Made in Roanoke Business Profile: Mountain Laurel Designs

Mountain Laurel DesignsThe world of ultralight backpacking is one of the fastest growing activities in outdoor recreation. As more an more people venture into the backcountry, they demand gear that is lighter, stronger, and more functional than ever before. One of the companies on the cutting edge of cutting ounces is based right here in the Roanoke Region: Mountain Laurel Designs.

Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) hand makes backpacking equipment from their facility in Roanoke, and is known throughout the world as a leading innovator in ultralight gear. The facility crafts everything from backpacks and shelters, to sleep pads and bivy sacks all with one common theme: simplicity and light weight.

When company founder Ron Bell moved to the Roanoke Region from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he sought to explore the mountains. Always an outdoorsman, Bell had previously worked as a search and rescue climber in Yosemite National Park and wanted to apply the lightweight, less is more philosophy of big wall climbing gear to backpacking.

The only problem? No one was manufacturing gear that satisfied his need.

So he started creating his own.

“I wanted to backpack a lot more in the Blue Ridge area but I didn’t want to carry a lot of the heavier gear that was available at the time, decades ago,” he says. “So I started making my own gear to go backpacking.”

What began as a hobby born out of necessity led to Bell selling his ultralight designs to fellow campers on Ebay, then to creating his own small business website, then eventually to quitting his day job and committing to MLD full time. Bell now employs six people at his Roanoke facility and has a major international following – 25 percent of sales are outside the United States, mostly in the United Kingdom and Australia.

MLD is known for using the highest quality, lowest weight materials available on the market. Most products are made from either silnylon which is about half the weight of tradition tent material, or the more advanced cuben fiber, which weighs only about 20 percent of traditional tent materials. MLD was one of the first to use cuben and has been building products with the material longer than any other company in the world.

Bell says the size of his company is one of the advantages he has over larger manufacturers.

“Cuben is extremely strong and very thin, but takes a high degree of craftsmanship to work with, because you end up bonding the material,” he said. “You can’t just cut it and sew it and run it through the same type of high speed sewing assembly lines that say, a factory in China can.”

The mountains surrounding Roanoke also make the perfect testing grounds for new products and prototypes.

“Living in an area where there are a lot of people doing a lot of outdoor things gives you a lot of inspiration and drive to try to improve your gear all the time,” he said.

As ultralight backpacking’s popularity continues to grow, so will MLD’s business, you will surely see more locally produced gear on the trail.

Mountain Laurel Design products are available through their website, mountainlaureldesigns.com.

Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets Coming to Roanoke

Wal-Mart Neighborhood MarketWal-Mart has been expanding its Neighborhood Market store over the past five years, and now they are looking at the Roanoke Region for thier latest expansions. Three new Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets are scheduled to open in the region by the beginning of 2015, according to the company.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, will open stores at Orange Avenue and King Street, a shopping center at Dale Avenue and Vernon Street in southeast Roanoke, and at the intersection of Plantation Road and John Richardson Road in Roanoke County.

The company already operates four Wal-Mart Supercenters in the valley, but these new stores will differ in their approach to retail. The will be much smaller (about 42,000 feet vs. 182,000 for the supercenter), and will concentrate almost exclusively on grocery items. The markets will also feature a full deli and bakery, as well as a pharmacy and gas. 

The new stores will also employ around 95 full- and part-time workers each according to a Wal-Mart spokesperson. 

Wal-Mart currently operates more than 340 Neighborhood Markets nationwide. 

Altec Industries Expansion Adds 200 Jobs to Roanoke Region

AltecAltec Industries, an aerial device manufacturer with an assembly and manufacturing plant in Botetourt County, has announced its expansion will create 200 new jobs and involve nearly $4 million in capital investment over the next three years. 

The Alabama-based company operates a facility at Botetourt’s Center at Greenfield and cited their positive experience there as one reason for the expansion. 

“We’ve been here for about 10 years now and we’ve been successful finding the talent and skill sets we need,” Altec Regional Vice President Jeff Emry told the Roanoke Times. “We’ve been happy with the associates we’ve found in every category.”

Emry also cited the region’s technical resources, including Virginia Tech, as a reason for their success. 

For the expansion, Altec received assistance from the Virginia Jobs Investment Program to the tune of around $150,000. The VJIP incentive program is administered by the state and helps offset costs related to recruiting and training new employees. Learn more about the program here.

Botetourt County Deputy County Administrator David Moorman told the Roanoke Times the expansion “reflects the value of the Botetourt plant to the company to manufacture and distribute high quality product efficiently. It is an affirmation of Botetourt’s and the Roanoke region’s advantages for advanced manufacturers.”

Optical Cable Corporation Wins Presidential Award

Optical Cable CorporationA company headquartered in the Roanoke Region earned the highest recognition any U.S. entity may receive for making a significant contribution to the expansion of U.S. exports. Optical Cable Corporation was one of 66 companies honored with the President’s “E” Award for Exports.

The award is given to organizations that have earned successive export growth, and can demonstrate an innovative international marketing plan leading to the increase. Optical Cable Corporation was presented with the “E” award by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. 

Optical Cable Corporation is a leading manufacturer of fiber optic and copper data communication cabling and connectivity solutions with headquarters in Roanoke. 

See the full press release below:

WASHINGTON, May 28, 2014 –  Last year, U.S. exports of goods and services hit an all-time record of $2.3 trillion, and American jobs supported by exports reached more than 11 million.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker presented Optical Cable Corporation (OCC®), www.occfiber.com , with the President’s “E” Award for Exports at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

“Optical Cable Corporation has demonstrated a sustained commitment to export expansion. The “E” Awards Committee was very impressed with Optical Cable’s innovation in product development. The company’s customized market entry strategy was also particularly impressive. Optical Cable’s achievements have undoubtedly contributed to national export expansion efforts that support the U.S. economy and create American jobs,” said Secretary Pritzker in her congratulatory letter to the company announcing its selection as an award recipient. 

The “E” Award Program was established by Executive Order 10978 on December 5, 1961. President Kennedy revived the World War II “E” symbol of excellence to honor and provide recognition to America’s exporters.

The award is presented to organizations that have earned successive export growth, and can demonstrate an innovative international marketing plan, which led to their increase.

Today, the “E” Awards remain the highest recognition any U.S. entity may receive for making a significant contribution to the expansion of U.S. exports, and this year, a total of 66 U.S. companies were honored.

“The President’s “E” Award winners are fantastic American businesses and organizations that have played a crucial role in strengthening and growing our economy through increased U.S. exports,” said Secretary Pritzker. “By selling Made-in-America goods and services internationally, U.S. business can grow faster, hire more employees, pay higher wages, and help spread American ideas, innovation and values. Congratulations to OCC for its export achievement, which helps the nation remain competitive in the global marketplace.”

“OCC is extremely proud of this award,” Michael Newman, Vice President of International Sales and Global Marketing said. “It takes an entire team from engineers, to production employees, to both inside and outside sales associates to continually work together to support our export business. Dealing with the language, business and cultural issues of doing business internationally is sometimes a challenge, but it’s a challenge our team happily takes on to help OCC’s export business be successful.”

Founded in 1983, OCC is a leading manufacturer of fiber optic and copper data communication cabling and connectivity solutions. OCC offers an integrated suite of quality network cabling solutions designed for enterprise markets, including customized solutions for specialty uses and harsh environments.

U.S. companies are nominated for the “E” Award for Exports through the Department of Commerce’s U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service office network, located within the Department’s International Trade Administration, which has offices in 108 U.S. cities and more than 70 countries to help U.S. exporters. 

Company Information

Optical Cable Corporation (OCC®) is a leading manufacturer of a broad range of fiber optic and copper data communication cabling and connectivity solutions primarily for the enterprise market (or non-carrier market), offering an integrated suite of high quality, warranted products, which operate as a system solution or seamlessly integrate with other providers’ offerings.  OCC’s product offerings include designs for uses ranging from commercial, enterprise network, datacenter, wireless, residential and campus installations to customized products for specialty applications and harsh environments, including military, industrial, mining, petrochemical, wireless carrier and broadcast applications.  OCC products include fiber optic and copper cabling, fiber optic and copper connectors, specialty fiber optic and copper connectors, fiber optic and copper patch cords, pre-terminated fiber optic and copper cable assemblies, racks, cabinets, datacom enclosures, fiber optic and copper patch panels, face plates, multi-media boxes, wireless distributed antenna systems, fiber optic reels and accessories and other cable and connectivity management accessories. OCC products are designed to meet the most demanding needs of end-users, delivering a high degree of reliability and outstanding performance characteristics. 

OCC® is internationally recognized for pioneering the design and production of fiber optic cables for the most demanding military field applications, as well as of fiber optic cables suitable for both indoor and outdoor use, and creating a broad product offering built on the evolution of these fundamental technologies.  OCC also is internationally recognized for its role in establishing copper connectivity data communications standards, through its innovative and patented technologies.

Founded in 1983, OCC is headquartered in Roanoke, Virginia with offices, manufacturing and warehouse facilities located in each of Roanoke, Virginia, near Asheville, North Carolina and near Dallas, Texas.  OCC’s facilities are ISO 9001:2008 registered and OCC’s Roanoke and Dallas facilities are MIL-STD-790F certified.

Optical Cable Corporation, OCC®, Procyon®, Superior Modular Products, SMP Data Communications, Applied Optical Systems, and associated logos are trademarks of Optical Cable Corporation.

Further information about OCC® is available at www.occfiber.com .