Monday, February 25, 2013

Norfolk Southern Cuts 140 Roanoke Jobs

NS tran passes Winston Link Museum in Roanoke
Norfolk Southern Corporation, one of the most important employers in the region, plans to cut 140 jobs in Roanoke, ending what it calls “regional railcar classification operations.” The company has 1,870 workers in the area. The Roanoke Terminal has lost 30 percent of its general merchandise cars business in the last seven years.

VP of Transportation Terry Evans was quoted as saying, “The employees who work at Roanoke are dedicated and efficient, but the geographical location and layout of the hump yard make it not only expensive but redundant within our network.” 
Officials say most of those losing their jobs are Carmen—who inspect and repair cars—and train crews. In addition, a few track maintenance positions are affected. According to published reports, Norfolk Southern anticipates hiring between 850 and 1,150 employees in 2013 to keep up with attrition. These positions will first be offered to employees affected by the Roanoke change and employees furloughed at other locations.

(Norfolk Southern photo)

Friday, February 8, 2013

South Peak Plans New Hilton Garden Inn

South Peak has released plans for a 117-room Hilton Garden Inn hotel that will soon be under construction.  The approximately $15-million hotel, will also include roughly 2,000 square feet of conference/meeting space with an additional 1,000 square feet of break out space and a fifth floor conference room with mountain views.  In addition, there will be a full-service restaurant and lounge and fireplaces in 40 guest rooms.  The hotel is expected to be open by spring of 2014.

 “This hotel brings a new look and feel to Roanoke,” said Hunter Smith, president of Smith/Packett, which is developing South Peak.  “The hotel will have the same arts and crafts design as The Peaks residences.  It’s part of our plan to carry the same architectural theme throughout the South Peak project.”

The Hilton Garden Inn will be located at an elevation below The Peaks residences, giving guests a beautiful view of the mountains and downtown Roanoke.  Additional amenities include a fitness center, a heated indoor pool with whirlpool, family suites and a 24-hour business center.  Guest rooms and suites will be available in a variety of floor plans and will include microwaves and refrigerators, along with the Hilton Garden Inn brand’s signature Garden Sleep System®, high definition television, spacious work desk and ergonomic chair, a living room area and balconies overlooking the courtyard.

 “This development in Roanoke is a perfect place for a Hilton Garden Inn,” said Adrian Kurre, Global Head, Hilton Garden Inn.  “As an award-winning upscale hotel brand, Hilton Garden Inn caters to both business and leisure travelers who are seeking upscale, yet affordable accommodations in Roanoke.” 

A ground breaking is planned for late March or early April of 2013 for the hotel. Construction will continue through 2013, and the first guests could be staying at the South Peak hotel as early as February of 2014.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Broadband Step Forward for Roanoke Valley

Greater access to an affordable high-speed broadband network in the Roanoke Valley took a step forward Wednesday with the adoption of recommendations that include forming a regional Broadband Authority to increase affordable access to broadband technologies. 

The Roanoke Valley Fiber/Broadband Task Force, comprised of business leaders and local governments, developed recommendations in the nine months following the release of a study, which can be found at The study showed that the Roanoke Region is lagging behind other surrounding communities when it comes to affordable broadband access. 

The task force is recommending the creation of a regional Broadband Authority to implement a number of objectives to expand the infrastructure of broadband throughout the region while making it easier for existing broadband providers to deploy their technology. The proposed authority would be created by interested localities in the Roanoke Valley under the Virginia’s Wireless Service Authority Act. 

 “With the continued growth of the Internet and ever-increasing appetite for bandwidth, we need to develop a plan that addresses our current and future needs to accelerate the growth of our regional economy and attract new businesses and residents,” said William Fralin, president and CEO of Medical Facilities of America and a member of the task force. 

 “This access to reasonably-priced, high-speed Internet has the potential to better prepare students to enter the work force, improve the economic viability of home-based business and ultimately attract new businesses and residents while encouraging local business growth.”  

The task force’s comprehensive recommendations are to:

  •  Identify and reach out to large companies, institutions and broadband users to broaden stakeholder support.
  • Develop a master plan for construction and operation of a high-speed, redundant regional network ring.  The network should reach schools, industrial parks, large employers and other economic centers.
  • Develop cooperative agreements for localities with technical specifications and commercial terms for operating the network and for exchanging data across municipal boundaries.
  • Develop and implement “dig once” requirements for construction projects, including the placement of open-access conduit for optical fiber cable.
  • Explore the creation of policies and/or agreements with Carilion Clinic and Virginia Tech for open access to high-speed Internet in their adjacent communities.
  •  Work with the New River Valley and other adjacent communities that are supporting existing broadband and fiber deployments.
  • Communicate broadband-related activities and technology to the public.

To improve the availability of low-cost broadband for residents and businesses in the region, the task force recommends:

  • Streamlining permitting of towers for Long Term Evolution (LTE), marketed as 4G LTE, to increase the availability of wireless broadband with emphasis on rural areas.
  • Promoting open access to encourage competitive and diverse offerings of Internet services.
  • Working with Virginia Tech, Western Virginia Water Authority and other entities to conduct an asset inventory related to wireless technology deployment.
  • Identifying wireless Encouraging the rapid deployment of DOCIS 3.0 by cable operators to increase the bandwidth at an affordable cost to cable subscribers.
  • Opportunities and partnerships to provide broadband opportunities to underserved areas.
  •  Working with existing providers to streamline regulations/permitting an encourage affordable service options
  • Considering a request for information for an open-access, fiber-to-the-home network and carefully examine the viability of such a network in the Roanoke Valley.

The task force also wants to explore the need and economic feasibility of developing one or more data centers in the region.

Wayne Strickland, executive director of the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, which released the broadband study last May with the backing of Botetourt and Roanoke counties and the cities of Roanoke and Salem, added: “The recommendations being released today are an important step toward building infrastructure that attracts business and mobilizes the region to enhance economic vitality and quality of life.” 


Monday, February 4, 2013

Carilion Rolls Out (Stair) Wellness Campaign

CEO Nancy Agee (center) and Michele Hamilton get ready for a TV interview.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier today, Carilion Clinic launched Stairwellness – a wellness initiative to encourage employees and visitors at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital (CRMH) to take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Stairwellness is a free, convenient way to incorporate exercise into a daily routine. To help motivate this positive behavior change, the stairwell in the South tower of CRMH is now outfitted with colorful blocks of paint containing fun health information regarding the benefits of stair climbing.

“Carilion continues to put a strong focus on wellness and preventative care. Through small changes, such as promoting stairwell usage, we are creating a supportive environment and building a culture of wellness,” said Michele Hamilton, employee wellness consultant at Carilion Clinic. “Our employees are our patients too. We are cultivating an environment that supports healthy decision-making.”

Carilion launched the “Choose Wisely” program for employees last fall. Each month the Dining & Nutrition Services department identifies one health item as a wise choice. If an employee chooses the item, their receipt is stamped by the cashier and they are entered to win prizes. The Choose Wisely program rewards employees for making healthy decisions.

Other Carilion employee wellness initiatives include a monetary incentive for non-tobacco users, fitness and nutrition pilot programs, healthy and organic vending options, free flu vaccinations, bio-metric health screenings, on-site group fitness, Step by Step walking program, Weight Watchers at Work, and a “farmers’ table” or market of healthy foods.

“We anticipate implementing more wellness programs and extending existing programs in the near future. We want our employees to feel good about their health and we want to support their healthy lifestyles at work,” concluded Hamilton.

Stairwellness will be extended to community hospitals in the coming months. For more information, visit