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Progress 2013: 2013 the year of growth, investment

2013_02_06_Progess_Shentel1.jpg
Darren Hawkins, operations manager of wireless, landline, and network operations for Shentel in Edinburg, stands inside the company's central office in Edinburg. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

2013_02_06_Progess_Shentel2.jpg
Darren Hawkins, operations manager of wireless, landline, and network operations for Shentel in Edinburg, stands on the roof of their central office facility beside a state of the art 3G/4G antenna. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

2013_02_12_Progress_Dominion2.jpg
Construction crews work beside the exhaust of a gas turbine engine at the Dominion Power Station in Warren County. The project construction started in June 2012 and is 18 percent complete. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)


By Sally Voth

The Northern Shenandoah Valley has seen several area businesses prepare to shut down in the past year - Federal Mogul, Henkel Harris, Impressions Plus and C.E. Thompson & Sons, among them. But, many area industries are reporting promising growth.

Trex

2013_02_Progress_Kaplan_Trex.jpgRonald Kaplan
Winchester-based Trex Co. has made remarkable strides in the five years since Ronald Kaplan took over as CEO, president and chairman of the board. Stock prices are way up, he said.

"It's gone up 600 percent since 2008," Kaplan said.

The price is now at $42.

"We certainly have been rewarded for our hard work," said Kaplan, who was named 14th best small-cap CEO in the country by ExecRank last year.

"We have expanded our sales into 27 foreign countries. We have introduced a whole portfolio of new products. We're expanding our market share and we are now debt-free," Kaplan said.

Valley Health

Valley Health, a mega-employer throughout the northern valley, also continues to expand, both in terms of employees and facilities, and also in terms of unpaid care.

2013_Merrill_Mark.jpgMark Merrill
CEO and President Mark Merrill said the health system now has about 5,500 people on staff, most of them - around 4,800 - full time. That doesn't include the roughly 400 independent physicians who have hospital privileges.

About 300 employees were hired in the last year, according to Merrill. They went to work at expanded facilities in Berkeley Springs and Hampshire County in West Virginia, as well as Winchester Medical Center, he said.

Some also went to work for Valley Physician Enterprise. Valley Health has recently added a vascular surgeon, an oncology surgeon, and specialists in urology, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedic trauma surgery, psychiatry, and maternal-fetal medicine.
As Valley Health builds a hospital to replace the current Page Memorial Hospital in Luray, and with a cancer center proposed on the Winchester Medical Center campus, more hires are inevitable.

There is a nationwide doctor shortage, and the Shenandoah Valley is no exception, according to Merrill. He said the health system is consistently recruiting for physicians to join its practice or independent practices looking to expand.

Among the short-staffed specialties are pediatrics, internal medicine, orthopedics, general surgery, endocrinology and cardiology, Merrill said.

Valley Health generated about $76 million in patient costs that came from charity care, Medicaid and other program discounts, and bad debt, in 2011, Merrill said. That was an estimated $8 million increase from the previous year.

Dominion

In Warren County, construction on the $1.1 billion Dominion Virginia Power natural gas power station has been under way for nearly a year.

"Right now, the project is about 15 percent complete," Dominion spokesman Dan Genest said. "Got a long way to go; won't be finished before late 2014."

About 600 people are working at the site now, he said.

"They're working in two 10-hour shifts - they overlap a little - seven days a week," Genest said. "By probably late summer or fall, we should be up to the peak of construction with about 900 people on site."

About 25-30 percent of the workers are from the local area, according to Genest. The company encourages contractors to draw their labor forces from the region as much as possible, he said.

Genest said the focus at the plant site now is on completing the three combustion turbines, which will each produce about 270 megawatts of electricity. The turbines' heat will be used to generate steam to drive another turbine that produces about 570 megawatts of electricity, according to Genest.

Warren County is expected to get about $2-4 million annually in property taxes from Dominion, he said.

Kraft

While the prospect of 25 new employees over the next three years might not sound too impressive, the investment of an additional $25 million by Kraft Foods Group - announced in December - will have an impact in Frederick County.

Kraft spokeswoman Joyce Hodel said the company is investing in new packaging technology to increase the production of Capri Sun drinks. There are already about 460 workers at the plant, she said.

"We're looking at this as sort of a long-term investment in our beverage production capacity," she said.

Shentel

Edinburg-based telecommunications firm, Shentel, is investing many millions of dollars to expand its service and coverage.

"In our PCS wireless business, we invested over $60 million in [Sprint 4G's] Network Vision in 2012," Willy Pirtle, vice president of sales and marketing, said. "We plan to invest another $50 million in Network Vision upgrades in 2013. We plan to spend about $6 million more to turn up 14 new sites with our Sprint network."

On the cable side of the business, Shentel spent $23 million expanding and improving service, according to Pirtle. Another $7 million was invested in expanding and improving the fiber network.

"In Shenandoah County alone, we spent about $3.5 million in telephone service and the DSL service," Pirtle said.

Shentel has had DSL service available to 100 percent of Shenandoah County since 2005, he said, and speeds up to 10 megabits per second are reachable in nearly 95 percent of the county.

"We're proud to be the provider of state-of-the-art networks in rural communities," Pirtle said. "We invest in places where other people won't."

Shentel plans to expand its work force by 50 to about 730 employees this year, he said. There are openings for customer service representatives, sales positions, engineers, "all the way up to the director of marketing," Pirtle said.

"There are a variety of different jobs for all kinds of skills sets," he said.

While many of the open positions are in Shenandoah County, according to Pirtle, "they could be as far north as Harrisburg in Pennsylvania, or as far south as southwest Virginia, or even into our West Virginia cable markets."

Prospective employees can apply online at the company's website, he said.

Berryville Graphics

In Clarke County, Berryville Graphics plans to add 165 employees as part of a consolidation within its parent company, Bertelsmann AG. About half of those new employees, though, are coming from Coral Graphics in Winchester.

Bertelsmann is investing nearly $11 million in its book-printing operation. During the past few years more than 130 Berryville Graphics workers had been laid off.

Apple Blossom Mall

Back in Winchester, a 30-year-old institution, Apple Blossom Mall, is in the midst of its first-ever facelift. Among the improvements are new restrooms, a large and open children's play area, new flooring and lighting, and new seating.

Restaurant chain Buca di Beppo has announced it plans to open its first Virginia location this summer near the mall's J.C. Penney store.

Also coming to the mall is a 12-screen Carmike Cinema - double the size of the old facility - that will include a large auditorium.

Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or svoth@nvdaily.com


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