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Virginia Tech
Coalfields to tech fields: Companies' arrival changes outlook
Taken from Bristol Herald Courier External Site
Written By Kacie Dingus
November 24, 2006

The arrival of two technology companies and a medical facility mark the latest moves toward a more high-tech, diverse economy for a region previously known only for its coalfields.

Ushered in by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine’s Return to Roots campaign, decisions by information-technology giants CGI and Northrop Grumman to expand their companies and move to Southwest Virginia will follow the example of integrated electronics marketer Crutchfield Corp., which recognized the region’s potential and built its first satellite operation here years ago.

Holston Medical Group, a long-standing regional healthcare organization, also has announced plans to extend its service in Southwest Virginia.

When Crutchfield, the nation’s first integrated marketer of electronics products, established its first satellite operation in Norton in 1997, Crutchfield employee and Castlewood High School graduate Dan Minahan was offered the director position at the satellite office.

Today, Minahan oversees about 120 employees with salaries averaging $32,000 to $34,000 a year, he said.

When Crutchfield chose to build a second call center in 1997, it chose Norton for the city’s proximity to scenic, recreational and historic attractions. The company’s Web site also cited local residents’ dedication to success.

The arrival of CGI and Northrop Grumman in Lebanon is a tremendous boost to the Return to Roots program, its officials said. They’ll create about 700 high-paying jobs.

Shannon Blevins, project manager with the Workforce Services Division of Virginia and a Return to Roots committee member, has been tasked with helping to fill the jobs.

Blevins said the Return to Roots program wants to get the message out that, "Hey, we’ve got these jobs now that we didn’t have years ago."

Former Gov. Mark Warner announced in October 2005 that 30-year-old CGI had signed an agreement to invest $6 million to open a software development and systems integration facility in Russell County.

CGI already has filled about 110 of the 350 jobs it committed to create over the next two years.

One of those positions was filled by Lyn Tatum, a former Southwest Virginian who returned to her roots in Lebanon after being hired as CGI’s human resources manager in Russell County.

Tatum said employees’ salaries will range from $30,000 to $70,000, based on the position and experience.

CGI chose to build in Russell County because it was "looking for a way to provide a lower-cost on-shore option as opposed to the metropolitan cities we’re used to doing business in," Tatum said, adding that Russell County was chosen "based on its population of people who had IT knowledge already."

Kaine, the governor, attended the ground-breaking ceremony at Northrop Grumman’s Lebanon location last month. With the majority of its operations already in Virginia, the company is one of the largest providers of systems integration and information technology systems and services to the U.S. government.

Most of its employees will make about $31,000 to $32,000, but the scale will range from $20,000 to $70,000, a spokeswoman said.

At the ground-breaking, Jim O’Neill, corporate vice president and IT sector president, said Northrop Grumman wants to "encourage stable economic growth here by using the resources this wonderful region has to offer – most importantly, its people."

Citing the area’s education, healthcare, telecommunications infrastructure and other amenities, O’Neill said that "the region’s high quality of life is one of the reasons Northrop Grumman decided to build an operation here."

Holston Medical Group founder Jerry Miller said his group will expand efforts to bring health services into the region by adding a new multimillion-dollar medical records data processing center and full-service outpatient diagnostic center to its 15 existing locations in the region.

The governor attributed Miller’s expansion to the county’s "strong labor force and the region’s growing telecommunications network."

The Scott County-based facility will hire about 40 employees at $50,000 to $65,000 a year, with an average salary of about $62,000.

"We know there are a lot of people whose parents still live here or their grandparents live here, and they have the potential to inherit land from them, and they want to return to the culture that is familiar to them," said Rachel Fowlkes, executive director of the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon and a Return to Roots committee member.

"We’re trying to get in touch with them now to let them know there are excellent employment opportunities here now," she said.

kdingus@tricities.com | (423) 434-4592

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