Week of July 15, 2002
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ROANOKE, Va. Most people associate the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia with scenic vistas and Civil War monuments. Corporate real estate executives know the region as something else: a great place to do business.
The Roanoke Valley may be one of the most scenic places in America, but it's also become a magnet for manufacturing plants. A media tour on July 1 took several journalists to three of them: Altec Industries, Novozymes Biologicals and Maple Leaf Bakery.
Altec, a Birmingham, Ala.-based manufacturer of equipment for the utility and telecommunications industries, recently completed construction on 170,000 sq. ft. (15,810 sq. m.) of manufacturing space in the Botetourt Center at Greenfield. The US$12.5 million facility will employ 150 workers within three years and assemble finished vehicles by going "from raw steel to rubber tires in seven days," said Tom Richmond, director of manufacturing at the Altec plant near Daleville.
Richmond said that Altec initially considered Western Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Southern Ohio for the project but ultimately selected the Roanoke Valley site because it offered the best combination of site criteria and incentives.
"Our site selection criteria included transportation infrastructure, work-force capabilities, educational opportunities, business environment, population and site availability," said Richmond. "Plus, we qualified for several incentives, including the Governor's Opportunity Fund, job training funds and utility incentives."
When the dust settled on the deal, Botetourt County had secured the kind of corporate citizen it wanted, too. "We don't look to recruit everybody," said Gerald Burgess, county administrator for Botetourt. "We decline at least 70 percent of all prospect inquiries. We only choose those companies that fit in well with the character of our county. Our main intent is to recruit high-tech manufacturing companies."
So far, Botetourt has succeeded, securing both Altec and Koyo Steering Systems USA as the first two corporate tenants at Greenfield. Koyo, which produces steering systems for General Motors automobiles, became the first tenant at Greenfield when it announced in March 1999 that it would build a 260,000-sq.-ft. (24,180-sq.-m.) manufacturing plant there.
But automotive suppliers aren't the only manufacturers bringing their machinery to Roanoke. Bakeries and biomedical firms are also expanding in the valley.
Perhaps the most significant development for the region occurred May 14, when Novozymes Biologicals, a global leader in enzyme production and development for industrial applications, announced that it would invest $12 million into constructing new R&D and manufacturing facilities at a 457-acre (185-hectare) research park in Roanoke.
"Novozymes' decision to grow and expand in the Roanoke Valley is proof that the area is indeed fertile ground for biotechnology companies," said Phil Sparks, executive director of the Roanoke Valley Economic Development Partnership. "Virginia was the clear winner among other states in the region that were competing for the location of the expansion of this business."
In fact, Novozymes stood a good chance of moving to the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., market in the heart of the Research Triangle. Instead, the company will become the first tenant in Roanoke County's Center for Research & Technology, a 457-acre business park designed for technology, biotechnology and high-tech manufacturing companies. The move will also create 25 new jobs and preserve a total of 90 jobs for the area.
"We just feel that the Roanoke Valley is a great place to be," said Jonathan Leder, director of technology and operations for Novozymes. "This area has a really good work force, including a lot of people who have left the Northeast U.S. to come here. In New Jersey, where I used to work, the industrial development people did just about everything they could to make a deal not happen. Here in Roanoke Valley, it's exactly the opposite."
Leder, who holds a Ph.D. from Harvard, said the goal of his company is to grow revenues by 20 percent a year. In the past year, the company's revenues from the Roanoke operation have grown by 60 percent.
"Novozymes is an extremely high-tech company," he added. "We spend 14 percent of our revenues every year on R&D and employ more than 700 scientists. We are growing so rapidly in Roanoke that by the time we finish our first phase of construction of 20,000 sq. ft. (1,860 sq. m.), we will need to begin on phase two."
The company broke ground March 14 on its new facility in Roanoke and plans to move into the space in September. Leder said that speed to market was definitely a factor in the company selecting Roanoke. "The county was terrific on the zoning issues, and the permits were there when we needed them," he said. "Plus, we received incentives from the county on the land purchase price and worker training grants from the state."
Novozymes joins a growing roster of biotech companies in the Roanoke market, including BioPhile Inc. and PPL Therapeutics, a branch of the Scottish company that cloned Dolly the sheep in 1997. Traditional industries, however, are also growing in Roanoke. A good example is Maple Leaf Bakery, which just completed a major expansion of its bread bakery plant in December 2001. The $11 million expansion added 50,000 sq. ft. (4,650 sq. m.) to its existing 80,000-sq.-ft. (7,440-sq.-m.) factory in the Roanoke Centre for Industry & Technology.
About 50 new jobs were created at the bakery, part of a $3 billion company that distributes more than 300 varieties of bread products across the U.S.
The company was helped by incentives offered by the City of Roanoke, Roanoke Valley Economic Development Partnership and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. "The plant is eligible for continued tax credits because it is located in an enterprise zone," said Anne Piedmont, research director for the RVEDP. The project also qualified for land, training and work-force assistance.
"As a result of our plant expansion, we have 138 people who work in three shifts," said Kevin Knight, production manager at the Roanoke operations of Maple Leaf. "This plant operates 24 hours a day, six days a week. We are pleased to be doing business here in Roanoke and are looking to expand even more."
Maple Leaf executives said they chose to expand their facility in Roanoke so that the company could remain within a day's travel time of most of its customers -- a decision that has already paid big dividends. Since the expansion, Maple Leaf has secured a contract to supply all Quizno's restaurants in the Southeast with pre-baked sub rolls.
©2002 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.