The May 2016 election marked the end of an era in Roanoke politics, and the start of something new.
I wrote about the election for Blue Ridge Outdoors within the context of Roanoke’s transformation over the last couple of decades, from a deteriorating industrial center into the next great outdoors city.
Read “Roanoke Reinvented” in Blue Ridge Outdoors.
Bend, Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery was searching for site for its East Coast production facility when something unusual happened: News of the search leaked out.
The leak generated an aggressive grassroots campaign in Roanoke to win Deschutes, which was considered more likely to locate a few hours south in Asheville, N.C., the multi-time Beer City U.S.A. A social media campaign was just one element of the Star City’s attempt to woo Deschutes.
For All About Beer, I wrote about the behind-the-scenes operation to win Deschutes, not just with infrastructure and a public push, but with intangibles like an illuminated dancer and the historic concerts of a historic jam band.
Read the story at All About Beer.
The combination of competition from cheap natural gas, a decline in overseas construction and enforcement of federal clean air regulations have sent the U.S. coal industry into a tailspin.
It’s not just miners who are suffering, however, but also the various downstream businesses that support the coal industry. For Roanoke Business, I wrote about how railroads, equipment manufacturers and other support businesses are dealing with the slump.
Read the story in the April issue of Roanoke Business.
As Super Tuesday approached, voters prepared to cast their votes in presidential primaries around the South as analysts struggled to understand the appeal of Republican frontrunner Donald J. Trump.
My story for Politico Magazine, “Why the South Is Rebelling Again,” examined the role of globalization and the loss of factory jobs in generating small-town and rural anger that has propelled Trump’s rise. It features John Bassett III (hero of the upcoming HBO series “Factory Man”), Beth Macy (who authored the book that inspired it), former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder, former Southside Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode and more.
Read it here.
thousands of regional workers.
The list of layoffs and job reductions stretches through the years: 300 jobs in 2013, 50 in October, 700 in 2009, 650 in 2008, 1,075 in 2008. Yet regional advocates took solace from two economic development announcements in the past two years, including the investment of $69 million into a customer experience track in 2014, creating a projected 200 jobs, and an additional $38 million facility to accompany it, announced last year and creating 32 new jobs.
Any hopes that the announcements signaled an end to cyclical job reductions were dashed in early December, when the company filed notice it would lay off 730 employees in February. In early February, that number was decreased to 600.
My story about the whys and hows of the layoff announcement runs in this month’s issue of Roanoke Business, available online and at grocery stores around Roanoke and the NRV.
In late October, Appalachian Power President Charles Patton made headlines in West Virginia when he told a summit of energy executives that coal just isn’t coming back, even if federal rules on power plants get rolled back.
Sure, that may be conventional wisdom in much of the country, but this speech came from the president and COO of Central Appalachia’s biggest electric utility, which has relied on coal as its dominant source of generation since its inception in 1911.
Two weeks later, as he walked into Appalachian Power’s offices in Roanoke, Virginia—his news-making remarks were delivered in the West Virginia community of the same name—he acknowledged that his comments were not what the room wanted to hear. After all, the economy in southern West Virginia and southwest Virginia was built around coal mining, and many there today still fervently hope that a coal comeback will fuel a new round of economic prosperity.
The problem for them is that, even as elected officials still continue to fight the so-called “war on coal” in state houses and on Capitol Hill, Appalachian Power already is taking action that will only cement the move away from coal when it comes to producing electricity. That’s not to say the utility won’t continue to rely on its existing fleet of coal-burning power plants, but, according to a document filed with the Virginia State Corporation Commission, but Appalachian Power has begun a substantial pivot away from the fossil fuel that defined its first century. The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) filed with the SCC on July 1 includes a dramatic decrease in its use of coal, as well as a corresponding increase in natural gas and renewable energy such as wind and solar.
Read more in “Old King Coal Dethroned,” my special report for Roanoke Business.
I wrote about former Massey CEO Don Blankenship again, this time for Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine.
Blankenship was charged in late 2014 with three felony counts worth a potential 30 years. In early December, a jury convicted him of one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to skirt mine regulations, which may result in a maximum year of prison time.
So why are environmentalists, labor advocates and others with a grudge against the coal baron celebrating the verdict?
Read “King Coal Dethroned: Mining Baron Don Blankenship Convicted” in January’s Blue Ridge Outdoors — now available online & in print – to find out.
What does it take to land a big corporate relocation or expansion in 2016?
It’s a tough, complicated question, and one asked constantly as the needs of business evolve. The answers vary by sector and even by company, yet it’s also possible to find some constants on corporate relocation wish lists—good location, abundant access to utilities and the Internet, and available talent.
What else might distinguish the Roanoke and New River valleys? Do quality of life, a sense of self-confidence or social media campaigns make a difference? Based on its strengths and competitive advantages, what industries can it expect to grow?
Read my cover story in the January 2016 issue of Roanoke Business, available online and on stands now.
I spent much of 2015 tracking the criminal trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship, who was indicted on criminal charges relating to West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine, the site of a 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.
None of the three felony charges directly accused Blankenship of causing the disaster at Upper Big Branch mine, which happened when a spark from a longwall shearer ignited a fireball that hit accumulated coal dust, triggering a massive explosion.
Yet, the explosion overshadowed and informed every bit of the trial.
On Thursday, Blankenship was convicted of misdemeanor consipiracy to willfully violate mine safety regulations.
Read my story at Grist covering the trial and its outcome.
Nearly a decade after the beginning of a renovation renaissance in downtown Roanoke, the city core has reached a new tipping point. With nearly 2,000 downtown residents and a healthy stock of rehabilitated warehouse apartments, developers are now taking the next step and investing in new construction.
A South Carolina developer is building a Hampton Inn and Suites on top of a city parking garage at the corner of Market Street and Church Avenue. The $17 million, 127-room motel is scheduled to open in January, joining the historic Hotel Roanoke as an option for travelers to stay in downtown Roanoke. Meanwhile, Roanoke-based developer Lucas Thornton is investing $10 million into a new development. Located at a former surface parking lot at Williamson Road and Tazewell Avenue, the project includes 85 residential apartments and nearly 7,000 square feet of commercial space.
This investment in new construction marks a threshold moment in the modern history of downtown Roanoke. For the first time in decades, new buildings are rising up—and more may follow. The decision to build, says Thornton, comes because of steady stream of rehabilitation projects and their demonstration of an apparently insatiable demand for downtown living.
Read the rest of my story about downtown Roanoke in the December issue of Roanoke Business, online or in stands outside regional grocery stores.