Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dynax Announces Major Expansion in Botetourt

Botetourt County Administrator Jerry Burgess speaks at the Dynax announcement. On his right are Mary Rae Carter, deputy secretary of commerce and trade for rural development; Kagenori Fukumura, president of Dynax America. On left is Billy Martin, chair of Botetourt Board of Supervisors.

Dynax America Corporation, a manufacturer of parts for auto transmissions, announced this morning that it will expand its existing Botetourt County facility, adding 95 new jobs and investing $15.66 million.

Parent company Dynax Corp. of Hokkaido, Japan, evaluated a number of locations for its expansion, including a potential site in China, before deciding to grow in Botetourt.

“Dynax’s strong management and the area’s excellent business climate have combined to help Dynax grow to be the largest private employer in Botetourt and one of the largest in the entire Roanoke Region,” says Billy Martin, chairman of the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors.

Dynax will expand into the former Johnson Controls building next to the current plant in EastPark Commerce Center. The new 80,000-square-foot facility will handle receiving and warehousing and allow Dynax to repurpose approximately 50,000 square feet in the existing building to increase production.

Expansion work will begin by the second quarter of 2011. The 95 new jobs will pay an average wage of $34,312. Of the $15.66 million in investment, $1.12 million will be in building and infrastructure with the balance in equipment.

"We are very optimistic about our company’s growth and development in Botetourt County, Virginia and would like to thank our partners who have made this expansion possible,” says Kagenori Fukumura, president of Dynax America.

The Commonwealth approved a $200,000 grant from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund to assist Botetourt County with the project. Th company is also eligible to receive a Major Business Facility Job Tax Credit. Through its Virginia Jobs Investment Program, the Virginia Department of Business Assistance will provide funding and services to support the company’s recruitment and training activities. Botetourt County will provide Dynax with cash and in-kind performance grants valued at $214,280 in support of the expansion.

Dynax America has 360 permanent employees at its Botetourt County location on Eastpark Drive. The company, which located in Botetourt in 1996, manufactures clutch discs, drive plates, clutch packs, and torque converter pistons for automatic transmissions.

Ferrum Conference Features High-End Speakers

Ferrum College will be host for Forum on Critical Thought, Leadership & Innovation at the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center April 7, its first serious regional foray into this kind of high-end discussion of issues.

The event will begin with registration and a buffet breakfast at 7:30 a.m., followed by individual speeches from the keynoters, and an opportunity for questions at the conclusion of each speech. A panel discussion with the speakers and business leaders from the Ferrum College Executive in Residence program will follow.

The Forum will feature three nationally known keynote speakers, Lawrence Eagleburger (bottom), former United States Secretary of State; Jeffrey Lacker (top left), president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, and Ronald Smith, a founding partner in Verdant Power Inc. Verdant is a renewable energy company commercializing kinetic hydropower systems that deliver hydro electricity without dams or impoundments.

Ferrum President Jennifer Braaten says, “Colleges and universities are tasked with providing the information, research and critical thought that will help the next generation tackle the world’s important issues.” She says the speakers will draw upon their unique experiences to outline their vision for the future in the areas of technology, geographic and cultural change, public policy, and environmental and economic trends.

Kimberly Blair, Ferrum’s Vice President for Institutional Advancement, says, “We at Ferrum wanted to provide an opportunity for area business leaders and business students to hear what some of the nation’s best minds believe will be the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow. We are confident that this inaugural event will accomplish that goal.”

The Forum will conclude with a VIP luncheon beginning at 11:15 a.m. For details about how you can register for the Forum on Critical Thought, Leadership & Innovation call 540-365-4211.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Next Step of R.J. Kirk: Intrexon Breakout

Forbes magazine's Robert Langreth has an extensive interview with technology investor R.J. Kirk (above) of Radford, a guy he calls "the best biotech investor ever" here.

Kirk has taken on a partner in order "to change the world," says Langreth.

Here's some of what Langreth says:

But Kirk says everything he has done in the past pales next to the potential of his latest project: Intrexon, a secretive research-stage company that is working on the hot new field of synthetic biology—basically genetic engineering on steroids. Kirk and his investment fund, Third Security, have poured $200 million into the closely held 180-person company based in Blacksburg, which has no drugs on the market.

“I’ve been a biotech investor for 27 years, and Intrexon is by far the best thing I’ve ever seen,” says Kirk, 56, who raises falcons and composes electronic music on a 7,200-acre cattle farm in rural Pulaski County, Va. He likens Intrexon to “the Google of the life sciences” and predicts that in a decade it could become “the largest, most significant company” in its burgeoning field.

(Forbes photo.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

At VTK an Innovation for Freelancers

VT KnowledgeWorks has launched the JumpStart Community, a flexible, open-plan workspace in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center for freelancers looking to escape a home-office or no-office situation.

The JumpStart Community provides professional resources and services, and opportunities for networking and project collaboration among individuals in an open-plan office atmosphere.

The VT KnowledgeWorks JumpStart Community amenities include high-speed wi-fi, a first-come, first-serve conference room, collaboration tables, workstations, lockers, and a break room with a coffee maker and water cooler, along with a business magazine library, copy and fax machine, basic office supplies, and access to other conference rooms in the building.

Members will also enjoy all the benefits, perks, and services offered to tenants of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, as well as receive a USPO street address. Members can choose a workspace and locker for only $125 per month, or a lockable personal workstation for $200 per month.

Both options include all the features listed above.

The JumpStart Community is located in the VT KnowledgeWorks I Building in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center at 2200 Kraft Drive, Suite 1225, Blacksburg, Virginia. For questions or more information, contact Christine Pushaw at 540-443-9100 or via email at

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Caterpillar To Sell Carter Machinery

Caterpillar Inc. has reached an agreement to sell Carter Machinery Company Inc., based in Salem, the only Caterpillar dealership in the U.S. not independently owned. Carter has operations and stores covering Virginia and nine counties in southeast West Virginia.

The current senior management of Carter Machinery, which led the buy-out of Carter Machinery from Caterpillar, will remain in place. Jim Parker, a retired Caterpillar VP, will become CEO of Carter Machinery and will be the principal owner going forward. Caterpillar has owned Carter Machinery since 1988.

"Over the last 20 years, Carter Machinery has consistently been an excellent performing dealership, but as we updated our corporate strategy in 2010, it was clear that continued Caterpillar ownership did not align with our core strategic plans," says Stu Levenick, Caterpillar group president with responsibility for customer and dealer support.

"We are pleased the management team will remain with the dealership and believe Jim Parker's strong customer-focus makes him an ideal fit for this business. With this transition, Carter Machinery customers should expect to receive the same high level quality, service and support that they have come to expect from Carter Machinery and Caterpillar products," Levenick says.

"I am honored to be joining the Carter team and we expect there will be a seamless transition for customers as we look to continue to provide world class sales and product support for Caterpillar customers in Virginia and southeast West Virginia," Parker says.

The terms of sale are not being disclosed.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Comfort Cuisine Going Downtown With Grocery Store

Jon Kenny and Arlene Fields will move Comfort Cuisine downtown.^

Comfort Cuisine, a small caterer specializing in healthy menus tucked away in Garden City will make its downtown Roanoke debut shortly, moving into 16 West Marketplace and opening a long-awaited grocery store.

As downtown housing has filled up in recent years, the need for a grocery store has grown and Comfort Cuisine will not only furnish that, but also a smoothie and coffee shop in addition to their healthy prepared foods that are delivered to customers in many cases.

Jon Kenny and Arlene Fields each has considerable background in food service and business in general (see Dan Smith's column in the January issue of FRONT).

John Garland of Spectrum Designs owns the building with several partners and has planned to make it something of a retail center for the growing community living in downtown Roanoke. The building has been a cafeteria and most recently a gym.

Garland says he's thrilled at the breakthrough and that Comfort Cuisine will provide "everything they [already] do, plus a downtown location to provide not only pickup and catering, but you can eat there, too, and buy the ingredients at the grocery store and follow [Jon's] recipes and make it yourself."

In addition to the new grocery store and restaurant, Garland says the building, which is still being renovated, has "eight apartments under construction, and I listed them on CraigsList one time and started showing them less than two weeks ago. I already have six of them rented and more showings this weekend. Downtown apartments, or at least the great ones at 16 West, are going like hotcakes."


Friday, February 11, 2011

Top Virginia Highway Projects Identified (Just One Is Local)

In order to adequately support Virginia (Bs existing industries and provide for additional economic growth, the state will need to make numerous improvements to its surface transportation system. This is according to a new report released today byTRIP, a Washington, D.D.- based national transportation research organization.

TRIP’s report identifies and ranks the projects needed to provide Virginia with a transportation system that can support the increased movement of people, goods and resources throughout the state. The most needed surface transportation improvements in Virginia include 36 projects to build, expand or modernize highways, six projects to improve public transit and eight projects to improve the state’s rail system.

These improvements would enhance economic development opportunities throughout the state by increasing mobility and freight movement, easing congestion, and making Virginia an attractive place to live, visit and do business. According to the TRIP report, the most needed projects for the state’s economic growth are are primarily in the larger urban areas of the commonwealth.

Just one of the Top 10 (widening certain sections of I-81 by two lanes) has a connection to this region. I-95, I-64, I-66 and U.S. 29 are all priorities, as is the Metrorail near Dulles Airport in D.C. and the Hampton Bay Bridge Tunnel and Third Crossing/Patriots Crossing. A full list of needed projects, descriptions and their impact on economic development can be found in the appendix of the report.

“Transportation and education are two key elements of a strong regional economy,” says Ken Lanford, chairman of the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce and president of Lanford Brothers Company. “The Roanoke Region is fortunate to be strategically situated in an attractive part of Virginia. Expanding and improving our infrastructure, including roads, rails, transit and the efficient flow of goods will further strengthen our economic development efforts.”

Enhancing critical segments of Virginia’s surface transportation system will boost the state’s economy in the short-term by creating jobs in construction and related fields. In the long term these improvements will enhance economic competitiveness by reducing travel delays and transportation costs, improving access and mobility, improving safety, and stimulating sustained job growth, improving the quality of life for the state’s residents and visitors.

Sustaining Virginia’s long-term economic growth and maintaining the state’s high quality of life will require increased investment in expanding the capacity of the state’s surface transportation system, which will enhance business productivity and support short- and long-term job creation in the state.

“Virginia can’t get where it wants to go – in both a literal and an economic sense – without an efficient transportation system,” says Will Wilkins, executive director of TRIP. “It is critical that Virginia’s transportation system is adequately funded at the local, state and federal level. Thousands of jobs and the state’s economic well being are riding on it.”

TRIP ranked each transportation project based on a rating system that considered the following: short-term economic benefits, including job creation; the level of improvement in the condition of the transportation facility, including safety improvements; the degree of improvement in access and mobility; and the long-term improvement provided in regional or state economic performance and competitiveness.

Two Salem Buildings Sold, One to Wine Importer

Two commercial buildings totaling 23,000 square feet in Salem have been sold, one to a wine importer.

One warehouse is being renovated to provide a larger and more consolidated operation for Andes Importers Inc., an importer and distributor of fine wines. The second is under a multi-year lease.

The buildings are located at 1993 and 2001 Salem Industrial Drive.

“This is a substantial transaction that hopefully reflects some much-needed activity in the local commercial real estate market,” says Boyd Johnson, director of asset management of Hall Associates, which brokered the deals. Hall Associates was able to facilitate the transaction from initial visit to closing is less than 45 days.”

VT-Carilion Hires Top Researcher

William (Jamie) Tyler, who has received international attention for research on the development of low-intensity ultrasound for the treatment of such brain disorders as epilepsy and Parkinson's disease, has joined the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in Roanoke.

Tyler will be an assistant professor with the institute and with the School of Biomedical Engineering and Science in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. He has been an assistant professor of neurobiology and bioimaging in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University since 2006.

In 2010, he was awarded the Arizona Governor's Innovator of the Year Award for Academia for his research on noninvasive brain stimulation therapies using ultrasound. His work has resulted in several patent applications, the development of prototype devices, and the formation of medical device company, SynSonix LLC, which is pursuing its R&D activities in Cambridge, Mass.

"My group studies the fundamental properties of synaptic transmission and how best to control neuronal activity for making nervous systems more efficient," he says. The ability to treat a number of major brain disorders that become unresponsive to pharmacological intervention, such as Parkinson’s disease, major depression, or severe seizures, can require invasive neurosurgery with the placement of stimulating electrodes deep into the brain. Such treatments are effective but risky, so they are used rarely and not until other treatment options have been exhausted. Tyler has demonstrated on laboratory animal models that pulsed ultrasound can be used to stimulate neuronal activity without the need for invasive brain surgery or genetic manipulation.

Tyler says, "The aim of his group’s work is to stimulate cells in specific regions of the brain to release communication molecules called neurotransmitters since many brain disorders are a result of disrupted communication between groups of nerve cells. Their work is supported by the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency. SynSonix is developing a platform for medical devices that use ultrasound to regulate brain activity.

"We look forward to integrating several aspects of our research and development enterprise into the Roanoke and New River Valley technology corridors soon," Tyler says. In some embodiments, the SynSonix technology could take the form of helmet-mounted devices.

"While at this stage, the headgear is a bit bulky for around the clock wear, the military is interested because the technology is a promising way to treat soldiers returning from war who are suffering from traumatic brain injuries," Tyler says. Over 1.5 million Americans per year suffer a traumatic brain injury.

Not only are they the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but traumatic brain injuries are the greatest cause of death and disability in children as well as an increasingly important health issue for athletes and the aging population due to falls and poor balance.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Roanoke Civic Center Gets New GM

Global Spectrum, operator of the four-facility Roanoke Civic Center, has named Robyn Schon (pictured) general manager, replacing Chris Connolly, who has been promoted to GM of the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines. Connolly has served as GM of the Roanoke Civic Center since Global Spectrum was contracted to manage the facility in December, 2008.

Schon, who most recently was the Assistant GM of the Roanoke Civic Center, has worked in public assembly facility management for 25 years, the last 13 at the Roanoke Civic Center. She began her career in the marketing department and has served as the assistant GM for the last six years. She has a B.S. in organizational management from Bluefield College and earned her M.A. from Hollins University.

“Robyn was a tremendous asset to Global Spectrum when our company became managers of the facility,” says Global Spectrum COO John Page. “As we transitioned our company into Roanoke, Robyn showcased her talents and her knowledge of what it would take to operate a facility such as the Roanoke Civic Center. Working closely with Chris, she has obtained the additional skills to maintain a high-level of customer service and an eventful calendar to make the Roanoke Civic Center continue to flourish.

“We will certainly miss working with Chris on a daily basis,” says Schon. “He created a culture at the Roanoke Civic Center based on Global Spectrum's corporate philosophy, which is focused on offering exemplary customer service to our clients and guests, and bringing the best entertainment possible to this Valley. I hope to continue in the same direction and lead our organization to great success.”

“During the two years that Global Spectrum has managed the Roanoke Civic Facilities Complex, there has been a significant improvement in the quality of event programming and the financial condition of the facility,” said Sherman Stovall, assistant city manager for operations. “We expect and look forward to continued success in the relationship we have with Global Spectrum under Robyn Schon's leadership.”

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Novozymes Deal Completed

Novozymes, a bio-innovation company with a plant in Roanoke County, has completed its acquisition EMD/Merck Crop BioScience. Novozymes moves into development of sustainable solutions for industry and agriculture.

“We’re excited to bring these two innovative companies together to help farmers produce more and better food, feed, fuel, and fiber while minimizing the environmental footprint,” says Thomas Videbæk, executive vice president of Novozymes.

The deal complements Novozymes’ existing agricultural biologicals business. Novozymes hopes to accelerate the development of new products for farmers.

“With the wider range of expertise and greater capacity for research and development, we’ll be able to introduce new products into the market quicker than before,” says Videbæk. “The acquisition expands our business reach, enabling us to deliver more value to more farmers globally.”

Following the acquisition, announced that expected revenue growth should increase from an expected 7-10 percent to 10-13 percent.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Carilion Community Benefit: $154.9 Million

Carilion Clinic’s overall community benefit hit a new high in 2009, reaching $154.9 million. The expenditures were spread throughout the region, including the Roanoke and New River valleys and Giles, Tazewell, Franklin, Bedford and Rockbridge counties.

Carilion reports its community benefit to the Internal Revenue Service each year, basing the figures on IRS guidelines. Carilion Clinic is a community asset with no owners, investors or stockholders. Its revenue stays in the region and is reinvested to meet local health care needs.

As a not-for-profit organization, Carilion is exempt from paying most taxes (though Carilion does pay taxes on some property, including the new Riverside development in Roanoke). In 2009, Carilion was exempt from $22.7 million in taxes. In return, Carilion gave approximately $154.9 million back to the community, nearly $7 for every dollar of tax exemption.

Uncompensated care made up most of the reported community benefit, at $129 million. This includes charity care, Medicare and Medicaid costs that are not reimbursed, and the cost of care that is later classified as uncollectible. In 2009, Carilion provided an average of $350,000 in uncompensated care every day.

Carilion also provided $20.8 million to train doctors and other local health professionals, $2.7 million for community health improvement programs, $1.6 million in contributions and grants to community health organizations, and $680,430 to support local health research.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Walker to Buy 101.5 Radio Station

Developer Ed Walker has his eye on 101.5.^

Roanoke radio station WVMP, 101.5 FM, which has become something of a force in the Roanoke radio market during the past year with its listener-driven programming and expanding partnerships, is in the process of being purchased by developer Ed Walker, according to a news release.

The station, known as “The Music Place,” has caught the imagination of a broad range of Roanokers tired of bland music programming and ownership that doesn’t reflect anything about Roanoke.

Walker is the visionary downtown developer who has renovated several historic buildings and built the city's downtown community into a force.

Here’s the news release:

Roanoke CityWorks Community Broadcasting has filed for a change of ownership with the FCC, indicating its planned purchase of the assets of WVMP, 101.5 FM, pending FCC approval.

CCB is an initiative of CityWorks, the social entrepreneurship entity of community developer, Ed Walker, which uses principles from commerce, entrepreneurship, arts and culture, education and knowledge, as well as connectivity to strengthen community in the region.
101.5 has been owned by Centennial Broadcasting and operated by its local station manager, Tom Kennedy, and his staff.

In the 15 months since 101.5 the music place has been on the air, it has demonstrated its ability to garner a passionate and loyal following, comprised of a highly desirable listener profile, of an upscale, intelligent, discerning, difficult to reach audience.
Through a format unique to this region, the Adult Album Alternative format is known for its singer/songwriter style, a large selection of music and artists, and a non-traditional approach to advertising.

The AAA format of 101.5 the music place, along with its involvement with local cultural arts and community stewardship, has helped spawn new economic and cultural development for the City. The community response has been of tremendous unity, a new enthusiasm for the Roanoke Valley, and of ancillary businesses emerging, through a growth in the cultural arts.

Under Centennial's ownership and Kennedy's leadership, 101.5 developed into an important and innovative contributor to the Roanoke Valley. Still, Centennial decided to head in different directions and began making preparations to sell 101.5. Over the last 14 months, Walker, of CityWorks, says he became familiar with 101.5 and admired the significant leadership role it was developing.

The station's focus on community initiatives and the curatorial quality of its programming, and deviation from traditional approaches to advertising were compelling to CityWorks and worth preserving, he says.
Walker says the risk of losing 101.5 was significant enough to compel CityWorks to examine the possibility of buying the station, keeping the team in place, and to begin developing initiatives to vault 101.5 into the highest level of the nation's very finest, small AAA stations.

Walker says CityWorks intends to use its capital and creativity to continue the best aspects of 101.5 the music place, and to build on them to create a profitable enterprise and a powerful community resource.
"Centennial's entire team has been so impressive and of such a high caliber. I'm grateful that they allowed Tom Kennedy develop his approach, which is of demonstrable benefit for Roanoke, and allowed us this time for a seamless transition," Walker says. “101.5 the music place will continue its work as a locally owned, true community station, in their promotion of local cultural arts and community stewardship.”

Following this transaction, Tom Kennedy will remain as meneral Manager, and will be employed by CityWorks Community Broadcasting.