Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Study Says Lynchburg Area 'Recovered' from Recession

Lynchburg's employment is up 2.6 percent this year.^

A new study from Virginia's Region 2000 Economic Development Council says the region anchored by Lynchburg has recovered from the “Great Recession.” The study concludes that “our diversified businesses – particularly in high wage, high growth sectors – are strong and are producing positive results for our region,” according to Bryan David, executive director of Virginia’s Region 2000 Partnership–Economic Development Council.

Mangum Economic Consulting conducted the analysis, concluding that the region’s employment trends remained positive for roughly a year longer than in other Virginia Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) or the state as a whole. The report also shows that recent data indicates that the region is rebounding more robustly than other major MSAs in Virginia.

Data for the first four months of 2011 indicate that year-over-year employment in Region 2000 is increasing by 2.6 percent on average, as opposed to -0.5 percent in the Roanoke MSA, -0.2 percent in the Virginia Beach MSA, 1.4 percent in the Harrisonburg MSA, 0.1 percent in the Richmond MSA, and 1.0 percent statewide.

“The Great Recession, as it is increasingly being called, provided a crucial real-world test for the Region 2000 Partnership’s economic development policies,” says Dr. Fletcher Mangum. “Those policies have focused on creating a business environment and human capital pipeline that is enabling it to restructure its industrial portfolio away from a near total dependence on the manufacturing sector, and toward a greater emphasis on professional and technical services.”


Monday, May 23, 2011

Community College Cost Rising; Remains a Bargain

Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke.^

Even with a newly-approved hefty increase in the price of tuition at Virginia's community colleges, the overall impact on the family budget remains low when compared to tuition at four-year institutions in the Commonwealth.

The State Board for Community Colleges established the 2011-2012 in-state tuition and mandatory fee rate at $119 per credit hour, an additional $9.50 per credit hour beginning in the fall. That equates to an increase of $28.50 per three-hour class, or $285 for the year for a full-time in-state student.

Because of some General Fund investments that proved successful, General Fund cuts Virginia’s Community Colleges have since 2008 have been reassessed from $105 million to $95 million. During that same time, Virginia’s Community Colleges have enrolled an additional 48,000 students.

The tuition increase is 8.7 percent. Says Jeffery K. Mitchell, chairman of the board’s budget and finance committee, "The budget cuts and enrollment growth our community colleges have seen are unprecedented.”

“This tuition rate positions Virginia’s Community Colleges to balance the critical demands of affordability and accessibility,” says Nathaniel X. Marshall, chairman of the State Board.

State financial aid for community colleges was increased by $5.4 million, a 20 percent increase

Tuition and fees at Virginia’s Community Colleges are just over one-third (37 percent) of the comparable average tuition and fees charged by public four-year institutions. As a percentage of Virginia’s per capita disposable income Virginia’s four-year institution tuition and fees were estimated to be 41.6 percent of disposable personal income and for community colleges 8.1 percent.

(Photo: SFCS architecture firm.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Self-Employment and the Job Fair

The Roanoke Civic Center was packed with job-seekers this morning.^

Tom Tanner shows off his new book, Entreprenuerial Guidebook.^


By 9:30 this morning, 30 minutes after the doors to the Roanoke Civic Center were opened, 250 people looking for work had signed in at the City of Roanoke's job fair and it looked like Congressman Bob Goodlatte was going to be prophetic.

Goodlatte, who added his name to the job fair and who personally recruited some of the 110 companies taking part to do so, had said he was looking for 100 companies and 1,000 job-seekers. He was well on the way.

Most of those at the fair were looking to work for somebody else, but those with a little more of the entrepreneurial spirit needed to stop by the Roanoke Small Business Development Center's booth and talk to Tom Tanner, who could lead them through the minefield of self-employment.

Tanner says he's seen an uptick of people going into business for themselves as the bad economy has become more prevalent. "Two kinds of people are going into business for themselves," he says. "First there are those who can't find a job and want some kind of opportunity. And second, there are the unemployed who have a little money from a 401(k) or some other source and want to own their own business.

"Some of them are consultants with great backgrounds, others have a skill or a very good idea." Most, he says, can't get a bank loan, but "if they make it when the economy is down, they will be stable when it turns around. They're the 'bootstrappers' and they have a good shot at success because of the energy and commitment they bring."

Tanner says that raising capital--a vital element since undercapitalization is the leading cause of business failure early-on--is difficult, even with a credit card, since they're becoming harder to get. "If I'm spending my own dollars," he says, "it means more to me and I watch every dollar. That's a great way to start."

This morning, some were looking at that option.

Free Energy Assessment Can Save $$$

Roanoke-based Volunteers for Energy (VfE) is seeking clients. VfE is a volunteer-based technical assistance program, operated by the Roanoke Valley-Allegany Regional Commission, that helps businesses and organizations to increase energy efficiency and reduce waste.

The program employs volunteer engineers, scientists, architects and business professionals to provide assessments. Volunteers consult with each client to identify specific goals, conduct an on-site walk through and provide the client with a report with recommendations that identify specific cost-saving measures, including estimated costs and payback periods. VfE follows up with each client over the next 18 months to find out how many of the recommendations were implemented.

Program Director Jeremy Holmes (, 866-424-3334) says, “Our goal is to give businesses a good grasp of their opportunities for energy savings and a plan for achieving them through solid return-on-investment calculations. By engaging retirees and professionals who are genuinely interested in energy conservation, we can provide the service for free to help businesses – including nonprofits, churches, and institutions – who might have been reticent to undertake a costlier formal energy audit.”

Energy assessments typically address lighting, the building envelope (including walls, attic, doors and windows), appliances, mechanical systems including HVAC, and water/sewer use as well as other systems specified by the client. Waste reduction assessments can include solid waste and transportation. Clients can also request a review of general sustainability practices such as recycling, renewable energy installation, composting, and other strategies.


Roanoke Cost of Living Is Sweeeeet!

The cost of living in the Roanoke Region is 8.5 percent lower than the national average and the second lowest of any metropolitan area in Virginia, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER).

The first quarter 2011 ACCRA Cost of Living Index (COLI), compiled by C2ER, ranks Roanoke 83rd out of 312 metro areas, meaning that the cost of living here is less than 70 percent of the nation’s metros.

“Our comparative costs are the lowest they have been in three years,” says John Hull, research director at the Roanoke Regional Partnership. “When coupled with the region’s numerous amenities, such as outdoor recreation, strong education and healthcare systems, and a business-friendly environment, our region really does offer the complete package as a great place to live and work.”

The COLI index measures costs comparable to other metros in the country at a given point in time. The Roanoke Region’s cost of living is lower than Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C.; Charleston, S.C.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Asheville, N.C.; and many other Southern metros, thanks in part to lower housing and food costs.

“Housing costs are a large part of the index, roughly 30 percent, and a huge cost advantage because the Roanoke Region’s housing prices are 11.1 percent lower than the rest of the nation’s,” Hull explains. This competitive housing cost can’t be attributed to lower home prices that resulted from the nationwide foreclosure crisis, either, as Roanoke ranks in the top 25 percent of metro areas for having the lowest foreclosure rates, according to

Another significant cost advantage the region enjoys is grocery prices. The Roanoke Region’s lower grocery index values are attributable to logistics, specifically the proximity to Interstate 81.

At the same time, the Roanoke Region enjoys transportation costs that are 7 percent below the national average. Fuel expenses are one of the largest components of transportation costs and are influenced primarily by two factors – proximity to the fuel industry’s distribution infrastructure and state gas taxes. Virginia’s gas taxes are 22 percent lower than the national average and the region boasts large fuel distribution centers.

Meanwhile, healthcare costs are helped by the presence of two major healthcare systems.

How far does your income go? The Roanoke Region’s cost-of-living calculator, available at, show how much you’d need to make in the Roanoke region to enjoy the same relative standard of living compared to other parts of the nation.

“People living here or businesses looking to relocate here will be pleasantly surprised by just how far their dollars go in Roanoke,” Hull says.

(Roanoke Regional Partnership press release.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Job Fair Tomorrow at Civic Center in Roanoke

The Roanoke Civic Center will be a hoppin' place tomorrow if you're looking for a job. There are 110 businesses registered to take part in the Roanoke City-sponsored job fair, running from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

The City frequently runs these job fairs, but rarely do they have more than 100 companies taking applications and handing out info. The biggies are there: Virginia Tech, Carilion, the various governments, Advance Auto, the U.S. Government and dozens of small to mid-sized companies.

Yet Another Award for WVTF Public Radio

And the hits just keep on coming. Virginia Tech-owned WVTF Public Radio/RADIO IQ, which yesterday won three Edward R. Murrow Awards, has received a 2010 Sigma Delta Chi Award for excellence in journalism from the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).

Sandy Hausman, reporter/producer, and News Editor Connie Stevens received a Feature Reporting (101+ Market) award for their piece, “Kudzu: Friend, Foe -- or Food?

This year, winners were chosen from over 1,400 entries in categories covering print, radio, television, and online. The awards recognize outstanding work published or broadcast in 2010.

Dating back to 1932, the awards originally honored six individuals for contributions to journalism. The current program began in 1939, when the society granted the first Distinguished Service Awards. The honors later became the Sigma Delta Chi Awards.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Roanoke Public Radio Wins 3 Murrow Awards

WVTF Public Radio / RADIO IQ claimed three first place awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association's 2011 Regional Edward R. Murrow Awards program. Two of the stories were reported by news director Connie Stevens and the third by Charlottesville-based Sandy Hausman.

The winning entries and categories are

The regional awards program covers media outlets in Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Delaware. Regional winners automatically become eligible for the national awards competition.

The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) has been honoring outstanding achievements in electronic journalism with the Edward R. Murrow Awards since 1971. Murrow's pursuit of excellence in journalism embodies the spirit of the awards that carry his name. Murrow Award recipients demonstrate the spirit of excellence that Edward R. Murrow made a standard for the broadcast news profession. RTDNA is the world's largest professional organization devoted exclusively to electronic journalism. RTNDA represents local and network news professionals in broadcasting, cable, and other digital media in more than 30 countries.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tech Engineers Rank Football Helmets

Virginia Tech has released the results of a new rating system of adult football helmets that is designed to reduce the risk of concussions. One currently manufactured helmet received the top "5 star" rating, five helmets received the very good "4-star" rating and one got the dreaded NR--Not Recommended.

This biomechanical impact data study on football helmets represents the first time researchers have provided the public with comparative test results.

The information is based on a new evaluation methodology that incorporated eight years of data and analysis, quantifying head impact exposure and risk of concussion. The testing data showed that the overall best helmet currently available to the public is the Riddell Revolution Speed, which earned the only "5-star" rating.

The next category includes five very good performing helmets that were all given a "4-star" rating: Schutt ION 4D, Schutt DNA Pro+, Xenith X1, Riddell Revolution, and Riddell Revolution IQ, according to Stefan Duma who directed the project.

The lowest rating assigned was "NR" meaning not recommended, and that label was given to the Adams A2000 Pro Elite helmet.

"The results clearly show that the newer technologies across all manufacturers are significantly better at reducing the risk of concussions compared to the older models," Duma says.

The evaluation involved performing 120 impacts on each helmet model at multiple locations and impact energies. A total of three new helmets were purchased for each model and tested to determine the STAR, an acronym for the Summation of Tests for the Analysis of Risk value.

"We utilized over one million measured head impacts to quantify the impact exposure and concussion risk for the development of the STAR equation," said Steve Rowson, assistant professor at Virginia Tech in the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

At the lower end of the ratings are several helmets that are in use. With a marginal rating of '1-star' the Riddell VSR4 is the second lowest rated helmet. Many of the 2010 Virginia Tech football team players used VSR4 helmets and had them through spring ball in April 2011. "Once we finalized the numbers, my first call was to our head team physician Gunnar Brolinson and our head team trainer Mike Goforth. We all agreed that we had to change out the helmets immediately," Duma said. "For the fall 2011 season, our players that had VSR4s will be in the Revolution Speed helmets."

To cover the cost of the new helmets, the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences agreed to pay for the newer and better performing helmets. "There is an appreciable cost associated with changing out approximately 40 helmets, but there is no question that we are going to do it," Duma said.

The NR-rated Adams A2000 Pro Elite helmet had a STAR value of 1.7, “significantly higher than all other helmets. Several of the impacts resulted in values that are close to the threshold for skull fractures," said Rowson. " For the same price that we paid, there are many other helmets that are much better," he added.

While there are large differences between the top performing helmets and the least performing helmets, the difference between 5-star and 4-star helmets is much less. The cost of the helmet showed little correlation to the relative protection offered by it, Duma explained. All helmets ranged from $159 to $299. Interestingly, the Schutt DNA Pro + was one of the cheapest helmets at $169.95, but was one of the very good helmets given a 4-star rating. In contrast, the Adams helmet that is not recommended cost much more at $199.”

(From Virginia Tech press release.
Collegiate Times photo.)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

MedCottage-Born in Salem-Makes National Debut

N2Care founder Kenneth Dupin introduces the MedCottage.^

Vickie Robinson and Sharon Sessions of N2Care cut the ribbon.^

The MedCottage - the portable, modular medical home that enables families to take care of loved ones on their property as an alternative to long-term care facilities - made its commercial debut today in the first of five U.S. markets in a controlled introduction.

The 12-by-24-foot MedCottage (, loaded with technology and amenities for the health, comfort and safety of the elderly or those recovering from illness or injury, was developed as an alternative model for health care as 78 million baby boomers prepare for their senior years - potentially straining nursing homes and government-funded health care programs. MedCottages are available through a growing network of distributors with plans to grow nationwide over the next year.

ln just a year, N2Care, the company behind the MedCottage, received legislative approval in Virginia for property owners to house the structure, created a prototype, began manufacturing and developed a national distribution network.

"Since introducing the first prototype 10 months ago, thousands of people around the country have contacted us to tell us we're on the right track to provide a viable and cost-effective option to age in place," says the Rev. Kenneth Dupin of Salem, founder and CEO of N2Care. "Through extensive feedback and real-life testing we have made numerous changes to take the MedCottage from a vision to marketplace reality."

Among the changes from the first prototype:
  • An additional 10 square feet, for a total of 299.
  • Kitchen area moved from side to center of MedCottage to provide more family space.
  • Wider front door to accommodate any wheelchair.
  • Bathroom doors that swing.
  • Flooring to lessen the impact of a fall.
The final layout was designed by students at the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech as part of a senior design project. The MedCottage can be purchased or leased and temporarily placed on the caregiving family's property with features that most hospital and nursing home rooms are denied. Like an RV, it connects to a single-family house's electrical and water supplies.

The first MedCottage distributor is VAS Aging Solutions of Salem. "When we first saw the prototype, we were immediately struck by how the MedCottage can improve the lives of families seeking a better way to care for their loved ones," says

Vickie Robinson, president of vAS. "We were so confident in the product that we decided to become the nation's first distributor."

The MedCottage combines the comforts of home with medical technology. Each contains a family communication center that provides telemetry, environmental control and dynamic interaction to off-site caregivers through smart and robotic technology throughout the charming, comfortable modular home at costs less than a hospital or nursing home.

The Virginia-made MedCottage is equipped with the latest technology to monitor vital signs, filter the air for contaminants and communicate with the outside world via lnternet and smart phone applications. Sensors alert caregivers to an occupant's fall and provide information to support the overall care of a resident through remote control and monitoring in a dashboard that serves as a family communication portal.

(From press release. Photos by Kathy Bibb of the FRONT.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Meridium Kicks Off International Conference

This group takes notes at the Meridium 2011 Conference this morning.^

The house was packed for the Meridium Conference 2011 this morning.^

Meridium CEO Bonz Hart talks to the assembled.^

Meridium, the Roanoke-headquartered international asset management firm, dedicated its new/old building May 2 and held its significant Conference 2011 at the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center this morning, drawing more than 300 clients and other interested parties.

CEO Bonz Hart, who started the business in 1993 in his house and how employs 260 people, kicked off the five-day conference before a packed house. One of the features of the conference was a Beale Treasure hunt, based on clues given at the various presentations.

She Chooses Launches With Blacksburg Party

Guests gather at the She Chooses Launch Party.^

Anne Clelland (right) of She Chooses with her sister, Margaret Galecki, an NRV Realtor.^

She Chooses, "the social network application that taps the power of feelings to assist women in making choices," held its official launch party and social networking event last night in Blacksburg.

About 35 people attended. It went live March 21 of this year. She Chooses was co-founded by Anne Giles Clelland, Alex Edelman, Henry Bass and Laureen Fleming.

She Chooses is an "algorithm-based software tool" women can use to "identify their feelings and use this awareness to make choices in their lives. Using the She Chooses social network, women can share their choices, insights and experiences, learn from the choices, insights and experiences of others, and give and receive wisdom."

(Photos by Susan M. Ayers.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Meridium Dedicates Building; Conference Tomorrow

Barbara and Warner Dalhouse talk about the long and short of it with Bittle Porterfield.^

Sam English (CIE Partners) overlooked by David Bandy (Spectrum Design).^

Vice Mayor David Trinkle (left), with developer Ed Walker.^

Journalist Rob Johnson takes notes.^

Crowd listens to Mayor David Bowers, who wouldn't let go of the microphone.^

The new building towers over the dedication crowd.^

City Manager Chris Morrill (left) with Meridium CEO Bonz Hart.^

John Levin (left), Bittle Porterfield, Russ Ellis chat.^

Story, Photos DAN SMITH

Meridium's new building in downtown Roanoke got its official dedication tonight with a huge crowd that included 250 technology professionals from all over the world and a Who's Who of Roanoke.

The international contingent was from the world’s major oil and gas producers such as ExxonMobil, PetroChina, Hess, Imperial Oil, Irving Oil, Marathon Oil, Suncor (Canada), QatarGas, Kuwait National Petroleum Co., and Sasol Petroleum (South Africa. Also in attendance were leaders from the chemical, mining, paper, and power / utility industries like MeadWestvaco, AES Corp., Contact Energy (New Zealand), Bayer, Dow Chemical, Eastman Chemical, DuPont, SABIC (Saudi Arabia), and Samarco (Brazil).

Meridium VP of Marketing said the visitors "are just a subset of companies around the world that use Meridium’s Asset Performance Management software and services in their daily operations. Meridium’s APM software platform provides advanced analytics and modeling to predict and prevent physical assets (pumps, turbines, transformers etc.) from breaking or failing- thereby protecting lives, the environment, and profits/jobs."

Tomorrow morning early, the Meridium Conference 2011 opens at the Hotel Roanoke Conference Center.

City Market Building To Open Gradually; All Open Sept. 5

City Market Building under construction this morning.^

The Roanoke City Market Building will be ready to completely re-open Sept. 5 (Labor Day), according to the Market Building Foundation and Hall Associates, the building’s management firm. The building will be in use to a degree before then.

“We anticipate that many first floor vendors will already be in place and operating during the summer, while other spaces may be in various stages of development when we celebrate on Labor Day weekend,” says Foundation President, Doug Waters. "We are planning activities for the citizens of the Roanoke Valley and we want to invite everyone to participate.”

The general contractor is expected to complete the initial phase of renovation work by mid May. At that time the Roanoke Building Inspector’s office will complete the inspections needed to issue a certificate of occupancy. The Virginia Department of Health, the Roanoke Fire Department and Roanoke Planning Department will also need to verify that the building meets the required health, safety and historic preservation standards. Once the Certificate of Occupancy is issued, the individual vendors will bring in contactors to finish out their specific spaces.

While the reconstruction has been underway, Hall Associates has been negotiating with vendors who will operate businesses in the renovated space. “Each vendor will have their own specific needs and their space will need to be built out to accommodate their requirements,” says Elkin. He says that some improvements would obviously take longer than others, depending upon the scale of the project.

“A vendor who wants to sell candy in a retail setting, could be set up much more quickly than a restaurant operation which would need full kitchen space and other considerations,” he says. All venders being considered are locally owned and operated and will preserve the local character of the Market Building.

The building’s third floor, which will be named Charter Hall, is also undergoing a rebirth, and will soon be available for parties, receptions, live music, movies and other public functions.

The name Charter Hall is in recognition of the fact that the City of Roanoke’s first charter authorized a municipally owned market in 1884. The original market building burned and was replaced by the current building in 1922. The Market Building has always been the nucleus of what is known as the Roanoke City Market.

Charter Hall is equipped with a catering kitchen, state-of-the-art sound system and a retractable movie screen. Elkin says he expects that the Hall would be also completed and in use by early summer and that the room had already been booked for a number of meetings, weddings and other events.

Overall the look and feel of the City Market Building will be a bit different from the food court setting that dominated the space since 1985. Elkin says there will be a mix of retail and restaurant options along with some new twists. He says the building will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and until mid-afternoon on Sunday.

“The two things we have heard time and again are that the public wants the Market Building to always have its strong, local roots and highly individual vendors, and they want the City Market to be accessible more hours every day,” says Waters.“Since our first Foundation meeting, we have always understood that this building belongs to the citizens of Roanoke and we have worked hard to make it a place that they will view with pride and joy."

(Story from press release; photo by Dan Smith)