Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Small Company Strives to Lessen Negative Impacts of Disasters

SUNRNR of Virginia Inc. Touts Benefits of Innovative Technology and Education

During disasters and emergencies, whether natural or man-made, standard sources of electrical power (utility grid and fossil fuel supplies) are often lost or cut off, but critically needed for relief such as communications, power tools, water pumping and health clinic operations.

Technological innovations within the power supply field can lessen the negative impacts of power outages or fuel shortages, but only if the associated outreach is present for public awareness and understanding of the products and their usefulness during times of distress.

Why Preparedness Education is Important
SUNRNR (“Sun Runner”) of Virginia, Inc. manufactures a product useful before (mitigation), during (response) and after (recovery) such emergency-related lack of electrical power.  Our marketing and advertising inherently requires public education and the promotion of preparedness. Then, after purchasing, SunRunR system owners, both personal and commercial, are inherently better protected from the after-effects of a disaster and can also participate in the response and recovery.

How New Technology Can Lessen Emergency Impacts
The three-person team behind SUNRNR of Virginia Inc., Alan Mattichak, Jenny French and Scott French. Photo courtesy Mark Rhodes and Virginia Business magazine.

SunRunR units deliver high-output, high-capacity, stored renewable and/or grid power for use any time or any place electricity is required.  System features include plug-and-play simplicity; no noise, fossil fuels, or emissions; safe, rugged, long-life design; high-quality components; easy expandability; and superior company reputation in customer service and satisfaction.  Water-pumps, small construction sites, agribusiness, off-grid locations, disaster relief, alternative to gas generator disadvantages (fuel storage, spark, heat, maintenance), and blackout backup are examples of our proven market applications.

Renewable. Each SunRunR patented portable solar generator storage system combines a main unit for energy storage and output with a renewable energy source for energy generation. The included solar panels are the most commonly used generation source, but the unit may also be recharged by wind or water turbine, the grid, a gas generator, or even a bicycle. The SunRunR main unit consists of a steel chassis enclosing a rechargeable battery, a DC-to-AC inverter, a charge controller with display, a master disconnect on/off switch, an auxiliary power socket, accessible fuses, and quick-connect input/output and system expansion portals. It is the inverter’s voltage output, or lack thereof, that defines the SunRunR model – SUN110, SUN220, SUN240, SUNPWR.

Safe and clean. Emergency applications directly apply to one of our four markets and indirectly to the other three.  The Emergency Preparedness market can be small- or large-scale with small tending toward personal and community preparedness such as the residential or business consumer that simply wants electricity for short or intermittent power outages.  With consumption awareness and budgeting, units may be used sustainably and therefore, for longer-duration outages.  It is here where our product is potentially doing the most to reduce deaths from misuse of portable gas generators, whether by carbon monoxide poisoning or associated combustible fuel dangers.  Another aspect of our products’ benefits is exemplified by Hurricane Sandy’s situation where many had portable gas generators and fuel was available, but it was inaccessible since there was no power to pump it out of tanks.

Portable and flexible. Large-scale usage would be in terms of humanitarian aid – relief, response and recovery.  SunRunRs offer the best balance of generation, storage, and output specifications in the solar generator arena while maintaining portability.  Some of our videos and many of the testimonials of results and impacts below demonstrate a unit’s capabilities with respect to powering high-load equipment that might be needed for aid efforts.  Early on in the company’s life, we were invited to Ashbury International to give a presentation to a large group of emergency responders, managers and Red Cross, introducing SunRunRs as a sustainable option for in the field.  

PA Dealer, Alternative Energy, Inc, has Contractors use SUNRNR for Deck Restoration
Indirectly, the other three market sectors, Recreation, Commercial and Eco-conscious, have the advantage of inadvertently having an emergency power supply if needed when not being used for their originally-intended purpose. 

Making Preparedness a Priority
SUNRNR of Virginia, Inc. has been a proud National Preparedness Month Coalition member for many years and we promote NPM and America’s PrepareAthon, using the toolkits provided, at least twice a year through social media, our blog, newsletters, and press releases such as the examples included in the supplemental attachments.  We also exhibit where possible, including various “prepper”, hurricane week and home shows, thereby reaching more of the public with the message of preparedness and self-reliance.

Measuring the Results of Better Preparedness—The Human Element
Besides advocating preparedness, the efforts above have also increased SUNRNR’s visibility, leading to an invitation to an exportingroundtable at the White House and to being selected to participate in a trade mission focused on solutions for West Africa’s energy and water problems as described here. 

With the very limited resources of our small, young company, it has been a struggle to introduce a new product concept.  Even so, now over 400 people are better prepared in terms of backup emergency power and many more have been exposed to the idea.  With an increase in exposure and video materials, sales could grow to several hundred this year alone.

The impacts of our outreach and sales are best seen by way of the example testimonials below, including one from post-derecho Virginia.  System applications have included powering a health clinic in post-hurricane Bahamas and end-user sales in post-earthquake Japan.

Photo credit: Tribune242.com
A local high school sixth grade science teacher worked diligently to receive a grant for a SunRunR system.  The students will monitor the solar generator as part of their curriculum on renewable energy. “The SunRunR will be the alternative energy system that the students come to understand, put their hands on, set up, orient towards the sun, plug devices into, use to monitor and manage electrical production and demand, et al, all the while learning what alternative energy is, what it can do, and that it is the new normal,” says John Woods of North Fork Middle School.

“It is so reassuring knowing that as long as the sun shines, come hurricanes or grid outages, I will still be able to have power for the most important things.” – Wanda, customer of Alternative Energy, Inc, PA

“The SunRunR ran my fridge while the power was out, after the recent storms. Saved my bacon. I had recharged the scooter the afternoon of the storm and that almost completely drains the SunRunR. It was a challenge squeaking through until the power came back, but it worked. I certainly had everyone else beat. A fan and a fridge was a LOT during those few days." – Walter B, Roanoke, VA
“We CANNOT TELL YOU how pleased we are with solar rather than the gas generator!!!” – John and Michelle Z, NV

“Just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy and am impressed with my New SUN110 … it’s power—for both continuous and surge demands, is most impressive.  I’ve had it running my computer, washing machine, and refrigerator all at the same time.  It did 4 loads of wash in one day and ran the refrigerator continuously for almost 20 hours on the same charge before shutting itself down.” – Gary B, FL

“We just got our power back on yesterday after nearly 5 days without. The SunRunR I purchased from you last year worked like a charm, keeping our freezer cold and running the well pump for water when we needed it.” – Bill G, Charlottesville, VA  (7/2012)

SUNRNR of Virginia, Inc is very proud of our product, mission and customer service reputation.  We will tell potential customers “no” before we will sell them a system that may not meet their expectations.  We know their investment in a SunRunR is an investment in themselves – a definite win-win situation.  As an added bonus, SUNRNR will create jobs and increase Virginia exports while customers are implicitly learning about electrical consumption.

NOTE: The above narrative was SUNRNR’s winning entry in the 2016 FEMA Individual & Community Preparedness Awards.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

50 More Ways to Save Energy - Guest Blog Post by Uma Campbell, Writer

50 More Ways to Save Energy
go greenBy now, you’ve probably heard the phrase “going green” being tossed around by family members, friends and politicians, but you may not be sure how you can start living a greener lifestyle. One of the best and easiest ways to go green is to cut back on your home’s energy use, but why should you feel motivated to become more energy efficient?

For starters, being mindful of how much energy you use at home can help you lower your gas, water and electric bills. How? It’s simple: the less energy you use, the less your electric, water or gas company will charge you for their services. Therefore, every energy efficient upgrade or home improvement project you tackle will help put money back in your pocket.

But besides the financial benefits, an energy efficient home can also help the environment. The less energy you use at home, the less of a demand there is for energy sources such as oil, natural gas and coal. The drop in demand prevents these resources from quickly depleting from our planet. When you’re energy efficient at home, you are also doing your part to reduce the carbon emissions released into the atmosphere by power plants, cars, and the handling of waste.

You may think making changes around the home to be more energy efficient is a hassle, but the truth is, you’ll be more comfortable after the improvements are complete. For example, a programmable thermostat that allows you to preset temperatures will help keep your home at a comfortable temperature at all times without wasting energy. It only takes a few minutes to install, but you can enjoy the benefits of it every minute you’re inside your home.

Ready to be more energy efficient but not sure where to start? Luckily, there are dozens of changes you can make—both big and small—to help you cut back on your home’s energy usage. Here are 50 ways you can save energy around your home:

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Reflections on Receiving the 2016 FEMA Individual & Community Preparedness Award for Technological Innovation

Having just returned from being honored at a jam-packed, two-day awards ceremony at the White House Executive Office Building and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Headquarters, including roundtable and breakout discussions, and after five security checks, eleven highly-exciting Uber rides, hearing the word “preparedness” at least 3000 times, and great discussions with the high-level officials and the other 10 Individual and Community Preparedness (ICP) Awardees from the 160-applicant pool, FEMA’s annual event might be summarized with one basic question:

Why are so many Americans still so complacent in doing even the minimal effort required to lead to a better outcome in case of an emergency?

disaster communicationsBut that one question has many complex answers and FEMA is striving for two-way communication between itself, as a large government agency with resources, and the people it serves.  They recognized the achievements of SUNRNR and so many others, while wanting to learn from our successes and our barriers therein.  FEMA, the American Red Cross, Emergency Management Services, et al will be there to help, but there’s so much we can do to help ourselves before, during, or after a disaster, to save a life or lessen the damage or bounce back. 

Just as the threats can take many forms, from natural to man-made, so can preparedness … from the simple plan and kit to the one-year bunker.  Then there is also “resilience”, the second-most spoken word during those two days.  I went in thinking it just meant how fast a community could rebuild to business as usual.  I learned it went much deeper.  Resilience involves physical and emotional readiness to get through a bad situation.  It is greatly geared to the front-end and during although it also tends to indirectly, and positively, impact the speed of recovery.  Basically, be ready to take care of yourself and others until things return to some sense of normalcy.

In retrospect, six points stand out from the days in DC:
1)      Not only did they honor our small business’ technological innovation, they also wanted to learn from the stories and experiences of those being honored because they knew we were each “ambassadors” for their message and we were out there finding creative ways to get people to listen to it.  Zombies, horses, sporting events, teens, snowmobiles, hospice and much more were involved.
2)      Just writing our application helped us understand our own mission and potential more clearly and we have much to offer within our area of expertise.
3)      The messenger must walk and talk like the message in order to be seen and heard, e.g. a rancher will likely pay more attention to a boots-on-the-ground person over a “suit”.
4)      The time and money expended up front is usually a better investment than the time and money required to compensate for non-preparedness or great loss.
5)      The threat menu is growing and it is unrealistic to prep for every scenario.  We at SUNRNR get so deep in our world of backup power, it was refreshing to be reminded via the other awardees that preparedness is much bigger than electricity, although losing electricity does seem to be a common, and important, theme.
6)      As an optimist, I hope people choose to choose self- and social-responsibility.  We may, however, need to monetize, incentive, or gamify the objective, making the message more fun or more valuable – tax credits or point systems for Scouting, faith groups, seniors, college credit, etc.

Let’s make America’sPreparathon!Day every day.  Get to know your neighbors even more deeply than a nod and a wave.  Know their name, age, and background.  Maybe there’s a nurse next door or a guy with good tools across the street that you could call on during an emergency.

In conclusion, our customers-owners and their testimonials deserve credit for SUNRNR receiving this award.  You showed us your resilience and let us know how you persevered after hurricanes and derechos and how you use your systems sustainably during the months or years in between power outages.  The best part of this job is the people we meet!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Solar Generator Was The Key To Emergency Preparedness - A Blog by Top SunRunr Dealer, Alternative Energy, Inc

Superstorm Sandy 2012
As Superstorm Sandy closed in on the Eastern Seaboard, an area not accustomed to frequent major hurricanes, many people found themselves unprepared for the aftermath. New Jersey farmer and electrician David Morrison was not one of them. As soon as the storm hit and for 28 days in the aftermath, the grid in his area was down, but for he and his neighbors, that was not a problem. 

David was prepared with a solar generator setup that rivals almost any one that we've seen. He runs his entire house on solar energy, 18 kilowatts worth. The grid in his area was down for a month, and during that time, he hosted over 35 house guests who stopped by for some hot food, a shower, and good company. They even enjoyed a movie night! He also ended up feeding local crews working on cleanup. 

"I'm a big fan of solar and a bigger fan of self-reliance," he tells us. 

David has good reason. He says that where he lives, the grid goes down more than a half-dozen times per year for over 48 hours; he needed a solution to eliminate dependence on the unreliable grid, and solar power generation was the answer. 

David mentioned that even after the storm moved through, it was days until gas stations reopened, and even once they had, people waited for hours and could only get a couple of gallons. Because he had reliable, off-grid solar power, he never had to worry about that. After the damage had been repaired, David says about half of his neighbors bought solar generators for off-grid backup power, and everyone began to keep extra food at the house and gas in the car having learned a valuable lesson in emergency preparedness. 

Even if you don't invest in a setup as extensive as David's, taking advantage of Alternative Energy's September special of $150 off a second set of solar panels when you purchase a SUNRNR power generator is a smart move to help you be prepared when severe weather or other natural disasters strike. This September, as FEMA holds its National Emergency Preparedness Campaign, you can participate by making a smart investment for you and your family's future. 

Alternative Energy, Inc. is a trusted name in the solar industry, and we are proud to work with our partners at SUNRNR to provide solar solutions to our customers. To learn more about our company or about solar power, contact us or feel free to give us a call at 484-593-4262. We look forward to talking with you! 

And we also want to take a moment to thank David for sharing his story with us.

Friday, August 26, 2016

SUNRNR of Virginia, Inc. Named National FEMA Award Winner

HARRISONBURG, VA. (August 25, 2016)—Winners of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) 2016 Individual and Community Preparedness Awards were announced August 24, 2016, with Harrisonburg-based SUNRNR of Virginia, Inc. taking top honors in the Technological Innovation category. This year’s award recipients developed innovative practices and programs that contributed to making communities safer, better prepared, and more resilient.

“We are more prepared for disasters when everyone in the community works together,” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. “FEMA is proud to honor individuals and organizations who are building communities that are more prepared for emergencies through creativity, innovation and collaboration.”

The 11 FEMA Individual and Community Preparedness Award recipients will be recognized on September 13, 2016 in Washington, D.C. During the recognition ceremony, recipients will share their experiences, success stories, and lessons learned with fellow emergency management leaders. Jenny and Scott French will represent SUNRNR at the event.

“Having reliable, affordable and clean power backup during an outage or emergency isn’t just a pipedream anymore,” says SUNRNR of Virginia’s Jenny French. “You can prepare for that inevitable “rainy day” and store some sunshine and grid power to use during emergencies,” she added.

The three-person team behind SUNRNR of Virginia Inc., Alan Mattichak, Jenny French and Scott French. Photo courtesy Mark Rhodes and Virginia Business magazine.
SUNRNR (“Sun Runner”) of Virginia, Inc. manufactures a product useful before (mitigation), during (response), and after (recovery) such emergency-related lack of electrical power.  Public education and the promotion of preparedness are a major element of SUNRNR’s mission, with the goal of encouraging system owners, both personal and commercial, to be better prepared for the dangers and after-effects of a disaster and to participate in the response and recovery efforts.

In addition to the FEMA recognition, SUNRNR is also participating in FEMA’s annual National Preparedness Month during September by offering an “Are You Powered for Emergencies?” online Q & A event that will allow participants to post questions or comments about how to identify and prepare for emergency power needs, how to use stand-alone power to respond to and/or support recovery after disaster events, and overall, how to implement a sustainable power strategy. Interested individuals should visit http://tinyurl.com/jjhxn4p to join the chat.

National Preparedness Month is an awareness-raising event aimed at educating and empowering Americans to prepare for and respond to all types of emergencies, including natural disasters and potential terrorist attacks. The monthly series of public service announcements and events culminates in America’s PrepareAthon! on September 30. More than 6 million organizations, businesses and individual citizens have already signed up to participate in the PrepareAthon.

As an added incentive for citizens be more prepared for all types of emergencies, SUNRNR will offer $150 off an upgrade to a second set of solar panels with any purchase of a SUNRNR portable generator system through September 30, 2016. If buying in the U.S., purchasers have the option of receiving a free AC-DC charger with purchase instead.

The online chat and sales promotion are part of SUNRNR’s ongoing commitment to educate consumers about energy issues, consumption, and conservation in relation to disaster preparedness.  Together, the hundreds of SUNRNR’s in use to date would make a 135kW solar-plus-storage power plant, but with no infrastructure required. Combined, their total 1GWh would have required over 300,000 gallons of fossil fuel (2700 tons CO2) for comparable gas generators, or caused 700 tons of emissions if grid-generated.

Information about SUNRNR products can be found at www.sunrnr.com or by contacting Jenny French at jennyf@sunrnr.com or Scott French at scottf@sunrnr.com, 540.271.3403. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Small & Distributed Energy Systems a Natural Solution to Providing Worldwide Reliable Power

Portable Solar, Wind, and Water Generators Are Impacting Isolated Communities and Remote Operations

In early October, 2015, Category 4 Hurricane Joaquin tore through the Bahamas causing torrential rainfall, storm surge flooding and total blackouts. On Crooked Island, one of the hardest-hit islands, about 85 percent of the homes in one settlement were reportedly destroyed, and residents were isolated without fresh water, power, or communications. A makeshift health clinic was set up in what was left of the airport terminal, but without power, the clinic was severely limited without lighting and the ability to refrigerate medicine.

Seven days after the storm, that critical power was restored to the clinic by a SUNRNR Portable Solar+Storage Generator, delivered through a massive relief operation.

“I cannot believe that a road can be totally taken by the seas. Its unbelievable…You have to see this to believe it.”
                                                                                        - Island Official
As was the case with Hurricane Joaquin, severe weather events can escalate rapidly, and damage to infrastructure and communication systems can delay relief efforts. In a calamity like the recent Nepal earthquake where road access was cut off and no relief solution could be trucked in, countless people are left without the light, communication, or clean drinking water that is so critical for survival.

Portable and decentralized power systems that produce energy on-site and off-grid can be an immediate, life-saving tool during and after emergencies.
John Hingley, creator of Renovagen Roll-Array, says delivering fuel for diesel generators can be impossible or cost-prohibitive in many circumstances. His company’s new thin, portable solar panel can be air-dropped from a helicopter and unrolled like a carpet. The 50 meter long “micro-grid-in-a-box” can be in full operation a few minutes after it is deployed and could be used, Hingley says, to power a remote hospital, forward operating base, or off-grid mining station.


The lack of wastewater treatment in remote regions or in devastated communities can quickly develop into a health crisis.  REGEN, the world’s first solar powered, mobile wastewater treatment plant, fits into two shipping containers and doesn’t require a highly skilled operator on-site once the system is installed. The company’s target markets include humanitarian organizations directing disaster relief and refugee settlements, agricultural and mining operations, and remote rural communities.  “Small, isolated villages…have limited infrastructure budgets,” says co-founder Dr. Patrick Kiely.  “They ship in diesel once a year at great expense and use it to run everything. A renewable, self-powered wastewater system solves a multitude of problems.”

Reliable Power Increases Economic Stability and Security

Access to affordable and reliable energy is fundamental to reducing poverty, improving health and safety, and promoting economic growth. Electricity means clean water, education, heat, nighttime emergency hospital procedures, incubators for newborns, and communication services.  But around the world, 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity.

New developments within the portable solar, wind and water generator industries hold promise for reducing this dilemma. Solar technology is helping farmers in Africa combat water scarcity and communities develop self-reliance. And from a small collapsible wind turbine to harvesting nature’s kinetic energy, innovators are designing renewable energy solutions to bring power to the energy poor.

No Noise, No Fuel, No Fumes: Portable Solar Power Is Leading The Charge

Many of the recent developments in portable renewable power had their testing grounds within military and industrial applications.  Essential needs like lighting, clean water and sanitation, and communication capabilities hold true not just for humanitarian missions but also for forward military operations, construction sites, and mining stations.

Off-grid renewable solutions like SUNRNR Portable Solar+Storage Generators are replacing or augmenting gasoline generators on job sites.  With solar comes: zero fuel requirements on location, fewer moving parts, improved Environmental Impact Assessments, compliance with noise ordinances, and no fumes.

Renewable energy is a viable, cost-saving alternative for the construction industry, says the managing Director for Laing O-Rourke, developer of the world’s first fully redeployable large-scale solar-diesel hybrid power plant. “As specialists in major remote and regional projects, we have an opportunity to harness vast amounts of solar energy at our projects, for a sustainable engineering solution. Construction and engineering must break away from traditional processes if it is to evolve and deliver projects quickly, safely and more sustainably.”

The old model of generating electricity has always relied on transporting fuel or creating power far away and then transmitting that power. But now through the use of portable solar, wind, and water generators, communities and companies are able to shift to a “Small and Distributed” energy system – one that can produce reliable and life-altering power, on-site and on-demand.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Virginia Business Exporting Push - More state money, new agency will promote international sales

Please see the original publication of this story written by Jessica Sabbath for the July 2016 issue of Virginia Business Magazine.
The three-person team behind SUNRNR of Virginia Inc., Alan Mattichak, 
Jenny French and Scott French. Photo by Mark Rhodes

In 2008, the founders of SUNRNR of Virginia Inc. began a business in the Shenandoah Valley selling portable, solar-powered generators.
The three executives believed Americans’ growing appetite for clean energy would fuel demand for the generators, which can be used as backup power or as off-grid energy sources.
What the founders didn’t foresee at first was the product’s potential market abroad — particularly on islands or in rural areas where power sources can be unpredictable.
“It’s not that Africa is necessarily looking for green products, but they just need power,” says Jenny French, president of SUNRNR, who leads the business with her husband, Scott, and Alan Mattichak, the inventor of the generators.
Today, the Shenandoah-based company sells generators in countries such as Angola, Ghana, Morocco and Japan. In the Republic of Palau, an island nation in the western Pacific Ocean, the generators are used to power circulation pumps for a fish hatchery. Last year, the company’s generators arrived in the Bahamas just days before Hurricane Joaquin struck. One generator was sent to power a health clinic in a region that had been without power for seven days.
French has used a range of local, state and federal export-assistance programs to build overseas sales for SUNRNR.  She has even served on an exporters roundtable at the White House.
All along the way, she’s received help from the International Trade division of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), including a recent grant she used for a trade mission to the Canary Islands and the translation of company documents into Spanish.
Business leaders and government officials believe thousands of Virginia companies also could find potential markets abroad — a move which could be particularly helpful to the state economy in the face of federal budget cuts.
“We cannot make ourselves as vulnerable as we were four or five years ago when we lost about $9.8 billion in direct spending from the Department of Defense,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said during a May speech to the Virginia International Business Council in Richmond. “We’ve got to become less reliant [on federal spending], and we can only do that through international trade.”
And so the commonwealth is putting an emphasis on developing exports with new programs, additional funding and the creation of an entity dedicated to international trade — the Virginia International Trade Corp. (VITC).
A new focus on trade
For years, Virginia’s business community has sought ways to increase exporting opportunities. “We have been looking at international trade as an important feature of transitioning into a new Virginia economy,” says Barry DuVal, president and CEO of the Richmond-based Virginia Chamber of Commerce. “We recognize that 95 percent of the world’s population lives outside the U.S., and providing more tools for businesses to export their products and services will provide more opportunities in the world market.”
VEDP’s International Trade division now houses Virginia’s export-assistance programs, which have received rave reviews from many companies. “I haven’t run into another government organization that acts more like a consulting firm than VEDP,” says Joe Fluet, CEO of Momentum Aerospace Group, a firm that provides aerial surveillance to the U.S. government. The company recently expanded internationally, exporting to the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines, Canada, NATO and the United Nations.
The Woodbridge-based company graduated earlier this year from VEDP’s Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET), a two-year program designed to increase participants’ international sales. “We were treated like clients. They were responsive and tried to go above and beyond and cared a lot about whether I was happy or satisfied with their services,”  says Fluet.
The effectiveness of state export programs encouraged some of Virginia’s largest business associations to lobby this year for the creation of a separate group dedicated to developing trade.
VITC, they believe, will provide additional exposure to the state programs, encouraging more companies to explore foreign markets and allowing easier integration with local and federal trade programs. “When we looked out into the future, we thought that the most important economic development resource that would help the largest number of small and medium-sized manufacturers that the state would play a role in was trade,” says Brett Vassey, president and CEO of the Virginia Manufacturers Association.  “We thought the best way was to develop a trade corporation around a very practiced and proven model [with] a laser focus on trade.”
The VITC, approved by the General Assembly this year, is scheduled to officially become a separate entity next April. Until then, business groups are helping Maurice Jones, Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade, develop a business plan.  The agency will be governed by a 17-member board of directors, including five cabinet secretaries and 12 citizens appointed by the governor.
After Senate Finance and House Appropriation committees review and approve the business plan, the governor and board will appoint VITC ‘s CEO by Dec. 1.
Investments in trade
The General Assembly also is giving the state’s trade programs a financial boost, which is especially important as some federal grants expire.
The state budget includes $1.5 million each year to continue Virginia’s Going Global Defense Initiative. That program, originally supported by a federal grant, is designed to help defense contractors hampered by lower federal spending find new markets abroad.
The state money will allow the popular program to continue, says Paul Grossman, VEDP’s vice president of international trade. Typically, funding is “sold out” within 60 to 90 days after the start of each fiscal year.
Another $400,000 from the state will double to $30,000 the money each company in the state’s VALET program can use to help with exporting expenses. The increase reflects the growing cost of doing business, says Grossman, and the  desire of many companies to market their products in more than one country.
The budget also provides $250,000 a year to help companies market their products at international trade shows.
Another $1 million each year will support the Virginia International Trade Alliance (VITAL), which began in July 2015. The program encourages trade associations to promote Virginia’s export programs to their members. The partnership already is bringing in more clients to the VEDP, including some small craft breweries looking at export opportunities.
VITAL also includes Virginia’s public universities, which work with companies to develop international market research. In just a year, about 30 companies have been paired with colleges’ research teams.
That collaboration provides an ancillary benefit, says Grossman. “Now you have kids who are coming through college who have developed the skillsets so they are prepared to work for a company doing business internationally.”
Investment in the Port of Virginia also is expected to be a major boon to international trade efforts.  The General Assembly this year approved a $350 million bond issue to increase the capacity of Norfolk International Terminals, the port’s  largest marine terminal.
David White, vice president of the Virginia Maritime Association, says this commitment, combined with the creation of a dedicated state marketing arm for exports, will reverberate in overseas markets. “Elevating the stature of trade activities in the commonwealth, I think, sends a message to the global marketplace that Virginia is trade friendly,” White says. “Anything we can do to move more cargo through those facilities only hastens the return on investment coming through the port.”
In addition to state programs, local export-assistance programs are being promoted by cities such as Norfolk and regional development groups such as the Virginia Coalfields Economic Development Authority and the Greater Richmond Partnership. “All of this is converging at the same time, and it’s not by accident,” says Vassey. “It’s really a group of us that have been working in earnest to develop a multi-tier export development network.”
Agricultural exports
Virginia also is making a major export push for agricultural and forestry products. Today, 30 to 35 percent of Virginia’s farm income results from exports.
Virginia began marketing its agricultural products aggressively under former Gov. Bob McDonnell, says Todd Haymore, Virginia secretary of agriculture and forestry, who has served two governors in that post. Since 2010, Virginia has moved up from fifth to second among the East Coast’s largest agricultural exporting states.
Haymore says McAuliffe wants Virginia to overtake Georgia to become No. 1 on that list. “[This year] the governor was as aggressive as we’ve ever been in providing even more resources and manpower to provide export enhancement,” says Haymore.
To that end, this year’s budget includes $850,000 in new funds to develop agricultural exports, including two additional export representatives in Richmond and two new trade representatives in North Africa and Southeast Asia. New money also is available for “reverse trade” missions, bringing potential customers to Virginia.
While new initiatives remain under the agriculture department’s purview, Haymore will be required in November 2017 to explain how and whether VITC will integrate any of its exporting services.
The case for trade
In the current presidential campaign, trade is getting much different play.  Presumptive nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both have denounced the current Trans-Pacific
Partnership (TPP) as a potential job killer for the U.S. TPP is a trade agreement supported by President Obama involving 12 Pacific Rim nations. Congress still must ratify the deal.
Virginia’s business leaders support the TPP.  “[TPP] includes the elimination of 18,000 taxes on exports,” says DuVal with the Virginia Chamber. “It will level the playing field for American companies to compete in the markets, and it supports good-paying jobs in America and Virginia.”
To boost its state and federal lobbying efforts, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce last year commissioned a study highlighting exports’ effects in the commonwealth.
The first-of-its kind analysis shows that exports made up 30 percent of Virginia’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth between 2009 and 2014. It also reveals that exports generated almost 320,000 jobs (about 8.5 percent of state employment) with an average annual income of $58,333. “The importance of exports to Virginia and America is often overlooked,” says DuVal.  “At the state and national level, we want policymakers to understand the facts, and we think our study helps underscore the importance of exports to the Virginia business community and the sub-regions outside the metro areas.”
The study, conducted by McDearman Associates LLC and the Raymond A. Mason School of Business at the College of William & Mary, highlights the importance of international trade in Virginia’s less-populated regions.
While Virginia’s urban areas are involved  in 60 percent of the commonwealth’s total exports, international trade made up a greater share of local economies in areas with smaller populations. For example, Bristol’s “export intensity” was 17.2 percent in 2014, while exports made up 6.2 percent of Northern Virginia’s economy.
“Virginia has two great problems that it constantly has to work on,” says Jones, the secretary of trade and commerce. “One, it is too dependent on public-sector growth, and two, the need for more balance and growth among its regions.
“The international trade space is the one solution to both of those problems,” he says.