County Administrator Kathleen Guzi.

Bryan David, executive director of Virginia’s Region 2000 Economic Development Council, began discussions in each of the four counties in Region 2000 in early 2009 about the economic benefits that could come from providing this service to rural areas. He helped Amherst and Bedford counties in forming independent Broadband Authorities that would enable public/private partnerships to be formed. He’s working with Appomattox and Campbell counties to offer support for similar broadband decisions.

“Under this approach, the private firm is able to take on its rightful role to develop, operate, and maintain a broadband network in an unserved area, because the county agrees to help remove barriers to service,” David said.

(From press release.)

Surgery Center To Be Purchased from Carilion

Nancy Agee of Carilion^

Roanoke-based Fairlawn Surgery Center has reached an agreement with Carilion Clinic to purchase the Center for Surgical Excellence, an outpatient surgery center located at 2107 Roslalind Avenue in Southwest Roanoke.

Fairlawn is a new company comprised of principals who are practicing physicians with Valley Nephrology Associates. VNA is one of Virginia’s largest nephrology practices, serving patients with kidney disease, hypertension and transplantation throughout southwest Virginia and southeast West Virginia.

“We’re excited about this purchase because of the flexibility it will give us to provide full service patient care,” says Dr. F. Jackson Ballenger, a physician with Fairlawn. “Most important, many surgical needs associated with kidney disease and its related conditions can be readily supported through this center, helping to simplify and improve our patients’ lives, comfort and care. That’s what matters most to us.”

“We’re pleased to see the center transition to a locally-based group of physicians with a long history of excellent patient care,” says Nancy Agee, Chief Operating Officer for Carilion Clinic.

The pending sale is the result of a consent agreement between Carilion and the Federal Trade Commission. As required, the parties are seeking FTC approval of the transaction. If approved, the sale is expected to close by the end of February of this year.

Fairlawn is an independent medical practice whose physicians care for patients through VNA in 14 locations, including dialysis centers in Roanoke, Rocky Mount, Bedford, Lexington, Wytheville, Pearisburg, Radford, Blacksburg, Grundy, Big Stone Gap and Welch, W. Va.

(From press release.)

Business-Backed Garden for Students Planned

The school garden will be based on the community garden concept with a number of added advantages for the kids.^


A business and government backed program based on Alice Waters' wildly popular Edible Schoolyard at Chez Panisse Foundation in Berkley, Calif., is being put together in Roanoke. Waters is running several of the programs, but, says Cynthia Lawrence of the working-titled Edible Education says the two will not be directly affiliated because Waters does not want to overextend. Lawrence says the name of the program is not final because a copyright search has not been conducted.

The program will stress growing and preparing food by students at pilot site James Madison Middle School in Roanoke and could start as early as spring. The integrated curriculum will concentrate on the culinary and horticultural aspects, but will also include elements like childhood obesity. "It is about changing habits," says Lawrence, who ownsPerformanceLink Systems Inc. in Roanoke and is known for her healthy lifestyle.

Lawrence says the organization is "working closely with the Chez Panisse Foundation for teacher training, curriculum resources, community volunter training" and other pieces of the program.

Madison is surrounded by a good bit of land that has proper sun exposure and, says Lawrence, "Funding is not an issue." Already, Edible Education has "been promised a couple hundred thousand dollars, mostly private."

Among the organizations and institutions already lined up to help with Edible Education are local schools, Virginia Western Community College (which is next door and has a respected horticulture department and a culinary school), Virginia Tech-Carilion School of Medicine, Roanoke City Schools, and a variety of community donors, volunteers, chefs, farmers, gardners and parents.

Lawrence says the business involvement is a no-brainer: "Business people know better than anybody else that better nutrition means better performance."

Among the goals:
  • Teach students about food, health and wellness, self-sufficiency, responsibility;
  • Improve nutritionAL food quality of school lunch programs;
  • Connect with local farmers/food producers--understanding the supply chain; environmental and economic sustainability (slow Food culture);
  • Create learning/mentoring opportunities for students through common interests in food and the culinary arts.

    The program's estimated budget for a one-acre garden serving 900 students is $184,000 in the first year and $149,000 in succeeding years. That includes staff, kitchen classroom and gardening costs.

    The entire program's budget would $400,000 a year with 80 percent of that supporting teachers and 20 percent as operating budget. The organization hopes to meet with Roanoke school officials Feb. 5 and City Council Feb. 15.

    Lawrence says, "We will be reaching out to others as things start to take shape, but it’s too early for some things to happen. With that said, anyone who is interested in participating should contact me via e-mail."

Patrick Henry Sale Nets Charities $62,000

The Patrick Henry Hotel in Roanoke is undergoing renovations.^

The sale of donated historic items from the Patrick Henry Hotel in Roanoke, which benefits Goodwill Industries of the Valleys and Habitat for Humanity generated more than $45,000 in revenues for the organizations. Coupled with the sales from the one-day sale in December of $17,000 the total hit $62,000.

This past weekend's event featured a public sale of items from the hotel, a silent auction of signature pieces, as well as a staging area where customers could get their creative juices flowing and see how the items could be put to use in their own homes. “We knew that if we didn’t give the public the opportunity to see how these items could be used in their every day life that the sale would not be as successful,” said Suni Heflin, Goodwill’s marketing manager. “We teamed with a local home stager, Wanda Richards, who did amazing before and after makeovers on key pieces that were available in large quantities.

"Of the five items she made over, all but one sold out in the first few hours of the event. It was successful, and it also gave us the opportunity to include the made-over items in the silent auction.”

The silent auction, which took place Sunday, generated more than $12,000 toward the final sale total. Bidding in the final moments was competitive. A grand piano brought $1,900, a set of chairs $1,150, and another antique cabinet $1,000. A former marketing director for the Patrick Henry Hotel feverishly bid on and acquired a set of captain’s chairs in which she had been photographed many years ago.

(From press release.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Theatrical Approach to Soup at Towers Mall

Roanoke City Manager Darlene Burcham (left) with Bonnie and Charles Hooper at the ribbon-cutter.^

Crock & Roll,the region's only restaurant devoted solely to soup, opens Tuesday (Jan. 26). Crock & Roll hopes to make soup a focal point of the Roanoke Valley's food scene with different homemade selections served daily.

"We saw a real lack of quality soups in the Roanoke Valley," says Charles Hooper, a Roanoke native and former Los Angeles-based actor/producer who recently moved back to the area. He formed a partnership with his mother, Bonnie, to open Crock & Roll at Towers Mall.

"We are looking to bring in the newest food trend--soup--to Roanoke ahead of the curve. We want to show people that the recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation don't have to be stale and old."

True to its name, the restaurant's menu will focus on soup and fresh bread along with a signature salad. Crock & Roll also will feature a savory bread pudding served in the evenings, as well as salty meats and cheeses combined with freshly baked bread.

The 1,148 square-foot restaurant seats about 20, with additional tables on an outdoor patio during warmer months. The interior, patterned after a modern Parisian bistro, was designed to be simple, sleek, inviting and free of clutter to focus on one thing only--the soup. "Soup is good for these times we live in," says Bonnie Hooper. "It's comfort food ... the perfect food to slow down and enjoy goodcompany."

Crock & Roll will offer delivery. Prices range from $6.50-$7.50 for a crock of soup--that's a pound of ingredients in each bowl--and a piece of fresh-baked bread. Crock & Roll will be open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.and Saturdays from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

Bonnie Hooper has been cooking soups for 30 years, and Charles has been serving up soups since he was 11. Previously, he consulted to restaurants and came across the soup trend at some of LA's trendiest spots.

(From press release.)

Roanoke Offers Environmental Incentives

The City of Roanoke has announced two environmental tax incentive programs for property owners.

One of these incentives is the tax exemption for use of certified solar energy equipment. This exemption applies to properties where the owner has installed new solar equipment, facilities or devices, as well as to properties that have existing solar equipment, facilities or devices.

The exemption is effective for five years, and the amount is calculated by applying the real estate tax rate to the value of the solar components and subtracting that amount from the total real estate tax due on the property. The incentive may be applicable, using a similar formula, if the solar components are taxable as machinery and tools.

The second incentive is the special tax rate on use of certain energy-efficient buildings. This program is designed for buildings that exceed the Virginia Statewide Building Code efficiency standards by 30 percent. Certification must be made by a qualified professional, and the incentive must be applied for by the owner of the building.

The tax exemption commences on July 1 of the tax year following the date an application is approved, and remains in effect for that tax year and the following four tax years. Property owners may apply for either of these incentives through the city's Real Estate Valuation office. Additional information and downloadable application forms are available here.

Tech Researchers Playing Role in Breast Cancer Treatment

Compounds developed by researchers at Virginia Tech, have proven effective in destroying breast cancer cells when used with lasers developed by Theralase Technologies out of Toronto.

Theralase, an international manufacturer of laser medical devices, reports that its patented photodynamic compounds (PDCs) developed at the university, when used with its lasers, destroy breast cancer cells in pre-clinical trials.

The PDCs were developed by Karen Brewer, professor of chemistry in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, and a team in biological sciences led by Professor Brenda Winkel, and they are the subject of a newly issued patent. Theralase officials say they plan to submit its study results to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada, as part of its collaborative work with Virginia Tech.

Roger Dumoulin-White, president and CEO of Theralase, says in a news release , “This new research brings the potential for tremendous impact on a most devastating disease, and we are excited to be working with a world-class group of researchers to further develop this technology.”

“We wanted to come up with some molecular systems that didn’t require oxygen, but would still be light-activated,” Brewer says. “We have been able to make these oxygen independent agents and they should hold promise in treatment of cancer tissue that is often oxygen deficient."

The therapy the research group developed employs a wavelength of light called the therapeutic window that is neither absorbed nor reflected away by tissue. This is the same wavelength that one sees as red light shining through a hand that is covering a flashlight. By using light at this wavelength, the research believed they could signal their man-made molecules to release cancer-fighting agents at the disease site.

“The challenge up until now has been that tissue blocks light, so we can’t signal molecules deep within the body to deliver drug therapy,” Brewer says.

(From press release)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

At Writers Conference, Lawyer Wins the Day

Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore's Dave Cohan (left) got a perfect rating from the students in his class on writing and the law.^

Handshake 2.0's Anne Clelland with her class.^

FRONT publisher Tom Field ponders a question in his class.^

FRONT editor Dan Smith with Hollins' Celia McCormack (left) and conference scholarship recipient Elizabeth Jones.^

Opening night speakers Sara Elizabeth Timmins (left) and Janis Jaqith pose with an amused editor and their T-shirts saying, "This is the back, read the FRONT".^

The Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, sponsored by the FRONT and Hollins University saw a lawyer win its most popular class designation--a turn of events almost nobody would have anticipated.

Dave Cohan's class in the professional writing and the law drew a packed classroom and the reviews from the students reslted in a perfect score for the Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore lawyer.

Hollins Horizon student Elizabeth Jones was presented the conference's scholarship (the amount hasn't been determined, based on the money taken in and expenses). The conference featured 24 classes and two roundtable discussions for the region's avocational and vocational writers.

This was the third conference.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Ann Compton Historical Society Speaker Feb. 7

ABC News White House Correspondent, Ann Compton (right), an alumni of Hollins College (now University) who began her career at WDBJ7 in Roanoke, is the keynote speaker for the History Is Served luncheon in the Hotel Roanoke’s Crystal Ballroom Sunday, February 7, noon-3 p.m. Tickets are $65 and can be ordered by Feb. 2 at 540-342-5724.

The event is sponsored by the Historical Society of Western Virginia.

Compton’s, a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame at Virginia Commonwealth< University (which will induct Valley Business FRONT editor Dan Smith in April), established a State Capitol Bureau in Richmond for WDBJ. In 1973, she moved to New York and joined the reporting staff of ABC News. One year later, ABC made her the first woman to cover the White House for television on a full-time basis. Eventually, Compton became the national correspondent for ABC News.

During her career, Compton has covered presidential campaigns and conventions and twice served as a panelist for presidential debates. In 2000, Compton's journalism career led her to the Internet, as she became Chief Washington Correspondent for

That same year, the Society of Professional Journalists inducted Compton into the Journalism Hall of Fame. Compton was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2005. More recently, Compton was elected president of the White House Correspondents Association for a term beginning in 2007.

Perhaps Compton's most dramatic assignment occurred on September 11, 2001, as the only broadcast reporter allowed to remain on board Air Force One when George Bush was unable to return to Washington. The network received an Emmy and the Alfred I. duPont Columbia University Award for its coverage.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

FRONT Available in Racks Across Region

Sample copies of Valley Business FRONT are available at a number of locations in the region and the availability has proved popular with new readers. It has also produced a number of paid subscriptions. FRONT has a tightly controlled, exclusive subscriber list ($36 per year) that gives us quite possibly the best demographics of any publication in the region.

However, we have received a number of requests to make the magazine available in public areas and we are doing that—free for the time being at the following locations in the Roanoke Valley (and others as we add them in the next couple of months). Additional locations will be added in the New River Valley and those of you would would like to have copies available for your office so that visitors may read them simply need to ask. We will attempt to comply with those requests.

Here is where you can get the magazine now if you don’t subscribe:

  • Most YMCAs,
  • Tanglewood Mall,
  • Towers Mall,
  • Roanoke County Libraries (419 Electric Road at Cave Spring Corners, Hollins Branch),
  • Salem City Library,
  • Most coffee shops and clinic waiting rooms.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Grandin Lesson: Who's in charge?

I shot this photo is of the final night of operation of the Grandin Theatre before it was re-opened under the Foundation in 2002.

FRONT Opinion


A nasty personnel dispute that spills over into a public relations nightmare is the type of embarrassment that any non-profit organization would look upon with a kind of bone-chilling dread. But that is exactly what happened with the previously squeaky-clean-appearing Grandin Theatre in January, bringing up serious questions about who’s in charge.

The Grandin, an independent specialty-movie house in Roanoke, is structured to be operated through the Grandin Theatre Foundation with Executive Director Kathy Chittum in charge of daily operations. She reports to the board. Below her was General Manager Jason Garnett, a popular, hands-on figure, who was often given much of the credit for the Grandin’s success. Chittum fired Garnett a couple of days ago for reasons that she refused to explain even to the board—which has several new members and has had considerable turnover in its eight years. Chittum told the board that the firing was “a personnel matter” and that it was, essentially, her call.

The firing caused a public outcry. Chittum, whom I have known and liked for years (I was on the original board), would not speak to me about the firing. According to board members, she told the gathered group to ignore the protests and calls for boycott because it was just an Internet row that would blow over quickly. The board, weakened over the years and compliant, went along. Many of the members apparently didn’t even know what questions to ask.

The details of the Grandin’s public embarrassment aren’t nearly as relevant here as the case is instructive to all non-profit boards of directors and executives who work at their direction. “Who’s in charge?” is often a nagging, troubling question after years of board turnover and it is a question that must be asked on a regular basis. It should immediately follow the question, “What is our mission?”

The Grandin could have avoided the black eye it has received simply by having the firing—the equivalent of a CEO firing a CFO in this case—reviewed by an executive committee and giving the parties a complete hearing. Non-profits in general and the Grandin in particular (it was re-opened in 2002 after a large public fund-raising campaign) are public trusts and must be operated openly, without the slightest hint that they belong to anyone other than the public stakeholders.

The Grandin’s case is a classic in how to turn a difficult situation—the firing of a popular and valued employee—into a PR nightmare that could threaten public support and, thus, public funding. That threat is not one an organization like the Grandin can afford, operating, as it does, on thin margins. An organization like this simply cannot afford to lose, say five percent of its base support because of a personnel dispute.

Look back at the dissolution of Mill Mountain Theatre a year ago. A situation much like the Grandin ugliness (the firing of popular Pat Wilhelms, who ran children’s programming) brought into public view the weakness of its board of directors and led to the closing of the theater when serious financial problems were made public. MMT lost crucial public support when an imperious executive director wound up with mud on his face and the face of a beloved organization.

Both of these mini-scandals should be instructive to non-profit boards and executives who need constant reminders of their responsibilities not only to each other, but also to the public. Service on these boards is not simply a line on your resume; it is a public trust with responsibility to independently understand how the organization runs and who is in charge of what. Executive directors must be responsible to the board for every decision they make every day and must not be allowed to explain any decision as being made because that’s “the way we do it here” or to simply say “that’s a personnel decision and the board doesn’t need to be involved.”

When the future of the organization, its public personae and its reputation are at stake, the board has the duty to be involved in the decision, no matter how apparently niggling and meddlesome that may appear. The public properly expects public organizations to be run openly and with accountability, honesty and integrity.

That does not appear to be the case with the Grandin—whether or not it actually is—and a valued Roanoke treasure could be imperiled because of weak-kneed, un-informed compliance by the board.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Roanoke Projects Get Funds Infusion

Patrick Henry Hotel is a $14.1 million rehab project; it'll get $12 million^

Boxley Building looks to undergo extensive rehab^


Gov. Tim Kaine is leaving office with something of a development bang for downtown Roanoke. The Patrick Henry Hotel project, as well as rehabilitations of the Boxley Building and Billy's Ritz restaurant have been approved for nearly $20 million in Recovery Zone Facility Bonds (RZFB), which is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus package. The available money must be borrowed, but is available at significantly reduced rates.

The projects are all in downtown Roanoke's heart and are all part of what has been designated a "recovery zone". The funds are "tax-exempt, non-AMT private activity bonds issued as conduit bonds for a private company," according to literature. Bonds must be used in areas that "have significant poverty, unemployment, general distress or home foreclosures; be any area for which a designation as an empowerment zone or renewal community is in effect; or be an area designated by the issuer as economically distressed by reason of the closure or realignment of a military installation."

Roanoke Assistant City Manager Brian Townsend says he can't verify all the money that has been made available (the city has asked for funds), but says the bonds for the three private projects are forthcoming from the state from the ARRA funds.

Ed Walker's Patrick Henry Hotel project--which should result in 100 rental units ultimately--is the highest profile of the three properties. Walker bought the property recently for $1.3 million and plans to put another $14 million into it. Of the total $18.3 million from RZFB, the PH gets $9.6 million.

Townsend says the Boxley Building and Billy's Ritz will get a total of more than $8 million between them ($5.8 million for Boxley, $3 million for Billy's). The Boxley Building is reportedly going to get upstairs living space and lower level retail and professional spaces.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Synchrony Gets Huge New Investment from Third Security

R.J. Kirk of Third Security: Investment "mirrors the company's progress.">

Roanoke County-based Synchrony Inc. has once again drawn major investment from Third Security. The complany, which specializes in technology for rotating machinery and power conversion systems, has received $10 million in Series C funding from New River Management VI, a venture fund managed by Third Security, LLC.

The funding follows on the heels of analysis of the global market for Synchrony's product lines, expanded production capacity and sales growth. That growth was evident in a recent $16 million commitment from McQuay International for drive trains.

"This investment in Synchrony mirrors the company's progress in turning its leadership in magnetic bearings technology into products that have the potential to establish Synchrony as a market leader," says Randal J. Kirk, chairman and CEO of Third Security.

"With the increasing global demand for innovative, clean industrial components, Synchrony is well positioned with its product line, especially the Fusion(R) magnetic bearing. We are pleased that Synchrony is now demonstrating that its technology can provide functional solutions to real world problems and have every confidence that it will grow to achieve commercial success in competitive international markets that demand cleaner, more efficient technology."

Synchrony's innovations in the magnetic bearing market improve reliability, reduce friction, minimize vibration and offer advanced health monitoring and diagnostics--all without the potential environmental disadvantages of lubricants. These advances have accelerated the use of magnetic bearings in the industrial and defense sectors.

The wide range of applications include highly efficient and environmentally friendly motors, generators, pumps, compressors, fans, and blowers in sectors such as HVAC, oil and gas, renewable energy, air separation, water treatment, and defense markets.

"This is another significant step for Synchrony and a demonstration of the strong sales potential for our magnetic bearing technology," says Synchrony President and Founder Dr. Victor Iannello, Valley Business FRONT’s Business Person of the Year for 2009.

"The latest investment from Third Security will help provide us with the necessary resources to meet the expanding global demand for magnetic bearings, high-speed motors and high-speed generators."

The latest round of Synchrony's funding follows a 2006 investment of $5 million from Third Security LLC and NewVa Capital Partners. In 2007, Synchrony secured an additional $10 million in Series B financing from the same venture capital firms.

(From press release.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Luna Innovations Emerges From Bankruptcy

Roanoke-based Luna Innovations, a company whose great promise seemed to be shut down less than a year ago, has emerged from Chapter 11 reorganization. The emergence was confirmed by Judge William F. Stone Jr. of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Virginia, Roanoke Division. Luna's creditors will receive a 100 percent of their claims and Luna's current shareholders will retain their shares.

Luna filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy July 11, in response the loss of a lawsuit to California-based Hansen Medical Inc. The companies settled in December with a development and supply agreement between and a license of Luna's fiber optic shape sensing technology to Hansen in the fields of medical robotics and certain medical non-robotics.

"Thank you to our customers, shareholders, partners and vendors for standing by us during this trying time," said Luna CEO Kent Murphy. "A special thanks goes to our employees for continuing to stay focused and providing our customers with excellent service and products during this difficult time.

“From the outset, our intent during this restructuring has been to continue to serve our customers, keep the pace of our key development initiatives, maintain employment at our four facilities in Virginia, settle with Hansen, provide our creditors with a full recovery on their valid claims, and allow current shareholders to retain their shares.

“Today, we can say we succeeded in those goals and did so in a relatively short time frame. Emerging from Chapter 11 will allow Luna to move forward on developing technologies that will provide tremendous value for our partners and customers. In addition, we appreciate Intuitive Surgical for its support and agreement, which was required to reach settlement, and Hansen for working hard to reach agreeable terms."

(From press release.)

Tech Team to Study Potential Bio-Weapons

A grant to a Virginia Tech veterinary bacteriologist will lead to the study of detection of bacterial agents that could be used as weapons. Thomas Inzana (right) of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Tech, has been awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop such a diagnostic test.

He and two co-investigators (James “Randy” Heflin and Abey Bandera) are working to develop nanoscale optical fiber biosensor tests, or assays, for detection. At this point, testing involves either the use of cultures or antibody-based testing.

Both require extensive materials and training, and the results can take days or weeks. “This assay will be rugged, portable, inexpensive, and rapid,” said Inzana. “All of these are critical to minimizing the affect on an intentionally introduced biological weapon.”

The increased speed of detection allowed by this new, optical fiber assay will also increase the speed of treatment for those affected, according to Inzana.

(From press release.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

John Carlin Leaves Access; Starts Agency

John Carlin 'Life's coming at me pretty fast right now.'>


John Carlin, the well-known Roanoke television news anchor who left journalism to work at one of the region's most successful advertising and PR agencies in November, 2008, has left Access to found John Carlin Agency in Roanoke. Carlin also is owner of Ultimate Aquariums in Daleville, parlaying an intense hobby into a vocation.

Carlin's new agency is announced on his Linkedin site here. Carlin was reluctant to discuss the move, saying, "I would love to answer your questions... Just not yet ... I'll be happy to say more when I actually know more. Life is coming at me pretty fast right now. It's great." Information at his Linkedin site says he is the "Owner of Agency specializing in Advertising, Public Relations and Marketing. Agency founded in January 2010. The Agency will focus on reaching clients' objectives through marketing, Advertising and Public Relations -- including maximizing the impact of social media through the production and use of podcasts, blogs and SEO. Crisis PR and Media Relations are an additional strong component. Clients will benefit from consultation with Peabody, Emmy and Edward R. Murrow winning journalist. Also three-time winner of Summit Awards from PRSA."

Todd Marcum, co-owner (with Tony Pearman) of Access, says Carlin's resignation was not expected, but that "We'll see how it unfolds. No harm, no foul. He's not after our clients and we have no thought of hindering his progress. He's a very talented guy."

Carlin started with Access amid great fanfare and by all accounts his time there was successful for him and the company. Marcum says the position was created for Carlin "to a certain extent" and "we're glad he was here. We wish him well and we part as friends. I can see a time where we might work together again somewhere along life's road."

Marcum says he does not know what Carlin has planned, but "we've heard different rumblings from his own agency to going with somebody else to going back into TV. We just don't know. ... We will be completely supportive as long as it's not at our expense."

Marcum says he wants to say without reservation that "our clients have been nothing but supportive. We will maintain the capacity to satisfy the needs of our key clients."

Roanoke To Auction Properties in City

The City of Roanoke will hold an auction at noon Wednesday, Jan. 27, at the Jefferson Center's Fitzpatrick Hall for 23 properties. Owners of these properties are delinquent real estate taxes or have assessments for weed and trash abatement, and demolition or board-up costs.

Bad weather would push the auction to Feb. 3.

A listing of individual properties is available online at here. According to state law, properties qualify for the Judicial Sale process when taxes are delinquent on Dec. 31 following the first anniversary of the date on which the taxes have become due.State law also provides that any property sold during these proceedings is purchased free of liens. Sales are subject to Circuit Court approval.

In order to redeem any tax sale property, the owner must pay all accumulated taxes, assessments, penalties, interest, and costs, including all legal fees, by 5 p.m. on the day before the sale. The listing of tax sale properties is subject to change up until the time of the auction.

Additional information about the Tax Sale and the Bidder Qualification Program is located on the city's Web site, or you can call Dana Long at 540-853-2880.

(From press release.)

Friday, January 8, 2010

CHP Gets Nearly $4M for Green Skills Training

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis>

Christiansburg-based Community Housing Partners (CHP) has been awarded $3,865,480 in green job training money from the U.S. Department of Labor to teach workers the skills required in emerging energy efficiency and renewable energy industries.

CHP is the lead applicant and grant administrator for a collaborative partnership called Construction, Retrofitting, and Energy-Efficiency Assessment Training and Employment Systems (CREATES). The group includes Virginia Tech, NewVA Corridor Technology Council, New River Community College, Wytheville Community College, Virginia Western Community College, New River/Mount Rogers Workforce Investment Board, and the Western Virginia Workforce Development Board.

The CREATES partnership will use the funds to upgrade regional training capacities, develop and implement new curriculum components, offer appropriate energy conservation certification opportunities, and provide preferred education to upgrade the skills of construction and retrofitting industry workers in order to help them compete in cutting-edge green building occupations.

CHP will use a portion of the grant to provide energy efficiency assessment training at its New River Center for Energy Research and Training (NRCERT) in Christiansburg. By using the buildings' systems and components as real-time training tools for trainees to observe and study, the 10,000 square-foot training center will be an interactive regional classroom for energy conservation techniques; energy-efficient renovation; home performance testing; heating and cooling equipment diagnostics, repair and replacement; and industry research in new technologies.

The grant is part of nearly $100 million being allocated by the U.S. Department of Labor to 25 projects across the nation. "Today's announcement is part of the administration's long-term commitment to fostering both immediate economic revitalization and a clean energy future,” says Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “It's an investment that will help American workers succeed while doing good. Our outstanding award recipients were selected because their proposed projects will connect workers to career pathways in green industries and occupations through critical, diverse partnerships."

The CREATES collaboration will serve 21 counties and independent cities in Western Virginia including the counties of Bland, Carroll, Floyd, Giles, Grayson, Montgomery, Pulaski, Smyth, Washington, Wythe; the counties of Allegheny, Botetourt, Craig, Franklin, and Roanoke, and the cities of Bristol, Galax, Radford, Covington, Roanoke and Salem.

Congressmen Want End to Visa Lottery

Sixth District U.S. Congressman Bob Goodlatte of the House Committee on the Judiciary is among those who urging consideration of legislation eliminating the annual visa lottery for foreign nationals who want to immigrate. Goodlatte, in real life, is an immigration lawyer. The annual national immigration lottery allows 50,000 aliens to become legal permanent residents of the U.S.

To participate in the program, a person has to come from a country that does not send many immigrants to the United States. State sponsors of terrorism are not excluded from the program.

“The visa lottery program poses a national security threat,” says Goodlatte. “Under the program, each successful applicant is chosen at random and given the status of permanent resident based on pure luck. Usually, immigrant visas are issued to foreign nationals who have an existing connection with a family member lawfully residing in the United States or with a U.S. employer … Under the visa lottery program, visas are awarded to immigrants at random without meeting such criteria.” In 2007, the General Accounting Office said that the visa lottery “is vulnerable to fraudulent activity committed by and against applicants…”

The same report said that “widespread use of fake documents, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, and passports, presented challenges when verifying the identities of applicants and dependents.”

In addition, during the 109th Congress the State Department IG testified before Congress that the visa lottery “contains significant risks to national security from hostile intelligence officers, criminals and terrorists attempting to use the program for entry into the U.S. as permanent residents.”

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cellular Sales Opens in Christiansburg

Cellular Sales, a retailer of Verizon Wireless, has expanded into Christiansburg with a new Cellular Sales store opened on North. Franklin Street. Cellular Sales is a 15-year old privately held company headquartered in Knoxville, Tenn.

The company operates throughout the United States. In 2009, Cellular Sales opened more than 50 new stores bringing the company’s total number of locations to more than 300 throughout the country. For the past two years, Inc. Magazine has named Cellular Sales one of the nation’s fastest growing privately held companies. This year, the company was in the Inc. Top 100 for retailers.

hhgregg Leases Circuit City Building

hhgregg has leased the former Circuit City building, 34,089 square feet, in Valley View Shopping Center at 1900 Valley View Boulevard in Roanoke. hhgregg is an Indianapolis-based appliance and electronics company with more than 130 stores in 12 states, most of them in the southeast.

Revenues in 2009 were more than $1.4 billion. hhgregg recently entered Virginia in the Richmond area market with locations at Short Pump Town Center, Chesterfield Towne Center and Southpark in Colonial Heights; two locations in the Hampton Roads market in Virginia Beach and Newport News, and one location in Fredericksburg within Central Park.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Roanoke Optics Company Goes Electronic With Japanese Partner

They’re called the static composite enhanced multifocal and electronic dynamic lenses and PixelOptics of Roanoke hopes they’re the future. PixelOptics and Panasonic Shikoku Electronics of Matsuyama, Japan have collaborated in the development of PixelOptics’ electronic eyeglasses.

Pixel is the world’s first composite ophthalmic lens company. It is developing both static (fixed focus) and electronic dynamic (changeable focus) lenses. Pixel launched atLast! its first static composite enhanced multifocal in November of 2008. Panasonic Shikoku Electronics is one of the group companies of Osaka, Japan-based Panasonic Corporation.

Bill Kokonaski, Pixel’s chief technical officer, says, “Pixel and Panasonic Shikoku Electronics have been jointly developing the first ophthalmic eyewear solution that crosses over into the consumer electronics sector. We are most pleased to have Panasonic Shikoku Electronics assisting us with this development.”

In 1999 e-Vision began the development of electronic eyeglasses. e-Vision exclusively and globally licensed its intellectual property, trade secrets, and know-how to Pixel in 2005.

Pixel, with the help of nine other development partners from around the world, has been aggressively and diligently furthering the development. Panasonic Shikoku Electronics is one of the development partners playing a major role in creation of this product.

To date, Pixel has amassed an IP portfolio of over 300 patents and patent applications around the world. Dr. Ronald D. Blum, president and CEO of Pixel says, “Pixel’s electronic eyeglasses auto-focus faster than the blink of an eye using chemistry, electricity, and optics and do so without moving parts.

These eyeglasses allow for clear focus from far to near, and everything in between. They are lineless on the face of the wearer and provide significantly wider and less compromised fields of clear vision having far less areas of distortion than that of progressive addition lenses of an equal optical power.”

Progressive addition lenses presently are the most common and preferred way of correcting for presbyopia (a condition that results in the poor near and intermediate distance focus of one’s eyes after 45 years of age).

Blum says, “Pixel was delighted to have a global company as well respected as Panasonic Shikoku Electronics helping with the development. Panasonic Shikoku Electronics’ consumer knowledge and scientific expertise has proven to be most valuable and positive.”

“Panasonic Shikoku Electronics is very pleased to have had the opportunity to work on such an exciting project and one that will benefit so many people around the world,” says Yukinori Okazaki, CTO and board member of Panasonic Shikoku Electronics Co. “We anticipate there will be a lot of opportunities in health care that will benefit the world’s aging population in which Panasonic Shikoku Electronics can play a significant role. We see Pixel’s electronic eyeglasses as one of these opportunities.”

William Spies, Pixel’s COO, says, “PixelOptics has designed its electronic eyewear in such a way that it will involve all conventional channels of distribution: lens manufacturers, frame companies, wholesale optical labs, eye care professionals. No special equipment will be required to be purchased and the current eye examination will not change. We anticipate that if all goes to plan PixelOptics will move forward with a launch of its electronic eyeglasses in the second half of 2010. This is a most exciting time for our company.”

(From press release.)

Boxley Hits Environmental Mark

All eight of Roanoke-based Boxley Concrete plants throughout Virginia and West Virginia have achieved Green-Star Certification by the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association(NRMCA)in 2009.

The NRMCA Green-Star program recognizes Ready Mixed companies who maintain environmental management systems that aid in reducing negative environmental impacts resulting from operations. Of the more than 5,000 concrete plants in the U.S., only 60 have achieved Green-Star status.

Boxley plants are the only plants in Virginia and West Virginia to achieve Green-Star Certification.

Tech Engineering Students Eye Battle-Bot Competition

Tomonari Furukawa is leading the Tech engineering team^

The 2010 Multi-Autonomous Ground-robotic International Challenge (MAGIC) scheduled for November in Australia gives teams the task of building squads of autonomous ground robots that will coordinate, plan, and execute a series of timed maneuvers, including hunting objects, classifying and responding to simulated threats, and mapping diverse terrains at a field competition in Australia late this year.

Among the specific tasks: Differentiate friendly non-targets from enemy targets, and shoot lasers at and jam the communications of the latter. The top three winners will get cash prizes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the chance to work with Australian and United States defense agencies to develop their robotic designs that one day may work beside soldiers in future wars.

The American unit is the core ground robotics development agency for the U.S. Department of Defense. “We’ll have multiple small fully autonomous ground vehicles working together,” says project team member Dennis Hong, director of RoMeLa and an associate professor with the Virginia Tech mechanical engineering department. “There’s never been anything like this.”

Leading the team, which includes graduate and undergraduate students, is Tomonari Furukawa, an associate professor of mechanical engineering with Virginia Tech’s Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville. Furukawa has experience with unmanned ground and air vehicles.

Ten international teams are part of the MAGIC competition, culled from 23 proposals. Chiba University in Japan, the University of New South Wales in Australia, and America’s Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, and Cornell University are among the competitors.

Says Furukawa, “The multidisciplinary approach to both the team members and the faculty advisers give our team an extra edge. Dennis Hong’s experience in the DARPA Urban Challenge is invaluable, and his success as a leader in robotics research not only is confidence-building for our students, but also is extremely helpful as we try to best a very competitive slate of competitors.”

Organizers have provided $50,000 in seed money and there is an additional $20,000 from Virginia Center for Autonomous Systems. The mission will be based on a treasure hunt, with some target objects being stationary, while others will be mobile. The team, thus far, plans to re-engineer several high-end remote-controlled trucks and tanks for autonomous operation.

(From press release.)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Mattioni Named WVTF Program Director; Other Changes Made


Rick Mattioni (right) has been named program for WVTF Public Radio in Roanoke and RADIO IQ officially assigning him duties he has been performing for a while. Mattioni has been news director of the station for years and has been in public radio for 26 years.

With Mattioni's elevation to the control chair for both news and other programs, other changes are being made, as well. Susan Geary, who has been in the local Morning Edition chair at WVTF for more than two years has determined that going to work at 4 a.m. is something she'd rather let somebody else do. Geary says she was also running a resume-writing business she’s had for nine years and "having both jobs was wearing on me."

Geary has left the morning assignment to Beverly Amsler, who has been reporting for the station for several years and has been the morning person before. Connie Stevens, the veteran reporter at WVTF, has been assigned coordinating duties for the news department.

Finally, Sandy Hausman, who arrived at WVTF's Charlottesville operations from Chicago Public Radio, will be the bureau chief in the new Charlottesville bureau. The Charlottesville operation of the station is the top rated radio station in the market, says Mattioni, which may be a first for a public radio station in the country.

Outside the news operation, Cynthia Gray (above left), the former major gifts officer for the stations, is the new director of resource development for WVTF and RADIO IQ.

Mattioni has worked in broadcasting since the mid-1970sand he joined WVTF as news director in 1987, having previously worked at Syracuse’s NPR member station WAER. In 2002, Mattioni became program director WVTF’s all-news station RADIO IQ while continuing to supervise the WVTF news department.

Gray joined the public stations 2006 and she is now in charge of all fund-raising efforts for both stations, including individual, corporate, and major and planned gifts. She will also coordinate marketing, promotions, and special events. Gray has worked with area advertising agencies and Blue Ridge Public Television where she was director of development.