outhwest Virginians know too well the downside of globalization when it comes to manufacturing jobs. For decades, they have watched long-running textile and furniture manufacturers shutter factories as their owners moved operations to new locations with lower labor costs. Roanoke author Beth Macy’s 2014 book, “Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Town,” won accolades and was picked up for a miniseries by HBO because it documented the cost of globalization in Southwest Virginia communities while heralding John Bassett III, the titular hero and an exception to the rule. The 21st century, however, has seen a resurgence of manufacturing in western Virginia. New facilities and expansions of existing factories drive the region’s recovery from the Great Recession. In a twist, it’s largely foreign-owned companies driving this new wave
Photo by Don Petersen
of manufacturing as they look to establish footholds in the U.S. and tap into domestic markets. From 2009 through 2015, the Roanoke region saw a 7.7 percent growth in employment within the manufacturing sector, more than twice the total nonfarm employment change of 3.1 percent. “If you look at the numbers, manufacturing absolutely did lead us out of the recession,” says Beth Doughty, executive director at the Roanoke Regional Partnership. A strong U.S. dollar has made it tougher to compete globally, which has slowed the growth rate in recent years. However, manufacturing in the Roanoke area still grew 1.2 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to John Hull, the partnership’s director of market intelligence. That number lags Northern Virginia and Lynchburg, which grew at 2.5 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively, but it’s well ahead of Charlottesville, which showed no growth, and Hampton Roads and Richmond, which saw declines.
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