ROANOKE (WSLS 10) – A look back at the year when it comes to the local economy can be summed up in two words: beer and Botetourt. Beer because it seems to be driving growth whether it’s at a downtown brew pub, or in terms of corporate investment and jobs. Botetourt because the county had a strong year.
Bend, Oregon craft brewer Deschutes Brewery announced in March that it selected Roanoke for its East Coast distribution plant.
“People want to make this business about beer, no it’s about people. It always has been. This is where we felt comfortable,” said Deschutes Founder Gary Fish popping champagne with Governor Terry McAuliffe and local officials during the announcement at the Roanoke City Market building.
Meanwhile another major West Coast brewer, Ballast Point of San Diego, announced in May that it would be moving its East Coast operations to the Lawrence Companies’ facility in Botetourt County, bringing in 178 new jobs and leaving County Administrator Garry Larrowe hopeful that the county’s population might become a little more youthful.
“What I would end up hoping is that this would actually help to attract a younger community in some way,” mused Larrowe as he talked about the vibe that comes with craft beer culture.
The craft beer movement gained ground in other areas as well, with micro-breweries set to open in Bedford with the development of a new restaurant and brew pub in a factory building on Grove Street.
Danville’s Ballad Brewing promised a tasting room and brewing facility located under 56 new apartments on the top floors of a building on Craghead Street. In Vinton, Twin Creeks Brewing opened in November, while in Roanoke, Big Lick Brewing Company announced plans to expand into new, larger digs at 135 Salem Avenue in mid-to-late 2017.
Back in Botetourt, it was more than beer; however, as the county began to make inroads around the exit 150 interchange in Daleville. Gone is the truck stop and inbound are residential and shopping options as officials opened Gateway Crossing in late December.
“A mix of retail and housing, and various kinds of commercial development that can really raise that level of the county to the next level and let it be the economic driver that it is,” said spokesman Cody Sexton.
Eldor Corporation announced in March that it would build a 250,000-square-foot building not far away in the Greenfield Industrial Complex. The auto parts maker will employ about 350 people.
Meanwhile the Virginia Community College system also announced plans to open shop in Botetourt County with its administrative offices set to bring in 200 jobs.
No review of 2016 would be complete without mention of the ongoing developments at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, which announced in March that it would be creating a health sciences and technology innovation district. This will connect the hospital to the downtown area along the Jefferson Street corridor in Roanoke, thanks to $46.7 million from the state, to be matched by $21 million from Virginia Tech and Carilion.
Also in Roanoke, tech company Meridium was acquired by GE Digital for $495 million, which company founder Bonz Hart said will allow the company to stay in Roanoke and even expand.
It was not a good year for employees at the Volvo plant in Dublin, which saw 500 people laid off in February, followed by the announcement that 300 more would lose jobs in September. And then in December, word came that another 500 jobs would disappear in 2017. Volvo blames a 20 percent reduction in the North American truck market.
Similar bad news arrived in Rocky Mount, where Mod-U-Kraf homes closed in May leaving 150 without jobs and a sizeable hole in the town’s economy.
In central Virginia, the loss of Genworth Financial and 200 jobs was mostly offset when the Standard Insurance Company announced in July that it would spend $1.7 million to open a facility in Altavista, creating 178 jobs in 36 months and another 50 coming by 2020.
Fallout continues in Appomattox County as Lindenburg Industry, which promised hundreds of new jobs in return for $1.4 million in Virginia grant money has essentially disappeared. There is no new facility and state officials all the way up to the Governor are trying to get the state’s money back.
Across Southside; however, news on the jobs front continues to improve. Companies like Solid Stone Fabrics announcing mid-year that 22 new jobs are coming to the Martinsville-Henry County Area. Alcoa announced 15 new jobs and North Carolina-based Performance Livestock and Feed created 32 jobs in a once shut down furniture facility. There were many similar sized announcements across the region.
Back in Roanoke, the Norfolk Southern building, emptied by the railway’s move from Roanoke in early 2015, is being sold to investors, who hope to bring new office workers to the downtown area.
And as the calendar turns to 2017, Faulconer Construction of Charlottesville has been awarded the contract to build the rail platform to support passenger rail service for the Star City in late 2017.