Halifax County Cattleman and Farmer Michael McDowell Named 2019 Southeastern Farmer of the Year.

Halifax County Cattleman and Farmer Michael McDowell Named 2019 Southeastern Farmer of the Year.

MOULTRIE, Ga. — Michael H. McDowell of Vernon Hill, Virginia has been selected as the overall winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award for 2019. He is a fourth generation Halifax County farmer and cattleman who grows mixed grass hay, annual hay, and alfalfa and raises award-winning registered Angus cattle.

At the age of sixteen, McDowell began to farm three acres on his own under a sharecropper arrangement with his father. That formative experience taught him the value of responsibility and introduced him to the rewards and challenges of working the land in order to pay for his college tuition. He obtained a B.S. degree in animal science and agronomy from Virginia Tech.

McDowell was named overall winner at the Willie B. Withers Luncheon held during the opening day of the 2019 Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show. He was chosen as Farmer of the Year over nine other state winners who were finalists for the award.

His family farm, Locust Level, historically grew tobacco and row crops. But when McDowell had garnered some experience with land management, he saw tobacco quota cuts approaching and an opportunity for future viability with purebred cattle. So he developed an Angus seedstock operation and implemented improvements that created more land with permanent grass cover and wide use of over- and inter-seeding with forage systems, along with stockpiling fescue and minimizing tillage production.

Today Locust Level Farm has 95 percent of its acreage in no-till or sod with 50 acres of alfalfa, 145 acres of mixed grass hay, 25 acres of annual hay, and 400 acres of pasture. It also has 120 head of purebred Angus cows, 50 head of purebred heifers, and 70 head of purebred sale bulls. McDowell has embraced new techniques for producing purebreds for commercial herds that include genetic selection, ultrasonic evaluation for yearling bulls and heifers, evaluation of genomic rankings, and embryo transfer programs with veterinary consultation.

These and other water conservation practices are part of a comprehensive Farm Conservation Plan and Grazing Plan, developed with the help of Virginia Tech and North Carolina State University researchers. McDowell earned his Beef Quality Assurance Certification & Trainer status and has been twice named Virginia Seedstock Producer of the Year. For years he’s been involved with the Red house Bull Evaluation Station and Sales and volunteers at the Halifax County Junior Livestock Show and Virginia Angus Breeders Show. He is one of the founders and is currently director of the Halifax County Cattlemen’s Association.

The McDowell family is a close-knit unit that includes three adult children—all physicians. One is a veterinarian married to a veterinarian; one is a dentist married to a dentist, and the other is an ER doctor married to an optometrist. Collectively they’ve given Michael and his hard-working wife of forty-three years, Wanda, eight grandchildren.

Veterinarian daughter and son-in-law, Angela McDowell Collins and Jon Collins, have been at the forefront of Locust Level Farm’s intensive AI and embryo transfer program. Their invaluable contribution to the family business has helped maintain herd health and success.

The new Farmer of the Year was selected for the honor by three judges who visited his farm and the farms of the other state winners in early August of this year. The judging panel included Cary Lightsey of Lake Wales, FL, the overall winner of the award in 2009; John McKissick, long-time University of Georgia agricultural economist at Athens, GA; and David Wildy of Manila, AR, the overall winner of the award in 2016.

This is the thirtieth year for the Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. It recognizes excellence in agricultural production and farm management, along with leadership in farm and community organizations. The award also honors family contributions in producing safe and abundant supplies of food, fiber, and shelter products.

John Miller, President of Swisher International, Inc., of Jacksonville, Florida, praised McDowell for his farming accomplishments. “Mike is an outstanding farmer who took a unique path to build his operation over the years and become a role model for others who want to farm,” said Miller. “It is an honor for our company and our Swisher Sweets cigar brand to recognize Mike and his family for their farming accomplishments.”

As the Southeastern Farmer of the Year, McDowell will receive a $15,000 cash award plus $2,500 as a state winner from Swisher International. He will also receive the use of a Massey Ferguson product for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, a $500 gift certificate from the Southern States cooperative, a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply, a smoker-grill from Hays LTI, and a Henry Repeating Arms American Farmer Tribute edition 22 rifle from Reinke Manufacturing Co., Inc., the irrigation company, through its partnership with Henry Repeating Arms.

Ron Carroll, Vice President of Smokeless Marketing with Swisher, represented the company in presenting the cash award to McDowell. Carroll visited Locust Level Farm, along with the farms of the other nine state winners during the judging tour. “Mike is an inspiration,” said Carroll. “It is a great tribute to his outstanding role as a farmer and as a parent that all of his adult children are doctors who are married to doctors and are serving Halifax and the surrounding counties while still being involved with the success of the farm.”

Cary Lightsey, 2009 SE winner and 2019 Lead Judge said, “It was obvious that the relationships Mike built throughout his lifetime with his community, church, and business associates assisted him in his success as a farmer and rancher. Serving as an Ag Lender and operating a fence company while farming full time were outside the box ways to expand business through relationship building. Also, his faith, like all of our state winners, is what carried him through the good times and bad.”
Each state winner receives a $2,500 cash award and an expense paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International, a $500 gift certificate from Southern States cooperative, and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.

The other state winners this year include: Hank Richardson of Centre, AL, Chris Isbell of England, AR, Charles Obern of Clewiston, FL, Robert L. Dickey of Musella, GA, Danny Cunningham of Murray, KY, Ted E. Parker of Seminary, MS, Johnny Wishon of Sparta, NC, Sidi Limehouse of Johns Island, SC, and Jerry Ray of Tullahoma, TN.

From morningagclips.com


Danville's Averett University scores in the top rankings by U.S. News & World Report

Danville's Averett University scores in the top rankings by U.S. News & World Report

Averett University continues to rank within the top 15 of the best regional liberal arts colleges in the South by U.S. News & World Report.

Ranked as No. 15, the Danville university continues to be the highest ranking of only three Virginia schools from the complete list of 63 schools on the “2020 Best Regional Colleges in the South” list.

Averett also was ranked No. 7 of best regional colleges in the South for veterans this year, as well as No. 8 for best value. Additionally, Averett was ranked No. 7 of top performers on social mobility, No. 11 of best undergraduate teaching and No. 29 of campus ethnic diversity by U.S. News.

“I am excited that Averett University has consistently earned this top ranking. When I consider that Averett was not even among those listed a decade ago, and now we’ve remained within the top 15 for several years, I could not be prouder that our strategic priorities and student focus are reflected through recognitions like these,” Averett University President Tiffany M. Franks said. “Accolades like these are a direct result of Averett’s continued successes, such as our 6% increase in the freshman-to-sophomore retention rate, and our recent increase in overall retention among traditional students.”

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Southern Virginia Showcases Next-Level Manufacturing Talent Pipeline

Southern Virginia Showcases Next-Level Manufacturing Talent Pipeline

Former textile stronghold has pivoted to fuel the future of advanced manufacturing

THE GLOBALLY LAUDED COMEBACK STORY of Southern Virginia hinged on taking on a task that many communities attempted, but few have achieved: reinventing its workforce.

For the City of Danville, Pittsylvania County, and the broader area flanking Virginia’s border with North Carolina, tobacco and textiles had long fueled a vibrant economy accessible by major four-lane highways, as well as international airports in neighboring Raleigh and Greensboro, North Carolina.

But after the busy mills that once rolled out comforters and carpeting, and Levi Strauss denim left the area in the early 2000s, the area’s economy lost its momentum.

Without skipping a beat, regional leaders gathered to write their own revival. And now, Danville is a trailblazer of note, attracting capital investment from enterprises both here and abroad. These include Overfinch North America and Harlow Fastec from the United Kingdom, Kyocera subsidiary Kyocera SGS Precision Tools from Japan, and Essel Propack from India.

“When we came to Danville, the decision was instantaneous,” said Jason Wells, Kyocera SGS president. “I can say 100% that the workforce pipeline was like nothing we’d seen in the United States.”

It adds up to Danville garnering the No. 8 ranking on the 2017-18 list of top U.S. micro cities by FDI Magazine. The momentum was also powerful enough to serve as a case study for other states. In August 2018, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson toured the region’s programs with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

How did Danville do it? By doubling down on its manufacturing roots. This time, it was future-proofed, led by advanced and precision manufacturing — paired with an open embrace of workforce training on Industry 4.0’s cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, as well as both cloud and cognitive computing. In other words, it wasn’t solely infrastructure and location that would draw companies to the region. It was a high-skilled workforce, one that was methodically reverse-engineered to possess the advanced manufacturing skill sets that employers operating on the cutting edge coveted.

“This area didn’t wake up one day and just decide we wanted to be a home to manufacturing,”  said Telly Tucker, director of economic development for the City of Danville. “We have a long history and we didn’t want to lose that. It’s very much in our DNA.”

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Gefertec, LLC to Open First U.S. Facility in Danville-Pittsylvania County

Richmond, VA – It was announced today that Gefertec, LLC will open their first U.S. manufacturing facility. The project is expected to create 8 new jobs and includes $1.9 million in capital investment. The Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission is assisting this project with a $45,000 Tobacco Region Opportunity Fund (TROF) grant. Additionally, The Danville Pittsylvania Regional Industrial Facility Authority (RIFA) will cover the cost of 2 years of temporary space at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR). The company will launch at IALR before moving to a permanent space in Danville/Pittsylvania County in the future. The Tobacco Commission has also made significant investments in IALR over the years.

President of Gefertec, LLC, Andrea Clark said, “Gefertec is excited to announce the opening of our Danville - Pittsylvania County location as our first U.S. location for our 3DMP® additive manufacturing business.”

CEO of Gefertec GmbH, Tobias Roehrich, said, “This is in alignment with our long- term commitment to Danville and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research and we are excited to expand our business to the U.S.. Danville has been chosen for its excellent business and community support and its involvement in the advanced manufacturing sector.”

Gefertec, LLC will introduce additive manufacturing technology to the United States market. Gefertec develops new methods for the production of metallic parts that extend beyond the limits of conventional production processes, thereby offering unique possibilities to designers, engineers and companies. Gefertec is the first and only company worldwide that provides the market with the revolutionary 3DMP® technology that is based on modern arc welding in the form of ready-to-use production machinery. The arc machine series offers perfect manufacturing solutions for metalworking companies as well as for research and development institutions.

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Eastman Announces $7.7 M Expansion in Henry County

COLLINSVILLE, VA – Eastman, a global specialty materials company, will invest more than $7.7 million to expand its manufacturing presence in Henry County, company and local officials announced today.

Eastman will add capacity at its Patriot Centre facilities and expand into a former furniture facility in the adjacent Bowles Industrial Park. This effort will allow the company to keep up with growing demand within its performance films, paint protection and window film products produced in Henry County and sold under Eastman’s portfolio of brands.

This expansion will create additional production space at the company’s current warehouse in the Patriot Centre, which supports an additional facility in the business park as well as the company’s production facility in Fieldale. The warehouse functions will move into the former Stanley Furniture facility in the Bowles park, which is adjacent to the Patriot Centre. Eastman will lease space in that building.

Eastman employs 776 people at its Henry County facilities. While this expansion will not immediately result in additional positions, company and local officials are confident that future job growth is possible.

“This expansion is just another example of Eastman’s commitment to growing with our customers around the world,” said Travis Smith, vice president and general manager of Eastman’s Performance Films business. “Our continued investments further solidify Eastman’s commitment to the window and paint protection films markets and to making our manufacturing site in Henry County a state-of-the-art facility that produces the world’s highest quality films products.”

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Port of Virginia completes $320 mil expansion

Port of Virginia completes $320 mil expansion

Describing the upgraded Port of Virginia as the “most modern, efficient and most productive in the Western Hemisphere,” state officials, port executives and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam today announced the completed $320 million expansion of the port’s Virginia International Gateway (VIG) facility in Portsmouth.

“The completion of the VIG expansion … cements Virginia’s status as home to a world-class port,” Northam says. “That reputation will help drive economic investment and job creation across the commonwealth.”

The VIG terminal now features the largest cranes on the East Coast, four 170-foot-tall ship-to-shore cranes, which arrived at the port in the January. The project increases cargo and container capacity by expanding the berth at VIG another 800 feet to accommodate as many as three ultra-large vessels at once. The port also added 26 rail-mounted gantry cranes at the terminal, creating more room to stack and sort shipping containers.

The port system’s overall goal is to expand capacity at VIG and the port’s other major marine cargo facility, Norfolk International Terminals, by 40 percent in the next 14 months.

“Today we celebrate a major milestone in the most ambitious construction project ever undertaken at the Port of Virginia,” says Virginia Port Authority CEO and Executive Director John Reinhart. The port launched the project in early 2017.

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Virginia Reclaims “Top State for Business” Title in CNBC Ranking

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that CNBC has named Virginia America’s “Top State for Business” in 2019. CNBC unveiled Virginia as the top state for business this morning during a live broadcast from Shenandoah River State Park, and Governor Northam was on location to discuss the announcement. The top ranking is determined by CNBC following an extensive study of all 50 states based on 64 metrics in 10 categories of competitiveness. Virginia is tied with Texas for most years named top state for business by CNBC, with wins in 2007, 2009, 2011, and now 2019.

“I am proud to bring the title of America’s top state for business back to Virginia,” said Governor Northam. “One of my primary goals has been to make Virginia the number one place to do business, and to do it in a way that benefits all Virginians and every region of the Commonwealth. This recognition underscores our work to build an inclusive and diversified economy, invest in our workforce, and create quality jobs—and is proof that companies of many different sizes and industries can find a home in Virginia.”

Since Governor Northam took office in January 2018, the Commonwealth has secured more than $18.5 billion in statewide capital investment and created 50,000 new jobs. Governor Northam has announced $2.5 billion in new capital investment in Virginia’s distressed communities, including significant projects with Volvo and Microsoft. Virginia has attracted major investments from leading companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Micron, and many other prominent businesses are choosing to deepen their roots in the Commonwealth.  

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Governor Northam Announces 160 New Jobs in the City of Danville

Litehouse, Inc. to invest $46 million in first East Coast production facility

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Litehouse, Inc., a leader in refrigerated salad dressings, dips, cheese, freeze dried herbs, and other innovative consumer packaged goods, will invest $46 million to acquire and expand Sky Valley Foods and establish its first East Coast production facility in the City of Danville. The company will retain the Sky Valley Foods employees and create an additional 160 new jobs over the next five years. Virginia successfully competed with Utah and South Carolina for the project.

“Litehouse’s decision to take root in the City of Danville and establish its first East Coast production facility is another great example of how Southern Virginia’s industry-responsive training programs and highly skilled workforce create an ideal environment for manufacturers to thrive,” said Governor Northam. “This flourishing company sets the bar for corporate responsibility in its industry, and we look forward to many years of shared prosperity for Litehouse, its dedicated owners-employees, and the Commonwealth.”

Litehouse, Inc. is a leader in refrigerated salad dressings, dips, cheese, freeze dried herbs and other innovative and delicious products. Founded in Hope, Idaho by the Hawkins family in 1963, Litehouse is proud to be a 100 percent employee-owned company. Each of the employee-owners is committed to providing great-tasting, high-quality food made with real ingredients and crafted with care. The company has five other manufacturing facilities in the United States located in Michigan, Utah, and Idaho. Litehouse’s award-winning products are available in North America through general retail, e-commerce, foodservice, deli, club stores, and value-added goods such as meal and salad kits.

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Patrick County Named Certified Work Ready Community

Patrick County Named Certified Work Ready Community

Patrick County and the Dan River Region Collaborative (DRRC) are pleased to announce that Patrick County has been designated as a certified Work Ready Community (WRC). The nationally recognized designation by the Commonwealth of Virginia and American College Testing (ACT) will help Patrick County attract new businesses and jobs in addition to strengthening the skill sets of the region’s high school students, job seekers and incumbent workforce.

Partners like the DRRC, the West Piedmont Workforce Development Board, Patrick Henry Community College, Patrick County Public Schools and regional employers supported Patrick County’s efforts to achieve this important national certification. Some of the supportive regional employers include Ten Oaks, Narrowflex, The Results Companies and Capewell Aerial Systems, LLC. To become certified, a locality must achieve benchmarks in three areas of performance: high school graduation rate, number of National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) credentials attained in the locality and number of employers recognizing the NCRC.

“Today’s achievement by Patrick County demonstrates to our existing companies, as well as prospective employers, that we have a trainable workforce with the foundational skills to compete,” stated Dr. Julie Brown, Program Director, Dan River Region Collaborative (DRCC). “We have a significant number of localities in Southern Virginia that are certified as Work Ready Communities with more announcements on the way. When we work together as a region, great things are possible.”

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Virginia Economic Development Partnership Receives 2018 State of The Year Award

Virginia Economic Development Partnership Receives 2018 State of The Year Award

While the Commonwealth has been getting a lot of attention from emerging high-tech growth sectors, Virginia hasn’t lost sight of its traditional growth industries.

Business Facilities Chief Business Officer Ted Coene presents the 2018 State of the Year Award to Stephen Moret, President and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. (Photo: Neil Eisenberg)

The State of the Year designation is based on BF’s evaluation of Virginia’s economic development strategy and the economic impact of the top projects the state secured in 2018.

“Virginia has an economic development strategy that is fully leveraging the Commonwealth’s impressive assets and producing spectacular results,” BF Editor in Chief Jack Rogers said. “VA already was home to a bevy of Fortune 500 headquarters when it landed Amazon’s HQ2. The state has invested wisely in 21st century infrastructure, supporting the nation’s leading data center hub with a robust fiber optic network, and its world-class universities are producing the talent for emerging growth sectors like cybersecurity and unmanned aerial vehicles.”

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