Foreign companies made a splash in region last year
In addition to the standard economic development fare of corporate expansions and relocations, the Shenandoah Valley sampled foreign investment last year.
“International investment is hot right now,” says Amanda Glover, director of economic development for Augusta County, which capitalized on the trend in 2014. “We have a strong network of partners here in the valley.”
In December, Italian manufacturer Provides Metalmeccanica, which makes components for commercial and industrial HVAC systems, announced plans to invest $6.1 million in its first U.S. manufacturing operation in Augusta. Provides (pronounced pro-VEE-dus) will co-locate with the air conditioning company Daikin Applied in a 40,000-square-foot space in Verona. The Provides operation is expected to create 45 jobs.
Provides is a longtime Daikin supplier, and Glover says the opportunity for the companies to share space was a significant incentive. The deal will allow Provides to further develop its business and reduce product time to market for customers in North and South America.
In a statement, Provides CEO Franco Provenziani says Augusta’s strategic location, skilled workforce and competitive energy costs were big factors in its decision to locate in the county. “We also found the local supply base to be capable of supporting all facets of our new operation,” he says.
Augusta marked another international investment in October when DASCOM Americas, which provides business-printing solutions and makes industrial LED lighting, opened its new headquarters in a 20,000-square-foot facility in the county’s Mill Place Commerce Park. The company is part of DASCOM Holdings, a conglomerate based in Hong Kong.
“Our new building is a huge step in our progression in serving the Americas market,” says DASCOM Americas President Ron Acorn. “Mill Place is a great strategic setting for our construction and provides exceptional logistical advantages for us. The facility itself will allow us to consolidate a number of functions to better serve our customers and is indicative of our ownership’s long-term commitment to employees, customers and Augusta County.”
The regional headquarters will house administration, marketing, sales, product management, technical support, assembly, warehousing and shipping.
DASCOM expects the new facility will generate new jobs at other companies in the area, primarily in small-scale manufacturing. Initial plans are to begin assembling some models of the company’s industrial LED lights in Virginia this year.
Also in October, Shamrock Farms opened its new milk plant at Mill Place. Arizona-based Shamrock Farms is one of the largest family-owned and -operated dairies in the U.S. The 130,000-square-foot Augusta processing facility employs 60 people.
Still another addition in the works at Mill Place is Blue Ridge Machine Works, which is relocating from Grottoes. The machine and design business offers contract manufacturing, custom-machined components, prototypes and short-run production machining for a variety of industries.
Construction on the new facility began in the fall, with plans for it to be operational by spring. “We have a great group of professionals working on this project,” says Mike Shelton, the company’s president and CEO.
A Waynesboro company, meanwhile, is expanding its horticulture operation with the help of a state grant from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund. Bloomaker USA Inc. is tripling the size of its greenhouse, increasing capacity for growing, packing and shipping its patented Long Life Tulips and Amaryllis flowers, which are designed to bloom for four to eight weeks. The company’s $2 million investment is expected to create nearly 100 jobs.
Bloomaker was started in 2010 by a Dutch couple who relocated to Augusta and spent more than a year researching the North American market for fresh flowers. They concluded that customers primarily want three things: instant gratification, convenience and value. The expansion will allow Bloomaker to meet the demands of major retail customers in the U.S. while extending distribution to Canada. The company expects to increase sales from $10 million to more than $25 million annually during the next five years. Bloomaker worked with Columbia Gas to extend a nearby natural-gas line, about a mile away, to the site to heat the greenhouse more efficiently.
The region’s largest corporate investment in 2014 came from McKee Foods Corp., which spent $34 million to boost production at its Stuarts Draft facility. The expansion will create 54 jobs. McKee Foods produces snack cakes and other products for brands such as Little Debbie, Drake’s Cakes, Sunbelt Bakery, Heartland and Fieldstone.
“McKee continues to do well and enjoys a high level of productivity at its Stuarts Draft plant,” Glover says.
Other Augusta-area companies who announced expansion plans in 2014 included Neuman Aluminum USA, Carded Graphics, Houff’s Feed and Fertilizer, NIBCO of Virginia Inc. and Polymer Group in Waynesboro.
All told, the Augusta economic development office reported 11 announcements last year totaling $70 million in investment and 220 new jobs. “It was a great year for us,” Glover says. “And we have a lot of deals still in the pipeline. 2015 looks like another strong year.”
Augusta may be setting the pace in the valley, but it was a Shenandoah County facility that was home to 2014’s biggest jobs announcement.
In May, International Automotive Components Group announced plans to add about 300 positions at its Strasburg plant. The company makes automotive interior components such as instrument panels, door panels, flooring, acoustics and other interior trims for customers such as Nissan, Honda, Hyundai/Kia and Mercedes.
Employment at the IAC Strasburg facility has fluctuated in recent years with the ebb and flow of the automotive industry. However, IAC, which was built from the former global interiors divisions of Lear Corp. and Collins & Aikman, has increased capacity substantially in North America in the past 16 months and is rapidly expanding in India, China and Germany.
North of Shenandoah County, Navy Federal Credit Union achieved an important milestone last year, surpassing 1,000 employees at its Winchester call center. Navy Federal is now the largest private-sector employer in Frederick County and ranks among the top five in the northern Shenandoah Valley.
Since opening in Frederick County in 2006, Navy Federal has expanded its campus footprint twice, most recently completing Building II, which resulted in 400 new jobs. In June, the company began hiring for nearly 100 additional positions. Navy Federal also maintains a branch in Winchester.
“Navy Federal’s growth in the Shenandoah Valley has been a terrific experience,” says Susan Brooks, vice president of the Winchester Operations Center. “This area has the kind of talented people we need to support our mission of serving our growing membership.”
In February, Pactiv, a manufacturer of polystyrene products, announced it will invest $5 million during the next three years in the expansion of its Frederick County facility. The project will enhance Pactiv’s ability to manufacture its GreenGuard products — building products designed to help achieve moisture management and energy efficiency. Pactiv has operated the Frederick plant since acquiring it in 1996 and has 90 employees.
“Manufacturers continue to grow and expand here, providing job opportunities for our residents, bolstering the overall economy and adding further diversity to our local economy,” says Patrick Barker, executive director of the Frederick County Economic Development Authority.