There were a pair of stories from Bryan McKenzie in the Daily Progress last week that, hopefully, add up to a larger economic narrative. The area lost a lot of its admittedly small manufacturing base a decade ago, a result of NAFTA and manufacturing’s move to China. (Ix, Comdial, Technicolor, and Nimbus all come to mind readily.) Many hundreds of people were left unemployed, often with very specific sets of skills for which there were no reasonable replacements—a lot of these folks wound up, at best, underemployed. One of those was Comdial, which laid off its final 200 people in 2001. The company that bought the building wanted to turn it into a shopping mall, but that obviously never went anywhere.
Now comes the news that screen printer CustomInk.com is moving into the Comdial building, having been looking around for a facility to expand into. CustomInk.com is a custom, small-batch screen printer—you can submit a design online, and they’ll print and ship the shirts. They already have 32 employees in Albemarle, and intend to hire enough to get them up to about 100.
The other bit of good news is that the Coca-Cola bottling plant on Preston has a tenant: Indoor Biotechnologies, a local biotech company that specializes in allergens. They’re located on Harris Street now, so it’s a short move to their newly purchased building. Unlike the Comdial building, which sat idle for a decade, the Coke plant has only been out of commission since last year. Folks who have been in the building recently tell me that it’s an unusual building, since it was constructed explicitly for the purpose of bottling soda, receiving shipments of syrup, and sending out shipments of the finished product, meaning that it’s a bit too oddly laid out for most potential tenants. Apparently it’s right for Indoor Biotechnologies.
03/22 Update: The Comdial building is not entirely empty, it turns out—it was divided up. Googling for its address reveals a bunch of tenants: VAMAC, MSV, Roberts Home Medical, TransDigital, and Worrell Water Technologies all show up there. Although I imagine that CustomInk.com will be the largest single employer there, they’ll hardly be alone.