Blacksburg business thrives, a sign of growth in the New River Valley

One IT company's expansion shows the economic health of the region, experts say

By Tommy Lopez - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

BLACKSBURG, Va. - There were more signs Wednesday that Blacksburg continues to expand as businesses thrive, fueling growth in the whole New River Valley.

1901 Group, a local IT company, held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new 45,000 square foot building at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. Company leaders said Wednesday that they’ve hired 40 new employees in Blacksburg since they announced plans last year to invest $4 million and have nearly 600 new employees by 2021.

The noise from construction crews could be heard nearby as company leaders addressed employees outside their current building adjacent to the expansion.

“We are overjoyed, thrilled, really. When we started the company we never anticipated that we would be able to see this growth in 10 years,” said Dana Pittman, senior vice president of talent strategy and human resources.

Founder and CEO Sonu Singh is a Blacksburg native and Virginia Tech grad and is glad to keep most of the operations of his company where his roots are.

“Ideas are a dime a dozen. It's people that can execute on them that are hard to find. We've found several hundred of them that can do that,” Singh said.

The new building is scheduled to be ready in January.

1901 Group leaders said luck, and a model that has really worked, are the reason for their success. They’re attracting talent by pitching the southwest Virginia way of living, away from the big cities.

“I call it a low-friction lifestyle. Easier commutes. More moderate cost of living and housing,” Singh said.

Earlier this summer, 1901 Group picked up AWS Government Competency Status, which is a designation that means Amazon believes the company is experienced in delivering quality work to governmental groups.

Virginia Tech's partnership with Amazon helps the company, leaders said, sending even more aspiring technology professionals to further their education nearby.

1901 Group, which has mostly federal government contracts, has 180 employees. It provides cloud services, among others, and works on setup, storage, maintenance and security.

Economic development expert Kevin Byrd, director of the New River Valley Regional Commission, said growth in one sector, like technology, fuels the others.

“It's extremely exciting to see companies like 1901 Group and major manufacturers in the region that are growing right now. We're fortunate in the New River Valley because we have a really diverse economy,” Byrd said.

He said one key to keeping the momentum going is keeping graduates working in the NRV after they finish school.

“We have a lot of great talent, people, that are getting trained in this region. How do we connect them better with the jobs we have available now and well in the future?” Byrd said.

He believes expansion in the region will continue.

He pointed out that the 10 towns or cities in the NRV are all working on their downtown revitalization plans.

“They’re all transitioning into being their cultural destinations,” Byrd said. “It’s all really positive in seeing how these downtowns are changing with the population growth and employer growth.”

Also this week in the New River Valley, TORC Robotics broke ground on an expansion and Landos Biopharma announced it’s raised millions to keep working on new autoimmune disease medications.

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