It was predominantly German and Scots-Irish immigrants who left the crowded streets of Philadelphia where they had arrived in America, traveled down the Great Wagon Road (today Route 11), to settle in and farm the Shenandoah Valley. What they could not find in their new rural hamlets – cloth, guns, wine, glass, sugar, rum – they imported from Europe and the Caribbean, paying for it with what they had in abundance, food. Today, trade is still part of the fabric of this vibrant region of Virginia.
Indeed, four out of five of our state’s top counties for agriculture are in the valley, with such leading commodities as poultry, eggs, dairy, grains, oilseeds and flowers. One in six workers in the region that makes up the Shenandoah Valley Partnership, however, are in manufacturing, working for companies in such fields as advanced materials, aerospace, automotive and wood products. One of our companies, River Run Cabinetry in Mt. Crawford, sells kitchen and bath cabinetry for distribution throughout the U.S.
We finish and assemble the furniture in the valley, using components from Southeast Asia that come through the Port of Virginia in Hampton Roads. It’s not the only reason we see ourselves through a maritime lens. Interchange is primarily a transportation and storage firm, with 45 trucks carrying everything from coffee creamers, energy drinks, logs and packaging materials to and from 22 warehouse facilities we own up and down Interstate 81 and as far east as Portsmouth. The Portsmouth facility is situated near the Elizabeth River and busy Hampton Roads harbor, which boasts some of the most sophisticated container and bulk marine cargo terminals on the East Coast.
Thirty years ago, the Commonwealth of Virginia, at the urging of the maritime industry represented by the Virginia Maritime Association, gave us our own intermodal container transfer center, the Inland Port at Front Royal, a 161-acre terminal with rail lines connecting the valley, not just to customers in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey but also to those port facilities back in eastern Virginia. The port was now in our backyard and for companies like Home Depot, Fortessa, Rubbermaid, Natures Touch and so many more, the opportunity to grow and recruit businesses with a global vision was better than ever.
This global vision was further validated by Governor Northam’s recent unveiling of an International Trade Strategic Plan for Virginia, aimed at boosting the commonwealth to the top 20 for exports by 2035, with specific emphasis on attracting these exporters to rural regions.
It’s yet another reason Interchange realizes the value of the Virginia Maritime Association. Yes, the association started in Norfolk a hundred years ago with the signatures of 56 port-related business leaders, but it has grown along with a supply chain that stretches from the Tidewater to the Piedmont to the mountains. The association has wisely established chapters statewide. They give valley companies that are here not just a window into the world of international trade but access to a host of brokers, shippers, truckers and even attorneys who understand the nuance of this global industry. Whether it’s understanding tariffs or permits, rates or rules, laws or relationships, the Virginia Maritime Association has expertise in abundance. Their advocacy arm, whether it’s lobbying for channel dredging in Hampton Roads or road improvements in western Virginia, is second to none. I never miss their annual International Trade Symposium each May in Norfolk and look forward to their emails, publications and other information sharing that at times have direct impacts on what we do here.
It’s not intuitive to many businesses in our neck of the woods to appreciate the benefits of belonging to a century-old trade association rooted near the confluence of the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. That’s why it would behoove anyone with an interest in what lies beyond our hills to come to a joint celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Inland Port and the 100th anniversary of the Virginia Maritime Association on Dec. 4 in Winchester. Information is available on the Virginia Maritime Association website. You will be able to learn about Virginia’s International Trade Plan and connect, not just with association leadership but also local legislators and businesses who see the valley as our ancestors did centuries ago, as a place to live, grow, thrive and trade.