Friday, April 29, 2011

Whopper of a Windfall for Virginia Tech Engineering

Tech's proposed new Signature Engineering Building.^

An anonymous donor has committed $25 million toward the Signature Engineering Building planned for Virginia Tech, the largest single donation ever given to the 139-year-old institution.

It was was one of three multimillion-dollar contributions to Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering highlighted yesterday by university President Charles W. Steger. Speaking at a press conference at the Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center, Steger also announced $3 million in support for the project from the Quillen family of Southwest Virginia, and the receipt of $17 million from an estate gift in support of the mechanical and chemical engineering departments. Both will have space in the building.

The Quillens’ support was led by alumnus Michael J. Quillen, who earned his bachelor's degree in civil engineering in 1971 and his master's degree in the subject in 1972, of Bristol. The departmental support, in the form of both scholarships and professorships, is from the late Robert E. Hord Jr. of Richmond. He earned his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1949 and his master's degree in power and fuel engineering in 1950.

Hord’s gift is the largest bequest in Virginia Tech history.

“These three gifts, along with many others received since 2003 – when we launched our $1 billion Campaign for Virginia Tech: Invent the Future – demonstrate how private support provides a margin of excellence for our institution,” Steger says. “This new building, as well as the many new scholarships and faculty assistance funds provided by donors over the life of our campaign, are helping our largest college to raise the bar even higher for engineering education in Virginia.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

She Chooses: A Meeting of the Minds (Finally)

What do women want? The four co-founders of She Chooses, the social network for women, think She Chooses is part of the answer. She Chooses launched to the public on March 22, 2011 and its members will meet to celebrate the launch, both actually and virtually May 3 at their Launch Party.

The party is scheduled for 5:30-7:30 p.m. at restaurant 622 North in Blacksburg. The first She Chooses Chat will be held on the She Chooses site from 6-7 p.m. with guest host Janeson Keeley, an early supporter and friend of She Chooses.

Since announcing the She Chooses Launch Party, the network was nominated for the Rising Star Award from the NewVa Corridor Technology Council. Winners will be announced at the TechNite Awards Banquet May 12 at The Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center in Roanoke.

Three of the four co-founders of She Chooses will meet for the first time for TechNite. She Chooses was co-founded by Anne Giles Clelland, Alex Edelman, Henry Bass, and Laureen Fleming. The She Chooses team has worked remotely from its beginnings, “meeting” weekly via Skype.

Alex Edelman will fly in for TechNite and he and Henry Bass and Laureen Fleming will meet in person for the first time. When the parent company of She Chooses, Wasabi Enterprises, was formed in 2010, the founders ranged in age from 19 to 51.

She Chooses is the social network for women whose members choose what, how, and with whom they share. She Chooses features an algorithm-based sharing component that helps women ask themselves what they’re feeling and thinking prior to making a choice—Feel. Think. Choose. Offering the opportunity to privately consider members’ publicly shared choices ranked appreciatively by other members, She Chooses fosters personal reflection and communication in the company of other women.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nikki Giovanni Key Speaker at Housing Symposium

Two high-profile speakers are scheduled to be part of this year’s Roanoke Regional Housing Network Symposium: Livable Communities. The day-long symposium, organized in partnership with Housing Virginia, will be held at the Vinton War Memorial on Wednesday, May 4, 2011, beginning with opening remarks at 8:30 a.m.

Nikki Giovanni, a world-renowned poet and University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, will present the keynote address at 12:30 p.m. Giovanni will read poetry and deliver remarks that center on creating a more habitable world.

Blacksburg resident Carol Crawford Smith, a former dancer who gained national recognition when she received a new house on the program Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is also scheduled to be part of the day-long program.

The Roanoke Regional Housing Network provides a forum for the region’s housing interests to become proactively involved with housing issues. This year’s symposium includes the following workshops:

Morning Workshops
9:10 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Ensuring Access to Livable Communities
Bringing Veterans Back Into Our Communities
Planning for Livable Communities
Roanoke Neighborhood Revitalization Partnership
Financing Livable Communities
Making the Case for Affordable Housing

Midmorning Workshop

10:45 a.m. – 12:05 p.m.
Ensuring Access to Livable Communities
Universal Design: An Extreme Home Makeover (Carol Crawford Smith & others)
Planning for Livable Communities
Local Government Guiding Homeowners
Financing Livable Communities
Show Me The Money (Again!)

12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Keynote Speaker: Nikki Giovanni
Presentation of Roanoke Regional Housing Network Affordable Housing Advocacy Award

Afternoon Workshops

2:00 p.m. – 3:20 p.m.
Ensuring Access to Livable Communities
Foreclosure Prevention and Services
Planning for Livable Communities
Affordable Housing in Mixed-Use
UDAS: Newtown in James City County
Financing Livable Communities
Making Green Building Affordable

For more information, go here.

(From press release.)

Sustainability Summit Scheduled Friday

The Cabell Brand Center and the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission will co-host the Roanoke Valley Regional Sustainability Summit on April 29, 2011 and will bring together leaders from area colleges, local governments and the business community to identify environmental, housing, transportation, and economic sustainability challenges in the region.

The summit will also identify opportunities for synergy, interaction, and collaboration among colleges, local governments and the business community. The Summit will be held Friday, April 29, 2011, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Greenfield Education and Training Center in Daleville.

The summit will include presentations on issues of sustainability from key area leaders and opening remarks from E. Cabell Brand, Chair of the Cabell Brand Center, and Wayne G. Strickland, Executive Director of the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission.

It will also feature a keynote address from Mariia Zimmerman, the Deputy Director of the Office of Sustainable Housing and Sustainable Communities, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The summit outcome is expected to identify common regional sustainability goals, needs, priorities and strategies. The outcome will be integrated into the forthcoming Roanoke Valley Sustainability Plan that is being developed by a consortium of local governments, nonprofits, and business interests, led by the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission.

In addition, as the summit follow up, the Cabell Brand Center will coordinate a task force to identify regional opportunities and establish partnerships for collaboration between local governments, area colleges and the business community. For more information on the Summit please visit:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Judi Billups Joins FRONT as Ad Executive

Veteran advertising executive Judi Billups (right) has joined Valley Business FRONT magazine in that capacity.

Billips has been a district manager for The Roanoke Times, an account executive for WSLS Television in Roanoke and had taught advertising at Radford University. She has a master’s degree in business administration.

Billips is a native of Virginia beach. She joins Kathy Bibb as a recent addition in the advertising department. “Judi brings strong and positive attributes to a key position within the company as we seek to take the business to the next level,” says Publisher Tom Field. “We are excited and anticipate considerable growth over the next few months with the addition of two outstanding advertising executives.”

Nine Area Companies Share Federal Grant

Nine projects totaling more than half a million dollars have been approved for Southwest Virginia’s transportation equipment manufacturing industry.

The grants provide money to make industrial plants more efficient, fuel new product creation, or beef up company research-and-development efforts, Virginia Tech’s Office of Economic Development announced.

The largest grant recipient is Volvo Trucks North America, headquartered in Dublin. Four smaller companies also competed successfully for the grants: Salem Vent, Imperial Group of Dublin, and Dynax America and Metalsa of Roanoke.

The grants are issued under a U.S. Economic Development Administration project focused on Southwest Virginia. The money is designated to provide the kind of technical assistance that allows companies to grow and create jobs. Assistance to companies will be provided through College of Engineering faculty led by the Center for High Performance Manufacturing. Other research guidance will be provided by experts from GENEDGE Alliance (formerly the Virginia Philpott Manufacturing Extension Partnership.)

“We are excited to launch the kind of research and development that will make companies more competitive, helping them flourish and create jobs,” says John Provo, director of Virginia Tech’s Office of Economic Development and Virginia Tech’s principal investigator on the grant. “This is our first big milestone of an ambitious three-year project.”

The projects include development of lightweight aluminum side rails for heavy trucks (Metalsa), better fresh-air ventilation systems for sleeper cabs (Salem Vent), and improvements in several areas of Volvo Truck’s manufacturing plants.

The grant will underwrite $400,000 of the work, along with $200,000 in contributions from the companies.

A second and final round of grant funding will be made available in the fall. The grant area encompasses the Roanoke Valley and Allegheny Highlands through the New River Valley to Washington County. “We are looking for projects that will develop new products, improve processes, or implement green technologies,” says Kevin Byrd, executive director of the New River Valley Planning District Commission.

(Virginia Tech press release.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tech Tuition Continues To Climb

The Virginia Tech Board of Visitors Executive Committee today set tuition and fees for the 2011-12 academic year rising for a Virginia undergraduate student to $10,509, an increase of $920. Tuition and mandatory fees for a non-Virginia undergraduate student will be $24,480, an increase of $1,263.

Total average annual costs for a Virginia undergraduate student living on campus with a meal plan will increase from $15,879 to $17,365. Out of state undergraduate students will see this figure rise from $29,507 to $31,336.

According to Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, the increase in tuition and fees is necessary to ensure continued availability of course sections and to address escalating utility costs and the operation and maintenance of new facilities as state support for higher education continues to decline.

"We are very appreciative that this year Governor McDonnell recommended, and the General Assembly appropriated, an increase in funding for higher education, after several years of reductions, and the support for higher education shown through the adoption of the new legislation resulting from the governor's Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation, and Investment is heartening," said Steger.

"At the same time, state funding for Virginia Tech remains well below that of 10 years ago, even though our enrollment and programs have grown significantly. State funding for Virginia Tech's educational division has plunged from $182 million in 2000-01 to $131 million in 2011-12," said Steger.

State support per in-state student at Virginia Tech is less than half today, once adjusted for inflation, than it was a decade ago. The state’s share of Virginia Tech’s educational cost has dropped from 58 percent in 2000-01 down to 28 percent in the coming fiscal year.

“While the economy has begun to recover in Virginia, the next fiscal year contains the outcome of previously scheduled federal and state actions,” said Steger. “The university will lose an additional $16 million in state funding, partially offset by $3 million in new funding for Fiscal Year 11-12. Further, the university will no longer receive $21 million in federal stimulus funding that was designed to temporarily plug the hole created by state funding cuts. The net effect is a fiscal shift of a larger portion of the cost of education from public sources to students which increases tuition.”

In spite of funding cuts, Virginia Tech has managed to retain key programs, minimize loss of faculty positions, and mitigate impact on course offerings.

Virginia Tech plans to again increase university funds for need-based financial aid by more than $1.3 million in the upcoming year--raising this total to approximately $13.1 million--to further ensure access. The university’s Funds for the Future program and Presidential Scholarship Initiative will continue to assist student with financial need, and it will continue the Horizons Program for students whose family must cope with job loss or other economic downturns.

Virginia Tech's total financial aid program, which includes state and federal loans and grants, scholarships, institutional support, and College Work Study grants, is expected to exceed $370 million in Fiscal Year 2011-12.

Graduate tuition and fees for Virginia residents will increase from $10,993 to $11,705, and will increase from $19,957 to $21,723 for out-of-state students. Tuition and fees for Maryland and Virginia residents attending the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine will be $20,636, up from $19,675 a year ago. Non-resident veterinary students will pay $44,608, up from $42,704.

Virginia Tech continues to grow enrollment in response to demand, even while losing state support, Steger noted.

Virginia student full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment grew at Virginia Tech from 18,609 in 2004-05 to 21,544 in 2010-11. Total university FTE enrollment grew from 27,686 in 2004-05 to 31,520 in 2010-11.

(Virginia Tech press release.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Taubman Grants Announced for Cultural Organizations

Nick and Jenny Taubman, the namesake of the Taubman Museum of Art and significant benefactors for the Roanoke arts community, have announced the distribution breakdown for the first half of their $2.5 million in grants for arts and cultural organizations over the next two years.

The grant program was announced in the winter and 26 organizations have presented their applications since then.

Those getting the maximum $100,000 of the first half of the grants include the Taubman Museum, Center in the Square, Science Museum of Western Virginia, Historical Society of Western Virginia, Roanoke Children’s Theatre, Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, Opera Roanoke, Jefferson Center and the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

The Arts Council of the Blue Ridge, Local Colors, Grandin Theatre Foundation, Salem Museum and the Southwest Virginia Ballet each will receive $50,000 and $25,000 grants go to Apple Ridge Farm, Blue Ridge PBS, Harrison Museum of African American Culture and Studio Roanoke. There were 26 applicants for grants.

There was some surprise that Mill Mountain Theatre was not among those receiving grants. The theater, which is in the midst or reorganization applied for a grant, but it was turned down. According to a source, the reason cited was "viability." There has been some skepticism whether MMT could come back from closing in 2009 with a load of debt. That debt has been erased and the theater announced a new artistic director today.

On the other end, there was also surprise at the $25,000 for edge new live theater Studio Roanoke and for the whopping $100,000 for Roanoke Children's Theatre, which was started by Pat Wilhelms shortly after she was fired by MMT. Lots of drama and competition here.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Kathy Bibb Joins FRONT as Ad Exec

Kathy Bibb (right) has joined Valley Business FRONT as an advertising executive.

A native of Lynchburg, Bibb moved to Roanoke in 1987 to found Roanoke Auto Trader and she was general manager of the magazine for 11 years, winning Best Developing Property Award in 1992.

She has a bachelor's degree in Business Management from Averett College (now University). Bibb began a real estate career in 1999 and has been with MKB Realtors, where she won several production awards and served on a numver of committees. She served on the board of directors for The Roanoke Valley Association of REALTORS, 2010-2011.

Her blog, was begun in 2009 as an informational blog about the Roanoke Valley. Bibb is an avid reader who enjoys photography, cooking, working out and "going up in anything that flies."

FRONT Publisher Tom Field said, "We love the enthusiasm Kathy brings to the key position of advertising executive. With her connections, her energy and her intense curiosity, we believe she will fit beautifully in the organization and bring her special brand of success to the entire product."

Friday, April 15, 2011

WVTF's Hausman Part of International Reporting Team

The International Reporting Project has chosen WVTF/RADIO IQ ’s Sandy Hausman (right) and 10 other senior news editors and producers from across the United States to take part in a two-week trip to Indonesia this spring.

During the visit, Hausman will report on a major food security initiative led by Virginia Tech That project, centered primarily on the islands of Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi, will develop strategies for protecting high-value crops from damage by insects and disease. It is part of a larger effort, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, to raise the standard of living of people around the world through environmentally sound agricultural practices.

"Indonesia is a rising economic and political power in the world and is increasingly a model of how an autocratic state makes a peaceful transition to democracy," said John Schidlovsky, director of the International Reporting Project, which is based in Washington, D.C., at The Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

The Southeast Asian nation is the world's fourth most populous, and it's home to more Muslims than any other country. "We are very proud of Sandy for being chosen to serve in this prestigious capacity and for the award-winning work she has done for us since taking over as our Charlottesville bureau chief," says WVTF/RADIO IQ Program Director Rick Mattioni.

Other reporters will come from a variety of news agencies, including the New York Times, National Public Radio, ABC News, the San Francisco Chronicle, “Marketplace,” PBS “Newshour,” CNN, National geographic and Foreign Affairs magazine.

(Virginia Tech press release.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Seniors Mob Salem Civic Center for Expo

Virginia Prosthetics' booth featured skeletal displays.^

Carilion Clinic was pushing its new Medicare Advantage program.^

Seniors take a rest in the eating/resting area.^

Bluegrass is the standard musical far.^

If you gotta die, go in style.^

From above: seniors pack the Salem Civic Center floor.^

DAN SMITH story, photos

If mortality (your own) is at the top of your concerns these days, run over to the Salem Civic Center where you will have a great deal of company. The annual Senior Expo is being held within and the big danger inside the building is getting run down by a runaway walker or having an oxygen tank fall on your foot.

When I was there this morning (trying to blend in as one of the crowd), it was wall to wall codgers, maybe as many as 2,000 and the buses were still coming.

Inside, you could arrange your funeral, put yourself into a care facility, arrange to move (and sell the stuff you don't want), watch a fashion show, but over the counter meds and do all the things businesses perceive my age group is interested in. Commerce at its best with the nation's largest demographic.

The expo is free and the freebies--the elderly are behind only sportswriters as freeloaders--are voluminous.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Regulatory Innovation Needed, Says Federal Reserve Bank Hed

Ferrum President Jennifer Braaten (foreground) listens to Jeffrey Lacker (also below).^


“In my view, the question is not whether financial innovation is inherently good or bad. Instead, we should think about whether particular financial innovations are improving people’s well-being. And that, I think, is largely dependent upon the structure of the regulations and policies under which financial firms operate.”

That was the message this morning from Richmond Federal Reserve Bank President Jeffrey Lacke. He emphasized innovation in the new financial regulatory environment at the Ferrum College Forum on Critical Thought, Innovation and Leadership at Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center.

Lacker acknowledged that there have been some innovative mortgage products that were popular and later became problematic. But he pointed out that there have been some changes in the regulations requiring banks to hold more capital in lending. “We’ve strengthened consumer protections that require the lenders to have a better idea as to whether the borrower can repay.”

Why did Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guarantee so many loans that became troubled, ultimately resulting in those agencies being put into conservator-ship? “I have alluded to one very important reason: Those institutions were widely perceived correctly as it turned out, as being inside the safety net,” says Lacker. “As a result, they had much less incentive to provide sufficient scrutiny when evaluating many of the loans they guaranteed or securities they purchased.

Lacker says a consensus has emerged that Fannie and Freddie need to be wound down and that one way to do this would be to shut them down immediately. “While closing them down has some appeal, I don’t think it is politically feasible, or economically desirable," he says. "Such an approach would require overly rapid adjustments in housing finance arrangements, as the housing market is still coping with the aftermath of the bust.

In February, the Department of Treasury and the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a report to Congress outlining some ways to “wind down both institutions, creating the conditions for private capital to play the predominant role in housing finance.”

Among their proposals are: increase guarantee fees to bring in more private capital; increase private capital ahead of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guarantees; reduce conforming loan limits; and wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s investment portfolio.

“As the agencies’ report states,” he says, Fannie and Freddie “were allowed to behave like government-backed hedge funds, managing large investment portfolios for the profit of their shareholders with the risk ultimately falling largely on taxpayers.” Lacker says he agrees with that assessment, and he believes it was a mistake that must not be repeated.

How would a government shutdown affect availability of money, especially for small businesses? “I don’t think it would have a major affect. Small Business Administration (SBA) loans may be held up,” says Lacker.

Other featured speakers at the Ferrum College sponsored forum included Lawrence Eagleburger, a former U.S. Secretary of State and Ronald Smith, Chief Executive Officer and a founding partner in Verdant Power Inc.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

No More Babies at Franklin Memorial Hospital

Carilion Clinic will remove the delivery of babies from the third of its rural hospitals, Franklin Memorial (above). Carilion earlier announced it was stopping the delivery of babies at Bedford Memorial and Stonewall Jackson Hospital in Lexington, a trend among major health care organizations that own rural hospitals.

Carilion will continue deliveries at Roanoke Memorial in Roanoke and New River Valley Medical Center in Christiansburg. Babies will no longer be delivered at Franklin Memorial after June 13.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

When the News at Work is Bad ...

When bad news needs to be shared, the response is influenced by how bad the news is, what is said, and who says it according to a new study at Virginia Tech. Research by Terry Cobb (left), a management associate professor in the Pamplin College of Business, focuses on what makes such communications effective or successful.

Leaders sometimes have to make tough choices that can result in loss and disappointment to their followers, says Cobb, who specializes in organizational politics and organizational justice. “Such decisions undermine the commitment and cooperation that leaders need from their followers to be effective.” Negative reactions, however, can be mitigated by the explanations given for those decisions—explanations that scholars term “social accounts.”

Social accounts, Cobb says, can be viewed as a form of persuasive communication designed to affect the perceptions, attitudes, and behavior of the message recipients. “They can be seen as devices not only for accounting for one’s action but also for helping message receivers to understand the situation and the players involved and convincing message receivers to think better of leaders.”

Such communications “can increase employee perceptions of fairness and mitigate adverse reactions to downsizing and layoffs, unfavorable changes in benefits, negative feedback, and undesirable behavior,” he adds. “They can also increase the willingness of customers to do business with a company, repair trust following a violation, help facilitate organizational change, and help the leader maintain a more positive image.”

In a recent study, Cobb and his co-author, Francis Frey of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, focus on what makes accounts effective or successful by examining the effects of the specificity of the message, the expertise of the source, and the extent of the losses that the explanations are intended to address.

“We found that when managers give an explanation for decisions that have caused loss, they need to be more specific in addressing the concerns of their followers and the reasons behind their decisions. Being vague or dismissive can actually make things worse.” And the greater the loss incurred, the greater was the need for specificity.

The second—and perhaps surprising—finding, Cobb says, was that, in some cases, “leader expertise can actually make acceptance of their explanations more difficult—under conditions of higher loss, expertise actually becomes a sizable liability.”

Research has consistently shown that explanations can help reduce the criticism and moral outrage managers face when they make unpopular decisions, he says. “Our study supports emerging research, however, that accounts can produce predicaments of their own. In our study, we saw that if a leader wants to maintain an image of expertise, he or she may be assuming greater liability for producing acceptable explanations. On the other hand, professing naïveté or ignorance, while increasing the likelihood of account acceptance, can undermine a leader’s image by creating unfavorable impressions of their competence to lead.”

His study will be published in the Journal of Applied and Social Psychology.

(Virginia Tech release.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Survey Shows Riders Like Carpools, Alternatives

SmartWay bus goes between Roanoke and Blacksburg.^

Sometimes you just have to try it and you’re hooked. That’s what quite a few people in Blacksburg are finding out about getting around in something other than their car.

A recent New River Valley Planning District Commission study confirms that given the choice, a lot of people will carpool or use other forms of transportation. Virginia Tech and RIDE Solutions has promoted alternative transportation opportunities to Tech’s employees throughout the region.

“The recent study shows that Tech commuters from around the region are embracing and engaging in workplace programs designed to enhance the availability of alternative transportation opportunities,” says to RIDE Solutions NRV Coordinator Christy Straight.

More than half of Tech’s participating employees had never tried other alternative transportation options before carpooling to campus, a press release tells us. Commuters took advantage of Virginia Tech’s Commuter Alternatives Program (CAP), which offers preferred parking for carpoolers and reduced-price parking passes and is supported by incentives like RIDE Solutions’ Guaranteed Ride Home service and its carpool matching program.

These incentives have persuaded employees from around the region to change the way they get to work. The study reveals that saving money on the parking permit was their number one reason for carpooling and saving money on gas was number two. Carpooling is an option for many rural commuters, while the Smartway and Blacksburg Transit offer bus options to walking or cycling.

“Our partnership with RIDE Solutions strengthens our existing Commuter Alternatives Program by increasing benefits to commuters, and highlights the fact that the daily commute, which contributes to parking congestion, increased carbon emissions, and the squeeze on our wallets, is a regional issue with some regional solutions,” says Debby Freed, Alternative Transportation Manager at Virginia Tech.