Local Business and Economic Development

A Vinton company is investing $1.5 million to expand and upgrade its manufacturing capabilities. Governor Northam’s office says the state will provide funding to help Magnets USA retrain its workers for the new systems. The company makes magnetic and paper promotional products. It employs 70 people.

From Governor Northam’s Office: RICHMOND-Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Magnets USA, a manufacturer of primarily magnetic and paper promotional products,will invest $1.5 million in its operation in Roanoke County. The company has already purchased state-of-the-art equipment to increase capacity, including a digital press, laser engraver, and a customized enterprise resource planning system that will replace all of its current processes. Other additions are slated for this year.The company’s 70 employees will be retrained to operate the new machinery and systems with support from the Virginia Jobs Investment Program (VJIP).

“Magnets USA is an impressive entrepreneurial success story for Virginia, and I am pleased to see the company reinvesting in its Roanoke County operation,” said Governor Northam. “To stay competitive in a 21st-century economy, growing companies must upgrade processes and technologies, and ensure its employees are equipped with the most in-demand skills. We are proud to support Magnets USA, and look forward to many more years of success in the Commonwealth.”

Founded in 1990 in an old hatchback, Magnets USA began with very little money and a whole lot of passion. Founder Dale Turner traveled from Roanoke to Phoenix, stopping in almost every town along the way to pitch his magnetic business card. Today, Magnets USA serves about 35,000 customers. Each year, the company produces millions of magnetized marketing products-including calendars, sports schedules, notepads, and car magnets-for a client base that stems largely from the real estate industry.

“Magnets USA has been a valuable contributor to the Roanoke region’s economy for over 25 years, and Virginia is proud to partner with the company in its next chapter of growth,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “From its beginning as a one-person operation to 70 employees, Magnets USA is a strong example of what entrepreneurs can accomplish in the Commonwealth.”

Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge held a hospitality training workshop today, looking to build a team of local ambassadors who can show tourists what the area has to offer. They looked at tourism from a visitor’s perspective to discuss what they want, need, and what information they might be missing.Among the participants was Bayou Snowballs owner Crystal Bolton. Her shop is in the City Market building.

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The union representing many Kroger workers in Virginia and North Carolina is holding a protest rally later today across the street from Kroger’s regional headquarters in Roanoke. Kroger recently purchased eight former Farm Fresh stores in Hampton Roads, one of them directly across the street from an existing Kroger store. Workers there say they are worried about their stores’ — and jobs’ — futures. Kroger says it is happy to discuss concerns with workers, but a protest rally is not a productive way to do it. WFIR’s Evan Jones has the story:

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From Salem Mayor Randy Foley: “The GE plant and its workers have been integral parts of Salem’s fabric for more than 60 years. When the plant employed over 3,000 back in its heyday, it seemed like everyone you knew had a family member who was working there, and many of them were actively involved in the community and their respective neighborhoods. Sadly, industrial plants across the state and the country have been through tough times in recent years. I think we always knew this was a possibility, especially since GE has been reducing its workforce worldwide in past years.

From Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess: “I am both surprised and saddened to learn that the GE plant is potentially closing at the end of the year. Right now, our thoughts are with the workers and families who could be displaced in the coming months. GE truly has been a Salem institution for decades, and we hope that many of these individuals can find new employment elsewhere in the valley. Financially, the impact on the city will not be nearly as significant as it would have been 20 or 30 years ago, because the plant’s production has been greatly reduced in recent years.”

From General Electric: Based on the ongoing challenges in the power industry and a significant decline in orders at this facility, we have announced our intent to close our manufacturing facility in Salem, VA, and move the remaining work to other GE locations or to supplier partners.  If requested by the local union, in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement, GE will engage in a 60-day decision bargaining period with the union regarding the intended closure.

If GE makes a final decision to go forward with this transfer of work, GE would continue to have a presence in the Salem community, employing more than 200 professionals across our Power, Renewable Energy and Baker Hughes businesses. This action is difficult and does not reflect the performance, dedication, and hard work of our employees. If the site is closed, impacted employees, nearly half of whom are eligible for retirement, would be provided with a comprehensive severance package, including transition support to new employment.

(previously) A Roanoke County official says that something we were told this morning anonymously is true – that the G.E. manufacturing plant in Salem will be closing. The unnamed caller said she was told 12 months. The Roanoke County official says an announcement is pending. Stay tuned for further details.