Specialty’s Our Name — Expanding a Family Business Through the Generations

Friday, 29 May 2015 09:19 by Info@YesVirginia.org
Butch Harrison founded Specialty’s Our Name in 1990, a precision sheet metal fabrication and machine shop based in Ashland, Va. His three sons, Brandon, Utley and Kevin, worked in the shop since high school and each found their niche, whether it was handling the finances, managing customer relationships or processing orders...

Butch Harrison founded Specialty’s Our Name in 1990, a precision sheet metal fabrication and machine shop based in Ashland, Va.

His three sons, Brandon, Utley and Kevin, worked in the shop since high school and each found their niche, whether it was handling the finances, managing customer relationships or processing orders. When their dad passed away in 2009, the brothers took ownership and proudly carried on the family name and reputation for a superior product and customer service at S.O.N. Inc.

“We do the work other people don’t want to do,” said Brandon Harrison. “Our high-end, custom sheet metal work is in the White House Visitor Center, the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar and the Virginia Historical Society, and our customers include Homeland Security, Architectural Graphics Inc., Dometic Corporation and Showbest Fixtures.”

The company has successfully grown from two people in a 2,500 square foot building to more than 30 people in a 32,000 square foot facility. The company delivers custom products and can offer consulting, drafting, welding, deburring, powder coating and precision parts, all from one location.

The Harrison brothers not only weathered the recent economic downturn, but were able to continue growing their company. “We did feel some of the effects, but we manage our finances well and purchase equipment as we need it, so we don’t carry a lot of debt.” said Harrison. “We also have a broad customer range, from the marine industry to railroads to store fixtures. Being diverse helped us stay strong and grow our company through the tough times.”

The brothers also took a calculated risk and started a sister company in 2008, Pro Powder & Paint Inc. “About 90 percent of our customers want a finish on their steel or aluminum products. We provide that and do our own powder coating and wet paint at a facility just down the street,” said Harrison.

The company just had one of its best years and has a solid plan to grow both businesses and eventually combine them into one larger building.

“We are lucky,” said Harrison. “The three of us are all equally responsible and we get to expand on what our father built. We really try to keep the family atmosphere throughout the company as we grow. We have several cousins and family members working in the shop, and we treat all of our employees like we are one big family. Without every piece of the puzzle coming together, this wouldn’t be possible.”

As we celebrate Virginia Business Appreciation Month, Specialty’s Our Name serves as another great example of the ingenuity and dedication of Virginia entrepreneurs. To learn why the Commonwealth is a great location to grow a business, click here.

Specialty’s Our Name owners Brandon, Utley and Kevin Harrison at their company headquarters in Ashland, Va.

Marstel-Day — Growing a Green Business in Virginia

Thursday, 28 May 2015 09:33 by Info@YesVirginia.org
Rebecca Rubin started Marstel-Day in 2002 with a passion to help large institutions conduct business in a way that is both effective and preserves the natural resource base...

Rebecca Rubin started Marstel-Day in 2002 with a passion to help large institutions conduct business in a way that is both effective and preserves the natural resource base.

Based out of Fredericksburg, Va., the company has grown from a one-woman desk to 160 employees nationwide. With clients ranging from government agencies to academic institutions, Marstel-Day helps organizations develop an overall strategy to be more eco-friendly.

“Our customers may have the interest and funding, but we help them with their strategies and policies,” said President and CEO Rebecca Rubin. “Whether they want to be carbon neutral or make better use of their ecosystem services or reduce water consumption or be ready for climate change, we help them get there. We look at such things as their vulnerability to drought, temperature change, responsiveness and resilience of the IT structure to climate events — and help them answer the big picture questions.”

The company’s success speaks for itself. Marstel-Day experienced 8-10 percent growth every year, including during the economic downturn. Its impressive client roster includes the Department of Defense, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, Department of Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency, General Services Administration and National Laboratories. 

Marstel-Day has also received numerous accolades, including being named to both the Inc. 5000 list and Zweigwhite’s Hot Firm list for six consecutive years, the Alliance for Workplace Excellence Eco-Leadership Award three years in a row, the Virginia Fantastic 50 list for the third time, and the UVA Darden School’s Tayloe Murphy Award for Resilience.

Rubin chose to headquarter the business in Fredericksburg for two reasons:  proximity to a rail line and access to a great park system. “We were deliberately trying to get our employees off the roads and onto public transportation,” said Rubin. “Our other Virginia offices in Richmond and Alexandria are also within a quarter of a mile of a main train line. If you translate that into hours saved, it has an enormous impact on employee morale and health.”

“Because of its battlefield history, Fredericksburg has preserved green spaces and they have a new trail system. Having a park system where our employees can jog or bike during their lunch hour or after work is tremendously important to us.”

“There’s a reason why we’re here. Historically, Virginia has done a good job of understanding and appreciating the significance of nature and ecotourism. We find Virginia’s and the Governor’s commitment to green important to us as a company.”

As we celebrate Virginia Business Appreciation Month, Marstel-Day is another great example of how entrepreneurs find a successful environment for innovation in the Commonwealth. To learn why Virginia is a great place to grow a business, click here.

Marstel-Day President and CEO Rebecca Rubin at the company’s headquarters in Fredericksburg, Va. Photo courtesy of Marstel-Day LLC.

Performance Signs — From a Dorm Room to the Highway

Thursday, 21 May 2015 10:30 by Info@YesVirginia.org
Founder Robbie Morris was an engineering student at Virginia Tech when he started making decals for his brother’s stock car racing team. Robbie actually ran the decal machine out of his dorm room in the fall of 1995...

Founder Robbie Morris was an engineering student at Virginia Tech when he started making decals for his brother’s stock car racing team. Robbie actually ran the decal machine out of his dorm room in the fall of 1995.

While out on an engineering co-op, Robbie realized he enjoyed the creativity of the sign work much more than the structure of his engineering internship and decided to pursue the sign business full-time.

Today, Performance Signs makes a variety of signs, banners, vehicle lettering, vehicle wraps, window lettering and real estate signs for commercial businesses, public safety vehicles and highways.

Self-awareness is an important trait for entrepreneurs, and surrounding oneself with the right people and skillsets is critical. Robbie found the perfect business partner in his wife Katherine. She came on board full-time in 2004 and made improvements with her ability to manage, schedule and handle the day-to-day business, allowing Robbie to focus on the creative side.

Robbie and Katherine focused on building relationships with their customers and that paid off. “We were doing work for a sign company that supported a police department in Southwest Virginia,” said Performance Signs Founder Robbie Morris. “Those decals were an exact match for the Albemarle police department near us. We were able to approach them and found that there was a need for somebody to serve the public safety vehicles in our area. There’s a tightknit community among the police, fire department and rescue squad, and our relationship with that core group has helped us grow.”

When the recession hit, Robbie and Katherine looked at everything they did in order to be more efficient, from the number of phone lines they needed to the amount of equipment. They also took a calculated risk when a property became available. 

“All indications were that it would be crazy to buy something right now, but it completely came together for us,” said Robbie. “We really felt like God was moving in our lives and the timing was right. We did an SBA 504 loan. It was a lot of work, but through that process it helped us see our business in a new way.”

Robbie and Katherine closed on their building in the fall of 2009, and continuing their quest for efficiency, installed a solar-paneled roof on the 8,000-square-foot facility. Depending upon the time of year, the solar panels generate anywhere from 55-100 percent of the building’s electricity. 

Robbie and Katherine’s tenacity allowed them to successfully bounce back from the recession. The company has doubled sales since 2010 and grown from four to 12 people.

Performance Signs was also just selected to participate in the inaugural class of Ones to Watch, a business mentoring initiative run by the U.S. Senate Productivity and Quality Award Program for Virginia.

As we celebrate Virginia Business Appreciation Month, Performance Signs stands as another great example of the innovation and creativity of Virginia entrepreneurs. To learn why Virginia is a great place to grow a business, click here.

Performance Signs CEO Katherine Morris and Founder Robert Morris outside their company headquarters in Ruckersville, Va.

Release Reels — An Entrepreneur’s Journey from Biking to Fishing

Thursday, 14 May 2015 09:50 by Info@YesVirginia.org
After a hectic career traveling all over the U.S. and Europe as a professional cyclist, all Wes Seigler wanted to do after retiring as an athlete was to relax at his parent’s home in Reedville, Va., and fish every day like he did as a kid...

After a hectic career traveling all over the U.S. and Europe as a professional cyclist,  all Wes Seigler wanted to do after retiring as an athlete was to relax at his parent’s home in Reedville, Va., and fish every day like he did as a kid.

While fishing on the Chesapeake Bay and offshore Virginia, Seigler and his friends soon encountered problems with the performance of the reels they were using. Drawing upon his experience perfecting his own bike gearing and after encouragement from contacts in the cycling industry, Seigler decided to design his own product.

Release Reels was established in 2009. Seigler quickly found himself in the world of POs, RFQs and SKUs and learning what it all meant on the go. He initially started manufacturing in China, but found his intellectual property was leaking into competitors’ products and decided to bring back the manufacturing stateside.

Release Reels makes premium saltwater fishing reels, and the tolerances are very high. The product has to perform perfectly and look sharp. In order to make sure the machining was spot on, he decided to manufacture it himself. Upon being told he couldn’t compete with Asia, Seigler responded, “We can, we just gotta be willing to work.”

The company now operates nine CNC machines and has 10 full-time employees. 100% of the assembly and machining is done in Virginia and 100% of the component parts are made in the U.S. Seigler sources specialty bearings from Florida, gears and springs from Wisconsin and screws from San Diego, all to ensure the product is made in the USA.

“We have to win all categories — that’s the mentality of our company,” said Seigler. Release Reels products outperform in every class — they are smaller and more powerful, while weighing less.

The company also maintains a lifetime warranty on all its products, which no one else in the industry does. “If you purchase a product, I believe you should be able to call somebody and talk to them,” remarked Seigler. “We can fix it inexpensively, since we do all the machining in-house. Customers love the interaction and that carries into their next purchase.”

Release Reels also works with Rappahannock Community College and hires interns with an interest in machining as a career. “Giving a chance to somebody that might not be university bound has been pretty cool. Manufacturing is not what it used to be, it’s technology driven. We run a clean shop and it’s a great environment where people can learn a lot,” said Seigler.

The company’s high standards and customer service have paid off. After beginning with production of 100 reels per month, the company is now selling almost 600 reels per month and building the infrastructure to grow beyond that. They have also expanded into international markets from Europe to Southeast Asia.  

“The international market is huge for us,” noted Seigler. “People love an American-made product. Japan has a large fishing industry with some of the top shops in the world there. Being accepted by those customers is a strong statement for the quality of our products.”

As we celebrate Virginia Business Appreciation Month, Release Reels is a great example of the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit alive in the Commonwealth. To learn more why Virginia is a great place to grow a business, click here.

Release Reels Founder and President Wes Seigler demonstrates the company’s premium saltwater fishing reels for a future customer. Photo courtesy of Release Reels.

NCS Technologies — A Case Study of Innovation During Sequestration

Thursday, 7 May 2015 10:33 by Info@YesVirginia.org
Founded in Northern Virginia in 1996, NCS Technologies made a name for itself as a nimble and responsive small business computer manufacturer and supplier to state and federal agencies, the military, the intelligence community and commercial markets. The company operates out of a modern campus in Gainesville...

Founded in Northern Virginia in 1996, NCS Technologies made a name for itself as a nimble and responsive small business computer manufacturer and supplier to state and federal agencies, the military, the intelligence community and commercial markets. The company operates out of a modern campus in Gainesville.

The company’s products include commercial-off-the-shelf laptops and desktops for offices and schools, high-performance servers for corporate networks, and rugged tablet computers and servers for the military. Over the years, much of the company’s business depended on government.

Like many companies that found a niche serving federal agencies, the impact of sequestration created significant challenges. However, as with all great companies, NCS was able to turn those challenges into opportunities and come out successfully on the other side.

NCS has bounced back to its full pre-sequestration workforce and used the opportunity to diversify its customer base. The company realized that its experience delivering advanced computing products and services to highly demanding government customers could be translated into innovative new products for other growing markets, including healthcare, advanced manufacturing, banking and financial services.

The company kept innovating during the economic downturn and developed the industry’s only zero client laptop. Zero client computers have no operating system or data stored locally. Everything is virtually saved in the cloud, making the data more secure in the event the computer is hacked, lost or stolen.

While global competitors have developed zero client desktops, NCS Technologies is the only company able to master the engineering challenges to fit those capabilities, including patented Wi-Fi capability, into a mobile laptop product.

“Our employees are our greatest investment in innovation,” said John Callahan, vice president of marketing. “They are truly knowledge workers, including electrical engineers, sales representatives, program managers, financial analysts, highly trained assembly-line associates, technical support and customer service employees. Prince William County and surrounding Northern Virginia offers us that range of workforce that helps us excel in a complex, ultra-competitive environment.”

As part of Virginia Business Appreciation Month, NCS Technologies represents the high-growth industry and technological innovation that is alive and well in the Commonwealth. To learn why companies have found success in Virginia for more than 400 years, click here.

The Cirrus LT from NCS Technologies is the world’s first mobile zero client laptop computer. Photo courtesy of NCS Technologies.

 

 

Highground Services — A Successful Graduate of the Franklin Business Incubator

Friday, 1 May 2015 09:34 by Info@YesVirginia.org
John Warren and James Strozier, two former International Paper employees, put their experience together and became entrepreneurs when they created Highground Services in 2006. They co-founded the company with their wives, allowing it to qualify as a veteran-owned, SWAM (small, women-owned and minority) business...

John Warren and James Strozier, two former International Paper employees, put their experience together and became entrepreneurs when they created Highground Services in 2006. They co-founded the company with their wives, allowing it to qualify as a veteran-owned, SWAM (small, women-owned and minority) business.

The company provides high quality engineering services for process control, system automation and instrumentation projects.

The company was off to a fast start — they landed their first contract with International Paper in May 2007 and became a part of the Franklin Business Incubator that December.

When International Paper announced the closing of its Franklin Mill in 2009, this represented a substantial part of Highground Services’ sales.

Rather than be discouraged by the economic downturn and loss of their largest customer, Warren and Strozier seized the opportunity to hire displaced International Paper workers and expand their customer base. They also diversified their business by providing new services, including electrical construction and plant maintenance.

“We made a conscious decision to locate in a historically underutilized business zone and we really value being a part of this community,” said CEO James Strozier. “Our employees are tremendous and they worked tirelessly to help us not only survive, but thrive in what could have been a very challenging time.”

The company’s efforts have paid off in multiple ways. They received the Virginia Business Incubation Association's Donna Noble Incubator Client Award in 2009, UVA’s Darden School of Business Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards in 2011 and the Franklin/Southampton Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year Award in 2010.

Highground Services has surpassed the $5 million revenue mark for the third straight year, and grown from four founders to 65 employees. The company is also poised to graduate from the Franklin Business Incubator and is in the process of purchasing a building across the street in downtown Franklin.

The entrepreneurial spirit and resiliency of Highground Services is a great reminder of the innovation that exists here in the Commonwealth as we celebrate Virginia Business Appreciation Month. To learn why Virginia offers the resources for entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses, click here.

Co-founders Jim and Lisa Strozier (center) are joined by local officials in front of their new property in downtown Franklin, Va.

Shenandoah Valley Partnership Launches inDEMAND Jobs Site

Tuesday, 21 April 2015 10:28 by Info@YesVirginia.org
The Shenandoah Valley Partnership is partnering with WHSV-TV3 news to launch an educational campaign called “inDEMAND Local Career Opportunities...

The Shenandoah Valley Partnership is partnering with WHSV-TV3 news to launch an educational campaign called “inDEMAND Local Career Opportunities.”

The purpose of inDemand is to increase awareness about high-paying career opportunities in high-growth industries where there is a substantial demand for a qualified workforce. With the cost of higher education a concern for many families, this campaign will highlight rewarding jobs that require some additional training, but not a full four-year degree. 

Through linkage with Dream It, Do It — Virginia, the campaign will help both students and current employees match their career aspirations with programs and certifications offered through the Virginia Community College System, Career and Technical Education Centers, and four-year colleges and universities.

WHSV-TV3 is currently filming a series of three minute videos featuring 26 different careers that will be posted on their site at http://www.whsv.com/indemand. Governor McAuliffe kicked off the campaign earlier this month and his interview is included on the site.

The first video focused on high demand in the welding industry. Training to become a welder takes about six months and companies in the Shenandoah Valley are projected to hire 180 welders over the next 10 years.

Upcoming videos will discuss local demand for employees in the software development, mechatronics, accounting and trucking industries, to name just a few.

The Shenandoah Valley’s inDemand campaign highlights the premier workforce training programs that exist across the Commonwealth. To learn how Virginia is keeping its workforce up-to-date on the latest technology through its 15 public universities, 45 private institutions and 23 community colleges, click here.

Virginia Makes a Strong Showing on Kiplinger’s 2015 Best College Values List

Friday, 17 April 2015 16:00 by Info@YesVirginia.org
Virginia universities made a strong showing on Kiplinger’s annual Best Colleges list, all the more important in the current environment where finding a quality education at an affordable price has become increasingly challenging...

Virginia universities made a strong showing on Kiplinger’s annual Best Colleges list, all the more important in the current environment where finding a quality education at an affordable price has become increasingly challenging.

In the public categories list, University of Virginia was ranked No. 2, The College of William and Mary No. 5, James Madison University No. 29, Virginia Tech No. 35, Christopher Newport University No. 83, and University of Mary Washington was No. 84.

For the liberal arts category, Washington and Lee University received a No. 2 ranking, University of Richmond No. 10, and Christendom College was No. 57.

To calculate the rankings, the editors at Kiplinger looked at a number of metrics used to determine both quality and value. The list was drawn from more than 1,200 four-year higher education institutions across the U.S.

Quality was measured through admission rates, test scores of incoming freshman, freshman retention, students per faculty and four-year graduation rates.

Value was calculated by looking at the overall cost of education, the amount of need-based and non-need-based aid, the percentage of need met and student debt at graduation.

Virginia’s strong rankings in both the public and liberal arts categories show the breadth of the Commonwealth’s premier education offerings. Virginia has more than 575,000 students enrolled in 230 campuses across the state ensuring the workforce of tomorrow is prepared to meet industry needs. To learn more click here.

A view of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia. Photo courtesy of UVA and Cassidy Girvin.

VEDP and CCAM Receive Achievement in Innovation Award from Business Facilities Magazine

Tuesday, 14 April 2015 17:07 by Info@YesVirginia.org
Business Facilities magazine recently announced its 2015 Economic Development Awards and VEDP was a recipient of one of five Achievement in Innovation Awards for the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing...

Business Facilities magazine recently announced its 2015 Economic Development Awards and VEDP was a recipient of one of five Achievement in Innovation Awards for the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing.

The Business Facilities article mentioned how difficult it was to narrow down candidates this year because best practices are being implemented across the country, making CCAM’s recognition all the more meaningful.                                                          

According to the Business Facilities’ editorial staff, “The states that are ahead of the curve have developed innovation hubs for targeted growth sectors and created an environment that makes their locations fertile ground for emerging businesses. This year, we’re focusing our spotlight on five programs that have exhibited consistent excellence in the development of innovation hubs and three successful initiatives targeting entrepreneurs.”

CCAM is an applied research center that brings together Virginia’s leading manufacturing companies and educational institutions to turn research into real-world technologies and solutions. It operates out of a 62,000-square-foot facility located adjacent to the 1,000-acre Rolls-Royce Crosspointe Campus in Prince George County, Va.

CCAM is focused on advancing and commercializing manufacturing technologies in six key areas — surface engineering, manufacturing systems, machining technologies, welding, additive manufacturing and composite materials.

Operating as a public-private partnership, its roster is made up of five university members and 33 corporate and industry members, including globally recognized leaders Aerojet Rocketdyne, Airbus, Alcoa, Canon, Chromalloy, NASA, Newport News Shipbuilding, Oerlikon Metco, Rolls-Royce, Sandvik Coromant and Siemens.

This award highlights what the more than 5,600 manufacturing companies located in Virginia already know — that the Commonwealth is a hub of advanced manufacturing and offers companies the innovative environment to grow. To learn more click here.

A view of CCAM, adjacent to Rolls-Royce’s Crosspointe Campus, in Prince George County, Va.

VEDP’s Advertising Agency Wins Best in Show for Stone Brewing Kit

Monday, 13 April 2015 15:27 by Info@YesVirginia.org
We at VEDP are proud to congratulate our advertising agency, Elevation, for winning Best in Show in the Promotional Design & Advertising category at the Richmond Ad Club’s annual awards show...

We at VEDP are proud to congratulate our advertising agency, Elevation, for winning Best in Show in the Promotional Design & Advertising category at the Richmond Ad Club’s annual awards show.

Elevation helped us develop a unique presentation for the executive team at Stone Brewing Co. as part of our marketing process to win their East Coast location for Virginia.

During a meeting among Stone Brewing Co., the Governor, his administration, and other key members of the Virginia marketing team, VEDP organized a surprise visit from a character actor portraying Thomas Jefferson.

Agriculture was one of Jefferson’s greatest passions, and at Monticello he grew the ingredients to make his own ale, continuing Virginia’s more than 400-year brewing legacy.

Elevation developed a script for Jefferson to describe Virginia’s plentiful natural resources that would make an excellent home for Stone Brewing’s East Coast location. They also developed a kit filled with Virginia brewing ingredients for Jefferson to present to the Stone executive team — pure Virginia water, wheat, hops and molasses.

As everyone knows, the pitch was successful and Stone Brewing announced their plans to invest $74 million to construct a brewery, packaging hall, restaurant, gardens, retail store and offices in Richmond this past fall.

Virginia successfully competed against more than 20 states, and winning this competitive project from the country’s 10th largest craft brewing company has furthered the Commonwealth’s position as a serious player in the craft beer industry.

Food and beverage companies continue to find Virginia has the recipe for success. To learn why food processing companies have invested more than $2.1 billion in Virginia since 2004, click here.

An actor portraying Thomas Jefferson holds the Stone Brewing kit for a marketing presentation that won Best in Show at the Richmond Ad Club awards.

Magnets USA Celebrates 25 Years and a New Facility in Virginia

Friday, 27 March 2015 16:57 by Info@YesVirginia.org
Magnets USA recently celebrated 25 years in the Roanoke Valley region of Virginia. The company also hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new building in Vinton, Va...

Magnets USA recently celebrated 25 years in the Roanoke Valley region of Virginia. The company also hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new building in Vinton, Va.

Magnets USA moved from nearby Roanoke City into the former Grumman Fire Truck Corp. location, a newly-renovated, climate-controlled, 45,000-square-foot building. The grand opening event featured fire trucks previously manufactured at the Grumman building to commemorate its history.

The new facility will provide 70 percent more production space and allow the company to add 25 new jobs to its current workforce of 60. VEDP’s Virginia Jobs Investment Program is assisting the company with training funds for the new jobs.

Founded in 1990, the company began selling adhesive materials that magnetized business cards. Today, Magnets USA produces more than 20 million magnetized marketing products each year, including calendars, sports and event schedules, banners and business cards. 

Virginia’s premier business environment has allowed the company to successfully expand its customer base to include the real estate market, Chicago Bears, Salem Red Sox, Kid Rock Enterprises, Burning Man, Floyd Fest, the American Quilter’s Society and local schools.

Magnets USA has also worked with VEDP’s international trade team to increase global sales. The company currently exports to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The company’s history and success in Virginia is another example of the pro-business environment and resources the Commonwealth provides for growing companies. To learn more, click here.

The Magnets USA team prepares to cut the ribbon at the company’s grand opening ceremony for its renovated facility in Vinton, Va. Photo courtesy of Magnets USA.

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The Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), a state authority created by the Virginia General Assembly to better serve those seeking a prime business location and increased trade opportunities, provides confidential site selection and international trade services. VEDP's mission: To enhance the quality of life and raise the standard of living for all Virginians, in collaboration with Virginia communities, through aggressive business recruitment, expansion assistance, and trade development, thereby expanding the tax base and creating higher-income employment opportunities.

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Virginia Receives an “A” for Small Business Friendliness

Tuesday, 18 August 2015 14:39 by Info@YesVirginia.org
Virginia received an A for overall friendliness on Thumbtack.com’s fourth annual Small Business Friendliness Survey. Virginia was the highest ranked state in the Mid-Atlantic and top 10 nationwide. Nearby competitors Maryland received a D+ and North Carolina a B-...

Virginia received an A for overall friendliness on Thumbtack.com’s fourth annual Small Business Friendliness Survey. Virginia was the highest ranked state in the Mid-Atlantic and top 10 nationwide. Nearby competitors Maryland received a D+ and North Carolina a B-.

Thumbtack.com surveyed 17,633 small businesses across the U.S. with 36 questions to evaluate the friendliness of state and local policies toward small businesses on more than a dozen metrics.

Highlights for the Commonwealth include an A+ for ease of starting a business, licensing regulations and environmental factors.   

“Small business owners on Thumbtack have consistently told us that they welcome support from their governments but are frequently frustrated by unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles,” said Jon Lieber, chief economist of Thumbtack.com. “Virginia's policies that support entrepreneurs could provide a helpful guide as we fight a general decline in business startups nationwide.”

“There is an excellent climate for small business in Virginia,” commented a translator and professor in Roanoke. “It is a great place to start and run a business because the state offers support, networking, referral and community enthusiasm.”

Richmond was ranked the No. 3 friendliest city in the U.S. and received an A+.

The survey results once again illustrate that Virginia is a great place for entrepreneurs to start and grow a business. To learn more about the Commonwealth’s pro-business policies, strategic location, competitive operating costs, leading research institutions and highly educated workforce, click here.

Image courtesy of Thumbtack.com

Performance Signs — From a Dorm Room to the Highway

Thursday, 21 May 2015 10:30 by Info@YesVirginia.org
Founder Robbie Morris was an engineering student at Virginia Tech when he started making decals for his brother’s stock car racing team. Robbie actually ran the decal machine out of his dorm room in the fall of 1995...

Founder Robbie Morris was an engineering student at Virginia Tech when he started making decals for his brother’s stock car racing team. Robbie actually ran the decal machine out of his dorm room in the fall of 1995.

While out on an engineering co-op, Robbie realized he enjoyed the creativity of the sign work much more than the structure of his engineering internship and decided to pursue the sign business full-time.

Today, Performance Signs makes a variety of signs, banners, vehicle lettering, vehicle wraps, window lettering and real estate signs for commercial businesses, public safety vehicles and highways.

Self-awareness is an important trait for entrepreneurs, and surrounding oneself with the right people and skillsets is critical. Robbie found the perfect business partner in his wife Katherine. She came on board full-time in 2004 and made improvements with her ability to manage, schedule and handle the day-to-day business, allowing Robbie to focus on the creative side.

Robbie and Katherine focused on building relationships with their customers and that paid off. “We were doing work for a sign company that supported a police department in Southwest Virginia,” said Performance Signs Founder Robbie Morris. “Those decals were an exact match for the Albemarle police department near us. We were able to approach them and found that there was a need for somebody to serve the public safety vehicles in our area. There’s a tightknit community among the police, fire department and rescue squad, and our relationship with that core group has helped us grow.”

When the recession hit, Robbie and Katherine looked at everything they did in order to be more efficient, from the number of phone lines they needed to the amount of equipment. They also took a calculated risk when a property became available. 

“All indications were that it would be crazy to buy something right now, but it completely came together for us,” said Robbie. “We really felt like God was moving in our lives and the timing was right. We did an SBA 504 loan. It was a lot of work, but through that process it helped us see our business in a new way.”

Robbie and Katherine closed on their building in the fall of 2009, and continuing their quest for efficiency, installed a solar-paneled roof on the 8,000-square-foot facility. Depending upon the time of year, the solar panels generate anywhere from 55-100 percent of the building’s electricity. 

Robbie and Katherine’s tenacity allowed them to successfully bounce back from the recession. The company has doubled sales since 2010 and grown from four to 12 people.

Performance Signs was also just selected to participate in the inaugural class of Ones to Watch, a business mentoring initiative run by the U.S. Senate Productivity and Quality Award Program for Virginia.

As we celebrate Virginia Business Appreciation Month, Performance Signs stands as another great example of the innovation and creativity of Virginia entrepreneurs. To learn why Virginia is a great place to grow a business, click here.

Performance Signs CEO Katherine Morris and Founder Robert Morris outside their company headquarters in Ruckersville, Va.

Release Reels — An Entrepreneur’s Journey from Biking to Fishing

Thursday, 14 May 2015 09:50 by Info@YesVirginia.org
After a hectic career traveling all over the U.S. and Europe as a professional cyclist, all Wes Seigler wanted to do after retiring as an athlete was to relax at his parent’s home in Reedville, Va., and fish every day like he did as a kid...

After a hectic career traveling all over the U.S. and Europe as a professional cyclist,  all Wes Seigler wanted to do after retiring as an athlete was to relax at his parent’s home in Reedville, Va., and fish every day like he did as a kid.

While fishing on the Chesapeake Bay and offshore Virginia, Seigler and his friends soon encountered problems with the performance of the reels they were using. Drawing upon his experience perfecting his own bike gearing and after encouragement from contacts in the cycling industry, Seigler decided to design his own product.

Release Reels was established in 2009. Seigler quickly found himself in the world of POs, RFQs and SKUs and learning what it all meant on the go. He initially started manufacturing in China, but found his intellectual property was leaking into competitors’ products and decided to bring back the manufacturing stateside.

Release Reels makes premium saltwater fishing reels, and the tolerances are very high. The product has to perform perfectly and look sharp. In order to make sure the machining was spot on, he decided to manufacture it himself. Upon being told he couldn’t compete with Asia, Seigler responded, “We can, we just gotta be willing to work.”

The company now operates nine CNC machines and has 10 full-time employees. 100% of the assembly and machining is done in Virginia and 100% of the component parts are made in the U.S. Seigler sources specialty bearings from Florida, gears and springs from Wisconsin and screws from San Diego, all to ensure the product is made in the USA.

“We have to win all categories — that’s the mentality of our company,” said Seigler. Release Reels products outperform in every class — they are smaller and more powerful, while weighing less.

The company also maintains a lifetime warranty on all its products, which no one else in the industry does. “If you purchase a product, I believe you should be able to call somebody and talk to them,” remarked Seigler. “We can fix it inexpensively, since we do all the machining in-house. Customers love the interaction and that carries into their next purchase.”

Release Reels also works with Rappahannock Community College and hires interns with an interest in machining as a career. “Giving a chance to somebody that might not be university bound has been pretty cool. Manufacturing is not what it used to be, it’s technology driven. We run a clean shop and it’s a great environment where people can learn a lot,” said Seigler.

The company’s high standards and customer service have paid off. After beginning with production of 100 reels per month, the company is now selling almost 600 reels per month and building the infrastructure to grow beyond that. They have also expanded into international markets from Europe to Southeast Asia.  

“The international market is huge for us,” noted Seigler. “People love an American-made product. Japan has a large fishing industry with some of the top shops in the world there. Being accepted by those customers is a strong statement for the quality of our products.”

As we celebrate Virginia Business Appreciation Month, Release Reels is a great example of the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit alive in the Commonwealth. To learn more why Virginia is a great place to grow a business, click here.

Release Reels Founder and President Wes Seigler demonstrates the company’s premium saltwater fishing reels for a future customer. Photo courtesy of Release Reels.

Highground Services — A Successful Graduate of the Franklin Business Incubator

Friday, 1 May 2015 09:34 by Info@YesVirginia.org
John Warren and James Strozier, two former International Paper employees, put their experience together and became entrepreneurs when they created Highground Services in 2006. They co-founded the company with their wives, allowing it to qualify as a veteran-owned, SWAM (small, women-owned and minority) business...

John Warren and James Strozier, two former International Paper employees, put their experience together and became entrepreneurs when they created Highground Services in 2006. They co-founded the company with their wives, allowing it to qualify as a veteran-owned, SWAM (small, women-owned and minority) business.

The company provides high quality engineering services for process control, system automation and instrumentation projects.

The company was off to a fast start — they landed their first contract with International Paper in May 2007 and became a part of the Franklin Business Incubator that December.

When International Paper announced the closing of its Franklin Mill in 2009, this represented a substantial part of Highground Services’ sales.

Rather than be discouraged by the economic downturn and loss of their largest customer, Warren and Strozier seized the opportunity to hire displaced International Paper workers and expand their customer base. They also diversified their business by providing new services, including electrical construction and plant maintenance.

“We made a conscious decision to locate in a historically underutilized business zone and we really value being a part of this community,” said CEO James Strozier. “Our employees are tremendous and they worked tirelessly to help us not only survive, but thrive in what could have been a very challenging time.”

The company’s efforts have paid off in multiple ways. They received the Virginia Business Incubation Association's Donna Noble Incubator Client Award in 2009, UVA’s Darden School of Business Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards in 2011 and the Franklin/Southampton Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year Award in 2010.

Highground Services has surpassed the $5 million revenue mark for the third straight year, and grown from four founders to 65 employees. The company is also poised to graduate from the Franklin Business Incubator and is in the process of purchasing a building across the street in downtown Franklin.

The entrepreneurial spirit and resiliency of Highground Services is a great reminder of the innovation that exists here in the Commonwealth as we celebrate Virginia Business Appreciation Month. To learn why Virginia offers the resources for entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses, click here.

Co-founders Jim and Lisa Strozier (center) are joined by local officials in front of their new property in downtown Franklin, Va.

Virginia a Top State for Private Equity Investment

Monday, 30 June 2014 15:44 by Info@YesVirginia.org
Virginia was ranked No. 7 for private equity investment in 2013, according to the Private Equity Growth Capital Council’s fourth annual investment report...

Virginia was ranked No. 7 for private equity investment in 2013, according to the Private Equity Growth Capital Council’s fourth annual investment report.

Last year, 66 companies across the Commonwealth received $14.7 billion in private equity investment. Virginia moved up in the rankings from 16th place last year.

This signals that investors see value in Virginia’s entrepreneurs and growing companies. Private equity is typically used as growth capital to fuel expansion, as well as to assist companies in strategic turnaround situations.

“Private equity investment is long-term capital at work,” said Steve Judge, president and CEO of the Private Equity Growth Capital Council. “The companies in states across the country that receive private equity investment are able to expand their businesses, develop new innovations and hire workers, and this report highlights the important contributions of private equity in the U.S. economy.”

Virginia also saw two congressional districts break the top 20 in private equity investment. Virginia’s 4th Congressional District received $4.7 billion and Virginia’s 11th Congressional District received $4.5 billion. China-based W.H. Group’s acquisition of Smithfield Foods Inc. represents a majority of District 4's investment.

According to the PEGCC report, private equity firms have invested $129.1 billion in Virginia-based companies from 2004-2013. The report further states that there are 568 private equity-backed companies headquartered in the Commonwealth, which support more than 309,570 jobs at facilities both in and out of state.

The ability of Virginia companies to attract this amount of private equity investment is another testament to the level of innovation and success that entrepreneurs find when they locate their businesses in the Commonwealth. To learn why Virginia is a top state for business and investment, click here.

Photo courtesy of Private Equity Growth Capital Council

Virginia Receives an A+ for Small Business Friendliness

Tuesday, 17 June 2014 09:35 by Info@YesVirginia.org
Virginia received an A+ on Thumbtack.com’s annual Small Business Friendliness Survey. The Commonwealth improved its rank to the fourth overall friendliest state in the U.S. and the top state on the East Coast...

Virginia received an A+ on Thumbtack.com’s annual Small Business Friendliness Survey. The Commonwealth improved its rank to the fourth overall friendliest state in the U.S. and the top state on the East Coast.

Virginia outshone its surrounding competition for the third year in a row. Maryland received a C- and North Carolina earned a C+. Virginia has never received less than an A since the inception of this ranking.

Thumbtack.com partnered with the Kauffman Foundation to survey more than 12,600 entrepreneurs across the country. This ranking is unique because its results come straight from the comments of small business owners.

“After a two-month survey of thousands of small business owners nationwide, business owners have reaffirmed that Virginia is a premier destination for starting and running a business,” said Jon Lieber, Chief Economist of Thumbtack.com. “Creating a business climate that is welcoming to small, dynamic businesses is more important than ever, and Virginia's A+ grade by its small businesses shows what a welcoming and friendly place the Commonwealth is for entrepreneurs.”

Highlights for Virginia include a No. 3 ranking for ease of licensing regulations, a No. 4 ranking for ease of overall regulations, and a No. 5 ranking for training and networking programs. According to Thumbtack.com, the strongest correlating factor for the perception of small business friendliness is the ease of licensing forms, requirements and fees.

In addition, the study examined 82 metropolitan regions. Richmond was ranked No. 10 overall and Virginia Beach was ranked No. 20 overall. Richmond and Virginia Beach were ranked No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, for ease of licensing regulations.

Entrepreneurs and start-ups are becoming increasingly important for economic growth and organic job creation. According to Thumbtack.com, “Virginia’s small businesses were the third most optimistic in the nation when it came to plans to hire more employees in the next twelve months.”

To learn why Virginia is a great place to start and grow a business, click here.

The Launch Place Brings Entrepreneurs to Virginia’s Dan River Region

Tuesday, 14 January 2014 16:22 by Info@YesVirginia.org
The Launch Place is bringing businesses to Southern Virginia. As the leading entity to recruit and support entrepreneurs in the Dan River Region, the organization announced its first seed fund investment in KSI Data Sciences...

The Launch Place is bringing businesses to Southern Virginia. As the leading entity to recruit and support entrepreneurs in the Dan River Region, the organization announced its first seed fund investment in KSI Data Sciences.

KSI will receive an initial investment of $150,000, and another $100,000 after successfully testing its prototype for video and data management solutions used in remote sensing platforms on unmanned aircrafts, vehicles and mobile devices. The KSI team plans to relocate to the Dan River District later this month.

Formerly called the Southside Business Technology Center, the Launch Place has assisted start-ups and early stage companies since 2005. After receiving a $10 million grant from the Danville Region Foundation in 2012, the organization was able to add seed funding to its capabilities as a business incubator and rebranded itself as the Launch Place.

What makes the Launch Place unique is its strategy of recruiting entrepreneurs, and then providing the support to allow their businesses to organically grow in the Dan River Region. Through a partnership with VT KnowledgeWorks, entrepreneurs in the program receive free mentoring through the planning, launch and growth stages of starting a business. The Launch Place team also provides a variety of business consulting services, including business plan development, market research, financial modeling and competitor analysis.

The Launch Place helps entrepreneurs reduce start-up costs by offering residential housing and office space subsidies to entrepreneurs that commit to stay in Danville for three years. The Dan River District provides a great place to live, work and play through its historic downtown area, riverfront walking and biking trails, plentiful water sports, concerts, festivals and other recreational activities.

The Launch Place is another example of the innovative support that Virginia offers to entrepreneurs and small business owners. To learn more, click here

A view of the Launch Place headquarters in the historic downtown area of the Dan River District.

Homegrown Martinsville Company Expands — Textiles Solid as a Stone in Virginia

Wednesday, 11 December 2013 16:35 by Info@YesVirginia.org
When Virginia entrepreneur David Stone decided to start his own company, Solid Stone Fabrics, in 2003 he knew the perfect location — his hometown of Martinsville, Va...

When Virginia entrepreneur David Stone decided to start his own company, Solid Stone Fabrics, in 2003 he knew the perfect location — his hometown of Martinsville, Va. 

With a solid background in the fabrics industry, including stints at Kayser-Roth, Tultex, Reebok and Pine Crest Fabrics, Stone had the industry knowledge and contacts to hit the ground running and start a successful business out of his home. When a truckload of fabric showed up at his front door, his wife let him know it was time to expand.

Stone moved into the local business incubator at the West Piedmont Business Development Center and stayed there until 2008. He carved out a strong niche in the stretch fabric market, supplying materials for customers in the dancewear, swimwear, costume, team and other active apparel markets. The incubator provided much more than a physical location; it offered microloans to help along the way as the company grew.

Solid Stone Fabrics moved into its current location, a 24,000-squre-foot building in downtown Martinsville, in 2008. And, according to Stone, “That’s when things really took off,” which included adding sales offices in New Jersey and California.

“We were primed to do most of our manufacturing in Asia, but we found it difficult to do smaller runs and get a quick response for our customers,” said Stone. “That frustration led us to do more of our own manufacturing here at home in Virginia.”

At any one time, Solid Stone Fabrics has 250,000 yards of material at its facility in Martinsville, ready to respond quickly to both business and individual customers. Martinsville serves as the company’s headquarters and center of operations, which includes adding embellishments for its active apparel markets, printing flags and banners for high schools, and assisting global customers in sourcing and supplying their fabric needs.

To date, the company has 24 employees, and just this week announced plans to create 16 more jobs over the next three years and invest $1.0 million in a second facility in Martinsville. Located just a few blocks away, the second building will add 23,000 square feet of manufacturing space and is expected to be operational by December 15.

“It’s exciting to be back in your hometown and putting people back to work — 40 jobs means a lot,” said Stone.  “In addition, occupying these older buildings in Martinsville is really breathing new life into the heart of our city.”

As to why Stone chose to expand in Martinsville, the answer is simple, “The majority of our employees are from here and educated here. I have relied heavily on Patrick Henry Community College and I can’t say enough about the talent here in Southern Virginia,” said Stone. “We’ve received a lot of support from the City of Martinsville, Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development and the Tobacco Commission — we’re so grateful to have all of that assistance by our side when we need it.”

Solid Stone Fabrics illustrates the success entrepreneurs find when they start a business in the Commonwealth, as well as how competitive Virginia manufacturing is on a global scale. To learn why Virginia is the best state for business, click here.

Members of the Solid Stone Fabrics team discuss their latest innovations from company headquarters in Martinsville, Va.

Virginia Entrepreneurs — Dr. Lucy’s Takes Gluten-Free Global with VALET Program

Thursday, 21 November 2013 16:44 by Info@YesVirginia.org
Ten years ago, Dr. Lucy Gibney’s experience with food allergies was fairly typical for a board-certified emergency medicine physician. That all changed when her four month old son had a life-threatening allergic reaction to infant formula...

Ten years ago, Dr. Lucy Gibney’s experience with food allergies was fairly typical for a board-certified emergency medicine physician. That all changed when her four month old son had a life-threatening allergic reaction to infant formula.

Food safety quickly became a priority; however, at the time Dr. Lucy had trouble finding allergy-free products that were both safe and tasted good. Having developed a love of baking and experimenting with recipes since childhood, she combined this with her medical training in nutrition to develop delicious, allergy-free baked goods the whole family could enjoy.

Dr. Lucy and her husband wanted to share their cookies, brownies and snacks with other families, and thus was born Dr. Lucy’s line of baked goods, free from gluten, milk, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts.

In 2007, Dr. Lucy’s opened a 2,500-square-foot bakery in Norfolk, Va. The company outgrew this space three years ago and moved into a facility that has now grown to 22,000 square feet, including a dedicated bakery, warehouse, office space and laboratory to ensure sourced ingredients have not been cross-contaminated with any allergens. 

The company has expanded to more than 100 employees and managed to double sales every year since inception. Dr. Lucy’s began selling to natural food and grocery stores in the Hampton Roads area, and expanded throughout the mid-Atlantic region on its own momentum. Within the first six months, the company established a Midwest presence through an industry trade show in Chicago and gained an introduction to a buyer at Whole Foods Market by attending the Virginia Food and Beverage Expo. Dr. Lucy’s products are now in more than 6,000 retail locations across the U.S.

Dr. Lucy’s became a member of VEDP’s Virginia Leaders in Export Trade program in July 2012 after some early growth in Canada and the U.K. VALET helped the company research which new markets to focus on, and provided introductions to international consumer products experts, banking relationships and legal consults.

According to Dr. Lucy, “VALET put everything we needed right there in front of us. We really benefitted from the research component to check our facts and feel comfortable investing resources in a particular direction. Especially as a small company, having a jump start with core competencies in the international arena makes a big difference — it could have taken us years to develop this on our own.”

Through the VALET program, Dr. Lucy’s is expanding deeper into Europe and is now shipping to Mexico. To learn more about VALET and what VEDP’s international trade program can do for you, click here.

Dr. Lucy’s develops Spanish-language packaging as it prepares to enter the Mexican market.

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Virginia Economic Development Partnership is the Best State for Business

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), a state authority created by the Virginia General Assembly to better serve those seeking a prime business location and increased trade opportunities, provides confidential site selection and international trade services. VEDP's mission: To enhance the quality of life and raise the standard of living for all Virginians, in collaboration with Virginia communities, through aggressive business recruitment, expansion assistance, and trade development, thereby expanding the tax base and creating higher-income employment opportunities.

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