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quick scan of economic development announcements in the Roanoke and New River valleys over the last few years reveals what may come as a startling discovery: A lot of local companies aren’t local at all. They’re global. When residents think about globalization, they may think about the manufacturing jobs — especially in the textile and furniture sectors — that moved overseas in the 1980s and ’90s. Yet the region is riding a manufacturing resurgence today, and internationally owned companies are playing a huge role. “There’s actually been more activity in foreign direct investment than in domestic investment lately,” says Beth Doughty, executive director of the Roanoke Regional Partnership. Between 2010 and 2015 in the Roanoke and New River Valleys, foreign-owned companies announced plans to invest $413 million in new facilities, creating 931 jobs. Foreign companies with existing facilities planned another $218 million for expansions, creating another 815 jobs, according to a database maintained by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP). Consider some of the recent openings and expansions in Pulaski County alone: • Phoenix Packaging Operations, a Latin American maker of plastic packaging, opened in 2011 and has since expanded, creating 440 jobs. • Red Sun Farms, a Mexican grower of greenhouse tomatoes, built a growing facility and distribution center in 2014, creating a projected 205 jobs. • Polish candle maker Korona S.A. opened last year and expects to create 170 jobs. • Longtime regional employer


Photo by Natalee Waters

Volvo Trucks North America, a Swedish company, announced a 200-job expansion in 2014. • James Hardie Building Products Inc., an Irish manufacturer of fiber-cement siding for the construction industry, expanded last year, creating 69 jobs. Pulaski County hardly has a monopoly on international companies. Whether it’s McAirlaid’s Vliesstoffe GmbH & Co., a German absorbent paper manufacturer with North Amer-ican headquarters near Rocky Mount, or Ardagh Group, a Luxembourgbased maker of food packaging with a major plant in Roanoke County, foreign-based companies operate throughout western Virginia. In the last three years, 342 international companies have looked at Virginia with eyes toward investment, including 144 in the past fiscal year, says Mike Lehmkuhler, vice president of business attraction for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Why all the interest in new regional facilities? First, there’s growing confidence in the U. S. economy. “We were the first to come out of the recession,” says Lehmkuhler. “You’ve got a lot of companies that were sitting on cash, both domestic and international companies waiting to see what was going to happen.” Second, many growing companies want to tap into the East Coast’s customer base. Western Virginia, centrally located to the Mid-Atlantic and markets in the Northeast and Southeast, offers an ideal point from which to ship. “If you have enough critical mass in terms of a customer base in the U.S., it makes sense to be here,” Doughty says. ROANOKE BUSINESS


Roanoke Business: Oct. 2015  
Roanoke Business: Oct. 2015  

COVER STORY: Working locally, selling globally.