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March 20, 2014

Valley Leaders Focus on Collaboration and Innovation

BOB STUART bstuart@newsvirginian.com

STAUNTON --When McKee Foods was deciding where to add a mini-doughnut line a couple of years ago,  a plant in Arkansas had the advantage over one in Stuarts Draft.

But McKee Stuarts Draft Plant Manager Randy Smith said economic development officials from Augusta County and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and officials from Blue Ridge Community College collaborated with him. They helped lure the $10 million investment and 78 jobs to Stuarts Draft.

Now, because of the closing of Hostess Foods, the Stuarts Draft plant has added about 300 jobs total. Smith said his experience with state and local officials helped pave the way for the new economic development in Augusta County.
Smith spoke during Wednesday's Shenandoah Valley Leadership Pinnacle conference, that brought Shenandoah Valley business and education leaders to the Staunton Holiday inn. They held panel discussions to look at ways to work together and to encourage entrepreneurs and innovation.

Smith said when hiring was done for the 78 workers for the mini-doughnut line, Blue Ridge Community College offered its facilities to hold the interviews. And when manufacturing businesses want to come to the Valley, Smith said Shenandoah Valley Partnership Executive Director Dennis Burnett uses him as a contact to talk to those industries.

Smith encouraged the banquet room of business leaders and educators to "be ambassadors for our area." He said manufacturers like to locate where other manufacturers already are.

Dana Pittman, the president and CEO of PPI-Time Zero in Waynesboro, said his company works closely with local suppliers and contractors. And Pittman said Blue Ridge Community College has offered curriculum to help train the company's workers. Pittman said he has tried to have events at his Waynesboro plant to show other businesses PPI-Time Zero's best practices.