Railroad legacy fades (Virginia Business)

When news came in March that Norfolk Southern would close its Roanoke administrative offices, moving 426 jobs to Norfolk and Atlanta, many city residents feared for the city’s economic future.
After all, Norfolk and Western Railway’s decision to build in Roanoke in the 1880s kick-started the “Magic City’s” growth and long served as its leading industry. Yet, the railroad has waned in influence and employment for decades, shrinking a local workforce of more than 5,000 people at its height to 1,200 today. The closure of the administrative offices continues a process that began in 1982 when Norfolk Southern, formed in the merger of Norfolk and Western and Southern railways, moved its headquarters from Roanoke to Norfolk.

Other closures are testing the economic resilience of the Roanoke and New River valleys. Retailer HSN Inc. will close its Roanoke County fulfillment center next year, eliminating 350 jobs. Banking company BB&T Corp. closed its Roanoke call center, and wireless phone service nTelos shuttered its Botetourt County customer support center for a combined loss of nearly 200 jobs. A staff reduction at Allstate Insurance Co.’s Roanoke County customer support center cost another 185 jobs.

Despite the spate of job losses, however, optimism remains. The region no longer relies on one, two or even three industries. Indeed, Moody’s has ranked Roanoke and Richmond as the cities with the most diverse economies in Virginia — an attribute that helps cushion the blow.

Read more in my Roanoke/New River Valley community profile for Virginia Business magazine.

The fight against cancer, campus changes & more (Virginia Tech Magazine summer 2015)

Because cancer takes many forms, each unique to itself, Virginia Tech faculty, students, and alumni who fight the disease find themselves in a wide variety of roles.

In its summer 2015 edition, Virginia Tech Magazine showcases the university’s efforts to fight cancer. Whether through caregiving, research, or fundraising, Hokies infuse their work with the spirit of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) to battle cancer at all levels.

Read my story on Hokies fighting cancer here.

Navigating the Virginia Tech campus soon will be simpler, following construction projects at the north end of the Drillfield, at the Southgate Drive and U.S. Route 460 intersection, and in the northern section of campus near Prices Fork Road and West Campus Drive. Our maps will help bring you up to date and get you where you want to go.

Read my story on the physical changes coming to the Blacksburg campus here
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The full issue is available online here.

Going solar: the Solarize movement in Montgomery County (Roanoke Business)

On a recent sunny afternoon, gaggles of people gathered to listen as New River Valley elected officials and renewable energy advocates announced the launch of Solarize Montgomery. It’s an effort to get homeowners to purchase solar panels that expands upon a Solarize Blacksburg effort in 2014.

That pilot “Solarize Blacksburg” program invited solar installers to bid on a group of installations to help lower costs, then offered financing options. Of the 468 people who responded, 92 were from outside Blacksburg, and thus the program’s boundaries.

Solarize Montgomery is targeted at those 92, along with others in Montgomery County interested in going solar. Sign-ups run through July 22.

After filling out an online form at SolarizeMontgomery.org, applicants receive a satellite assessment, basically meaning that installers look at the location and orientation of the site via Google Earth to determine if it might be a good fit. Next, installers visit the site for an in-person assessment. For many homes, it may make more sense to install basic energy conservation measures.

If the site visit shows the home would benefit from solar energy, however, installers submit a proposal and price estimate. If applicants choose to move forward, they’re eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit and long-term financing assistance.

Of the 468 people who applied through Solarize Blacksburg, 168 followed through far enough to get an on-site assessment and proposal from an installer. Fifty-six homeowners actually pulled the trigger – a fraction of the initial response, but “a really high conversion rate for something this complex,” says Blacksburg Sustainability Manager Carol Davis.

Read more in my story on western Virginia’s Solarize movement in Roanoke Business magazine.