The Dan River Business Development Center hosted the Danville Development Council for its monthly meeting Tuesday.
The business incubator, which opened in April of 2001 as a joint venture between Pittsylvania County and Danville, was the focus of the day’s meeting. Dan River Business Development Center Director of Operations Ralph Hogg gave an overview of the center and its history.
“Through federal and state funding, the building was constructed,” he stated. “The original design was to try to have industrial and as well as office space. We found out we probably needed more industrial space than office space.”
The incubator has been a temporary home to multiple business and industries. Currently it houses Tyton Bioenergy Systems, Engineered Biopharmaceuticals and IRFlex Corporation.
“This has provided a lot of opportunity for the citizens of our area,” he said. Roughly 2,000 jobs have been created since 2001 by companies aided by the incubator.
This growth is in part due to flexibility, Hogg explained. Having housed everything from a call center to large or advanced scientific companies, the center has evolved its understanding of company needs.
“We have been working with small companies, entrepreneurs that are just opening an office for themselves all the way up to Swedwood, which is now referred to as Ikea, that hires several hundred people. So we’ve had all different ranges,” he said.
Hogg emphasized that the center is one part in a long chain of efforts by the city, economic development and other parties. Realizing it doesn’t need to compete for business leads has helped all represented interests, he said.
The abbreviated tour by Hogg presented the labs of Tyton and IRFlex. EBio has recently begun testing involving blood samples and thus could not accept visitors into the lab.
Tyton’s Southeast region Vice President Conor Hartman explained that Tyton uses tobacco for fuel.
“Tyton has developed a special kind of energy tobacco plant that can be turned into biofuels,” he told the board. “Tobacco, traditional tobacco, has sugar and oil in the plant, but we’ve modified it to amplify sugar and oil production. The sugar turns into ethanol and the sugar gets turned into fuel.”
Being a historically tobacco farming region, members asked if Danville’s tobacco was used in the studies. Hartman replied that “tobacco is the most widely grown commercial, non-food crop in the world. It grows in 125 countries commercially. We grew it in South Dakota. It grows fantastic in South Dakota. We don’t know what it tastes like. I’m sure it’s nothing like the great flavor that comes out of the Danville region. But we’re growing it for biomass and sugar and oil content. It gives us incredible flexibility.”
The company utilizes the entire plant, utilizing the sugar- and oil-rich leaves and stalk with two cuttings off each plant every year. The entire plant is processed without curing and in a mechanized fashion, lowering prices incurred during smoking tobacco preparation.
IRFlex’s Dr. Francois Chenard presented the high-tech lab facilities used by his staff.
“We make fiber-optics. We have all the equipment to make specialty fibers for special applications,” Chenard said.
Chenard instructed the board to peak into the climate controlled facilities that are kept extremely clean with little to no dust or dirt.
The highly maintained facilities are necessary to handle such unique and technologically advanced materials. “It’s the only fiber that transmits mid-infrared lasers,” Chenard said.
The board also heard from Economic Development Director Telly Tucker. He shared multiple recent events, including:
» Opening of Hot Asana Yoga Studio;
» Ribbon cuttings for Solex Architecture firm and Sky Valley Foods; and
» The closing of Attic Hound.
Construction is underway at 554 Craghead St., for Rick Barker’s Supply Resources company, he said.
Tucker also mentioned that Noblis is conducting aggressive recruitment to find 12 new employees. The Northern Virginia executive team has visited and met with the economic development department to strategize on the most efficient means to accomplish the company’s goals under the Tobacco Commission agreement.
The Research Building of Dan River was reviewed by Tucker, too. He mentioned that the delayed New Market Tax Credits have finally been granted. Pemberton Lofts has begun its phase two construction, which already stands at 50 percent occupied under pre-lease agreements. He commented that this demonstrated a demand for housing in the River District. Pemberton Lofts officials plan to proceed with the 610 Craghead St. Continental Building by May or June 2015.
Morrison reports for the Danville Register & Bee.