By John R. Crane
The number of jobs announced by businesses setting up shop in the Dan River Region during the past five years has exceeded the jobs lost, reports show, but not all of the promised positions are filled.
According to figures provided by the city, there have been 1,291 new jobs announced in Danville and Pittsylvania County since 2014, with 1,048 lost during that same period.
That is a potential net addition of 243 jobs, not taking into account the promised jobs that have not been added. That number also does not include the 300 jobs the PRA Group said it will bring to the former Telvista building on Cane Creek Boulevard.
Some of the new industries were drawn to the area with government-backed incentives, which include performance agreements in which the employers are allowed years to fulfill their promises of jobs and capital investment in the region. Those incentive packages often include tax breaks or grants.
Also included in those agreements are provisions that kick in if a business fails to meet its end of the bargain.
“Their incentives are prorated if they don’t meet the employment or capital investment,” Danville Economic Development Director Telly Tucker said. “They don’t earn the incentive.”
Since 2014, about 25 companies have announced openings or expansions in the Dan River Region. Of those companies, 20 promised to create jobs.
But there have been announcements of closings and reductions as well, including 300 jobs that will be lost when IKEA ceases production in December, and the Telvista shutdown in early 2018 that resulted in 300 lost jobs. Some of those companies that announced openings no longer are here.
Also among the region’s 1,048 lost jobs were workforce reductions at Goodyear in February (13 jobs), Elkay Wood Products in 2017 (95 jobs), The Commodore Corporation in 2014 (118 jobs) and Telvista in September 2017 (222), months before it closed.
On the positive side, there have been major economic development announcements over the last few years by such companies as Overfinch, Harlow Fastech, PRA Group, BGF Industries Inc., Kyocera and Litehouse Inc., among others.
In that mix were two expansions by the now-shuttered Telvista — 300 more jobs announced in 2014 and 150 additional positions in 2016.
Overfinch North America announced in July 2016 — at the Farnborough International Air Show at Farnborough Airport in Hampshire, England — it would bring 41 new jobs within five years of the start of operations.
The company, headquartered in the UK, enhances Range Rovers according to customers’ specifications. It began operations in Danville in 2017 and is located at 500 Stinson Drive.
It has six employees so far, said Overfinch North America Business Manager Julie Allen. Business performance will determine when the company hires the remainder of its promised employees.
“It depends on our sales volume and we’re still working on that,” Allen said, adding sales have increased at Overfinch.
On Nov. 1, 2018, Harlow Ltd., a UK-based manufacturer, announced it would invest $8 million to build a plant and bring 49 jobs to the Dan River Region over five years.
Harlow plans to locate its first U.S. manufacturing plant — Harlow Fastech — in the Cyber Park in Danville. The company currently is in the Charles R. Hawkins Building at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, which is located in the Cyber Park.
Chief Operations Officer Richie Barker told the Danville Register & Bee the company has five employees so far.
“We’re trying to be sensible with the way we bring people on,” Barker said Thursday.
Founded in 1975 and based in Harlow, U.K., the company offers services ranging from product design to the production of sheet metal products. Its customers include GE, Pitney Bowes, Raytheon, Sony, BF Goodrich and Lotus.
Harlow Fastech already has made a capital investment of $1 million in equipment and plans to invest about $500,000 more by the end of the year, Barker said.
“We’re heavily committed to making this work,” he said.
Barker said the company is working on final drawings for its Cyber Park building to be presented to Danville City Council.
Tucker said he could not provide the number for how many of the announced jobs have been filled so far by companies lured with government-backed incentives. That information is included in a report the economic development office buys from the Virginia Employment Commission each year under the condition it is not made public.
“We’re not allowed to share it,” Tucker said.
If a company with a performance agreement with the city falls short of the jobs or investment it promised in the community, there are three options, he said.
“They can either accept the prorated incentives, ask for more time — another year or two — or they can just forego them,” Tucker said.
One existing company in the city that expanded went beyond what it promised.
Blue Ridge Fiberboard announced in March 2017 it was adding 26 jobs but ended up hiring 36 workers.
“We exceeded that,” said plant manager Mark Custer.
Those positions were added between Dec. 31, 2015, and Dec. 1, 2018, Custer said.
The company makes wood fiber insulation board and fiberboard insulation panels.
Kyocera SGS Tech Hub LLC announced in September 2016 it would bring about 35 jobs and $9.5 million over three years.
It’s been one year since the company held its ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new facility in the Cyber Park. Before that, Kyocera had been operating temporarily in the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research and at the Gene Haas Center for Integrated Machining.
The company has created 18 jobs so far, said Jason Wells, president of Kyocera SGS Tech Hub LLC in Danville.
“We’re moving at a much more rapid pace then we had anticipated,” Wells said. The plan is to have a total of 36 jobs by early 2021, he said.
“We’ve been here one full year,” he said.
The company is performing above its original business plan and expectations. Also, the learning curve for its employees — almost all are graduates of Danville Community College’s precision machining program — has been much shorter than anticipated, Wells added.
Kyocera manufactures cutting tools for the aerospace, automotive, medical and power generation industries.
The past 12 to 15 months have been strong enough “to give us a good, solid start,” Wells said.
The company currently has one shift but will add shift work “as capacity starts to feel some pressure.”
The $9.5 million already has been invested in the building and capital, Wells said.
On Sept. 7, 2017, Intertape Polymer Group announced it would invest $7 million for a new 100,000-square-foot expansion and 15 new jobs at its Ringgold distribution center.
That new building opened earlier this year and is in operation, said Joe Tocci, senior vice president of global sourcing and supply chain.
“The total price was just under $7 million,” he said, adding it was about on time and on budget.
Intertape has added 14 jobs at its distribution center and another nine at its manufacturing facility since the fourth quarter of 2018, Tocci said.
The plant has been in the area for more than 25 years and makes carton-sealing tapes and stretch films for pallets.
DanChem Technologies on Old Richmond Road in Danville announced adding five more jobs and a $6.5 million investment in September 2015.
The $6.5 million didn’t happen, but added eight jobs since 2015, said DanChem CEO John Zuppo.
“We’ve invested in our manufacturing assets to help grow another area,” Zuppo said.
The company has 121 employees and manufactures specialty chemicals for industries including coating, adhesive, elastomers (or polymers), agricultural, plastic, rubber and water treatment.
Litehouse Inc. plans to hire 160 additional employees over five years at the former Sky Valley Foods at Airside Industrial Park in Ringgold.
The company hired 44 employees — or “employee owners,” since Litehouse is an employee-owned company — when it officially bought Sky Valley Foods on May 31.
Those employees worked for Sky Valley Foods before it was bought.
The additional 160 positions would bring the total to slightly more than 200 employees.
“The new jobs will start being added as early as this year,” Litehouse Spokeswoman Jule Kern wrote in an email.
Litehouse, which operates manufacturing facilities in Idaho, Michigan and Utah, produces and markets refrigerated salad dressings, cheeses, dips, sauces, apple cider and freeze-dried herbs under the Litehouse label.
The company expects to begin shipping Litehouse products from the Danville facility next year, she said.
Chatham business Eastern Panel Manufacturing hasn’t added all of the 15 jobs it announced in February 2018, but the company took no incentives up front, said Keith Van Asch, the company’s owner and president. The plywood manufacturer has hired six of those employees, he said.
“Skilled people are hard to find,” he said.
The company instead hired fewer workers and is paying them more money, Van Asch said.
“We’ve been busy, we’ve been real fortunate,” he said.
Regarding the $1 million Eastern Panel was supposed to invest, the company has exceeded that amount, he said. The company has bought $500,000 in new equipment and invested in its buildings, and plans to construct a 10,000-square-foot building for storage. Eastern Panel expanded into an existing 55,000-square-foot building at Chatham Industrial Park and also has its main building at Woodlawn Heights.
The company opened in Chatham in 1997 and has a total of 24 employees.
Ballad Brewing, which opened in June 2017, has hired more than the two jobs it promised back in September 2016. The business has seven full-time employees and another 10 to 12 part-time employees, Business Operations Manager Tim Meyers said.
“It’s worked out quite nicely,” Meyers said.
The brewery sells its beer in bars and stores in Richmond and Southwest Virginia.
Roobrik Inc., a software company in the senior care field, announced in May 2016 it would bring five jobs and $200,000 in investment to Danville.
So far, the company has hired three full-time employees, CEO Nate O’Keefe said.
“The delay over the last couple of years is largely due to that period a lot of start-ups encounter where they are seeking ‘product-market fit’ for a new or innovative concept,” O’Keefe said. “Sometimes that happens quickly, but frequently it takes months or years. During that period, you work to stay smaller and leaner, as we have.”
The company expects “significant growth” in the next year O’Keefe hopes will enable Roobrik “to accelerate our pace of hiring.”
Reach John R. Crane at (434) 791-7987.