COMMUNITY PROFILE: Franklin County
Economic diversity Franklin County has agriculture, manufacturing, cultural tourism, craft breweries and lots of broadband by Mason Adams
ranklin County’s location and diversity provide a range of opportunities for an area with a small but growing population. The county, home to more than 56,000, according to U.S. Census estimates, sits directly south of Roanoke and north of Martinsville along U.S. 220. It marks the gateway from the Blue Ridge Mountains into Southside Virginia. It can claim resort and retirement neighborhoods on Smith Mountain Lake, a burgeoning courthouse culture in Rocky Mount and a bedroom community that commutes to the Roanoke Valley. That diversity extends to the county’s economy, too. Traditional manufacturers remain its largest employers, but new industries are growing there as well. An expanded broadband network landed Franklin County on a list of top digital localities, and two craft breweries have opened their doors within the last year. Despite the variety, agriculture remains Franklin County’s breadand-butter, generating nearly $54 million in revenues, according to the USDA’s most recent Census of Agriculture in 2007. Despite concern that the county may be shifting away from its agrarian history, that figure represents a 40 percent increase from 2002. Two-thirds of the revenue came from milk and dairy sales. It’s true that much of western Virginia’s farming heritage has gone by the wayside, producing more subdivisions than cattle or crops. As an example of its staying power, however, look no farther than Homestead Creamery, whose expansion is driving not just dairy
Photos by Natalee Waters
exports, but extension of a water line that will boost other businesses on the corridor between Smith Mountain Lake and Burnt Chimney. The family-owned company announced a $1.1 million expansion in December 2012 that’s expected to create 20 jobs. Co-owner Donnie Montgomery says the company plans to add yogurt and cheese to its product line of milk, butter and ice cream. Homestead Creamery still is working on building an additional 6,000-square-foot building that will allow it to expand capacity. It has completed a site plan and selected a contractor, but hasn’t started construction. The company purchases products from nearly 50 Virginia farms and orchards. The expansion also will drive economic development in a different way. To provide additional water
Maria Castaneda fills chocolate ice cream containers by hand at Homestead Creamery.
Peter Gawley is president of McAirlaidt. The company invested more than $85 million and created 200 jobs in Franklin County.