City Launches Solarize Roanoke Program

Solarize RoanokeYou may see more solar panels going up on roof-tops throughout the City of Roanoke due to the new Solarize Roanoke program. 

The program is a partnership between the City of Roanoke, Community Housing Partners (CHP), local solar installers, Freedom First Credit Union, and local community members, and is designed to make solar energy affordable and accessible to homeowners. The basic premise is that when people sign up for the program, they get a free assessment of their solar needs and capacity then are able to purchase a system through the program at a discount and install the panels through a local contractor.  

For more details on the Solarize Roanoke initiative, check out the press release below and visit

Press release:

Roanoke, VA – At a press conference earlier today, the city officially launched Solarize Roanoke, a program designed to make solar energy affordable and accessible to homeowners. Solarize Roanoke is a partnership between the City of Roanoke, Community Housing Partners, local solar installers, Freedom First Credit Union, and local community members. The program will run until Sept. 30. Homeowners living in the following zip codes are eligible to participate: 24011, 24012, 24013, 24014, 24015, 24016, 24017, 24018, and 24019.

In order to make solar cost competitive with standard electricity, Solarize Roanoke combines discounts on solar installations and a 30-percent federal tax credit with affordable long-term financing. The loan payments on a solar system for a typical house can be roughly equal to monthly electricity savings, meaning the overall cost of electricity changes very little, and homeowners are buffered from increases in electricity prices in the future.

When a homeowner is interested in going solar, Solarize Roanoke organizers first conduct a satellite site assessment to determine if the roof is a good candidate for solar panels – looking for orientation, trees and other obstructions. From there, a solar installer conducts a free solar site assessment to determine how large or small of a system is needed to provide power for the home and how much it costs.

The City of Roanoke offers a tax reduction in addition to the federal tax credits for all city residents purchasing solar equipment. By providing a bill of sale for properly installed solar equipment, a homeowner is eligible for a real estate property tax exemption for a portion of the purchase. This exemption is valid for five years thus adding to the homeowner’s savings.

A recently concluded Solarize program in Blacksburg resulted in at least 50 solar contracts on homes. Other communities around the state have followed suit, including Richmond, Charlottesville, and Arlington County.

Solarize Roanoke is a key component of the city’s wider efforts to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

The public is invited to an event on Tuesday, July 22 at 6:00 p.m. at Mountain View Recreation Center to learn more about the Solarize Roanoke Program; additional community meeting times are listed online at or

For more information, contact Mason Cavell, program administrator for Solarize Roanoke at 540-267-6137, or by e-mail at

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,

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.”