Resurgent manufacturing sector drives SWVA rebound (Virginia Business)

Southwest Virginia continued to ride the nation’s economic upswing in 2014.

Numerous longstanding employers announced expansions from the Roanoke Valley down through the New River Valley and farther southwest, while two localities on the Blue Ridge Plateau — Carroll County and Grayson County — saw new businesses fill spots left vacant by previous occupants.

Now, however, the growth is starting to bump up against constraints, some natural and others due to a shrinking inventory of space and infrastructure.

Go to Virginia Business for my complete look at Southwest Virginia’s 2014 in economic development, along with a closer examination of a game-changing deal in Grayson County.

Natural gas transmission pipe dreams? (Roanoke Business)

Economic development advocates routinely cite Western Virginia’s central location and convenient access to the Eastern Seaboard as a key factor in attracting business and industry.

Those same factors are behind proposals to build three natural-gas transmission pipelines through the region. All three seek to connect West Virginia terminals flush with shale gas from the Marcellus and Utica formations with a huge customer base on the East Coast. The base includes major population centers, power plants moving away from coal and ports that could export liquified gas to foreign markets.

The three pipelines are:

* The Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile, $3.2 billion transmission line connecting a terminal in Wetzel County, W.Va., with a compressor station in Pittsylvania County. The companies involved are majority partner EQT, an Appalachian natural-gas production and transmission company that operates in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas, and NextEraEnergy, an energy company with generation assets in 26 states.

* The Appalachian Connector pipeline, formerly known as the Western Marcellus line, would be operated by Williams Partners LP, which owns the Pittsylvania compressor station, as part of the nearly 1,800-mile Transco natural-gas pipeline. It runs from South Texas through Virginia to New York City and delivers 10 percent of the nation’s natural gas. The Appalachian Connector pipeline would connect a Williams distribution facility in West Virginia with the Transco line. The company estimates it will stretch around 300 miles but hasn’t yet released a cost projection.

* The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a proposed 550-mile, $5 billion line backed by four companies, including Richmond-based Dominion Resources Inc. and North Carolina-based Duke Energy, running from Harrison County, W.Va., through Virginia into North Carolina, with an additional spur running east to Hampton Roads.

The influx of proposals, each with different ownership and planned routes, already has triggered a flurry of opposition from residents in counties along proposed routes.

For more, read my cover leader in Roanoke Business this month.

10 under-the-radar excursions in western Virginia & the state of patient care (Roanoker)

The 2015 Roanoker Sourcebook is now available on newstands and online.

The new issue includes two of my stories.

One is a list of the “Top 10 Family Excursions for 2015.” Essentially, this compiles my favorite spots to go visit in western Virginia, with restaurant recommendations for each. Many of these recommendations are outdoor-oriented — Douthat State Park, Arcadia, Franklin County’s blueways — but not all.

Additionally, I interviewed key officials at western Virginia’s three major healthcare providers to learn what they are doing to improve patient care.

How demographic shifts are (& aren’t) affecting Southwest Virginia’s political power (Roanoke Business)

It’s no secret that growth in northern and eastern Virginia has outpaced that in the rest of the state, particular the western mountains.

The 2010 population of Southwest Virginia, north to Alleghany County and east to Franklin and Henry counties, was 1.07 million. Fairfax County alone is 1.08 million.

Those numbers don’t bode well for the rural parts of the state when it comes to numbers of representatives in Congress and the General Assembly. However, that doesn’t always mean an immediate loss of political power, either: Seniority, partisanship, legislative coalitions and other factors play into it too.

In January’s issue of Roanoke Business magazine, I return to Virginia politics — a beat I covered for seven years at the Roanoke Times. Read my cover leader in the January issue on newstands or online.

Regional 2014 wins and Roanoke City Council’s relative stability (Roanoke Business)

The December 2014 issue of Roanoke Business features a cover leader written by me and Jenny Kincaid Boone that covers 2014 economic development wins by locality.

My byline also adorns a story later in the issue that looks at the relatively stable state of Roanoke City Council——especially compared to the knock-down drag-out battles over Victory Stadium in the mid-’00s——and what that means for business.

The issue is available online, at the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce and at many grocery store lobbies in the Roanoke and New River valleys.

Roanoke Valley, NRV & Southwest Virginia community profile (Virginia Business)

Big economic development deals announced over the last two years are coming to fruition in the Roanoke and New River valleys, even as other companies are shutting down and scaling back.

However, a series of economic development wins the last few years has dramatically reduced the region’s inventory of potential commerical sites. Industrial parks and prime commercial spaces have filled, leaving some companies bursting at the seams but unable to expand due to lack of capacity.

“The biggest problem is supply and demand,” says Dennis Cronk of commercial real estate group Poe & Cronk. “We have a very limited supply of industrial buildings and a limited supply of industrial land that is developable at a reasonable cost.”

You can read more in my 2014 community profile of the Southwest Virginia region online and in the November issue of Virginia Business.

Roanoke Congressman Bob Goodlatte’s growing influence on Capitol Hill (Roanoker)

The fact that Virginia 6th District Congressman Bob Goodlatte is such a familiar face in Roanoke makes his regular appearances seem routine. Yet he serves as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee — a hugely powerful body that takes up legislation ranging from intellectual property and copyright law to immigration reform.

During a three-week stretch this summer, Goodlatte visited the Rio Grande section of the U.S.-Mexico border to obtain more information about the large number of children and teenagers, mostly from Central America, who have massed there. He appeared a few days later on Fox News to discuss the issue on “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” Soon after, the House of Representatives passed a bill sponsored by Goodlatte and that would permanently ban state taxes on broadband Internet access.

“I think he works very hard,” says Newt Gingrich, who took over as Speaker of the House in 1995, just after Goodlatte had completed his first term, and held that position until 1999. “He is very much a people person. He does his homework in a quiet methodical way. I believe he has a very substantial influence in the House on some key issues. People know he is a commonsense conservative who studies the facts, who knows everybody and whose basic approach is to try to bring everyone together to get to a solution.”

Read my profile of Goodlatte online at the Roanoker, or pick up the issue, now on newstands.

One note of disclosure: Reporters don’t write headlines, so I didn’t come up with the “Clark Kent” theme. I do think the David Suetterlein quote from which it was drawn, however, is one of the best lines I’ve heard about Goodlatte.

10 Road Projects That Will Change the Roanoke and New River Valleys

Road construction projects clog traffic, drive commuters nuts and litter the landscape with orange cones and reduced speed limits.

Yet for their inconveniences, they can also solve troublesome traffic problems that have lingered for decades.

Fueled by a mix of regularly scheduled funding, federal money and state bonds approved by the General Assembly, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has lined up a series of construction projects for state roads. Some already are finished. Others will have motorists pulling their hair for years before they’re finally complete.

You can read the full list, along with the status and cost of each project, in the October issue of Roanoke Business. It’s on regional newstands now and can be read online here.

New story in Roanoke Business: Valley governments in Roanoke & the NRV are working together

Regional cooperation in western Virginia has come a long way from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when Salem and Roanoke each built their own civic center, just four years and seven miles apart from one another.

A 2013 report compiled by the Roanoke Valley Alleghany Regional Commission found that, despite the conventional wisdom, regional governments do work together on a regular basis. In fact the report, released biennially since 2003, cited 105 examples of governmental cooperation.

What’s that cooperation and collaboration produced? A growing network of greenways. A beefed-up tourism marketing campaign based around “Virginia’s Blue Ridge.” Economic development projects, including a near miss with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and a win with Red Sun Farms, which will employ 200 people in a regional industrial park. More significantly, the various partnership give the region a leg up when competing in an increasingly global economy.

Despite its title, the commission’s “report card” offers no grades on efforts to cooperate. I tried to bring some of that critical perspective to my cover story on regional cooperation for the September issue of Roanoke Business. Read it here.

New Work for the Roanoker’s 40th Anniversary Issue: What $82 Million Can (And Didn’t) Do for Roanoke’s $14 Million Poff Building

The $14 million Richard H. Poff Federal Building was heralded as part of Roanoke’s “new era” in the inaugural issue of The Roanoker in the fall of 1974.

A photo of the under-construction, 14-story tower ran alongside a cover-story essay by Founder/Publisher Richard Wells that cited the new federal building as part of downtown Roanoke’s reinvention.

No longer.

Today, the structure has become a different kind of symbol: One of governmental waste, malpractice and bureaucracy.

“It’s a slap in the face of the taxpayers,” says 6th District Congressman Bob Goodlatte.

The Poff Federal Building was selected for a $51 million renovation project funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the federal stimulus.

But through a mix of mind-bogglingly bad (and allegedly illegal) bid management, cost overruns and all-around poor planning, the project cost has escalated to more than $80 million.

Read more at the story’s home on the Roanoker website, or find the full digital version here.