After promising 703 jobs to the Dan River Region, a delivery-van company now is projecting they will provide as many as 1,000 positions here.

At a meeting of the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce, Morgan Olson President and CEO Mike Ownbey highlighted some history of the Sturgis, Michigan-based company, detailed how it decided to locate in the Dan River Region and provided some insights into what the company will accomplish in the region.

The meeting, which included business leaders, government officials and community members, was held Wednesday morning at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville.

Morgan Olson LLC, owned by Houston-based J.B. Poindexter & Co. Inc, has exponentially increased its production over the past 12 years. The company has shifted from building 1,800 delivery vans annually to making 1,700 per month — a number that doesn’t include the new Dan River plant, which is expected to produce around 60 vehicles daily.

By the end of 2020, Ownbey said he expects the company to have hired 500 people for the Danville plant and invested upward of $62 million in the region. In the long run, he expects the company will have as many as 1,000 employees, with starting pay of $15 an hour plus benefits for assembly jobs and hourly rates of $20 to $30 or more for other positions.

“We’re generally higher paid than the industries in our area,” he said, a factor that contributes to strong retention rates, especially among the company’s executives.

The company, which makes vans for companies such as UPS, FedEx and The New York Times, also will sign a contract with the Canada Post, the post office of America’s northern neighbors, to produce new mail trucks, which likely will be produced at the Danville plant, Ownbey said.

After Ikea, which employed more than 300 people at one point, announced the closure of their plant in the county, regional and state leaders were able to make a quick pivot by recruiting Morgan Olson to the region. Originally, the company was looking for two smaller plants, but after another Virginia site didn’t work out, two state officials — Stephen Moret, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, and Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball reached out to the company about locating in the Dan River Region.

With state and local incentive packages worth about $13 million, Morgan Olson announced it would locate here just a few months after Ikea announced its closure. Pittsylvania County Economic Development Director Matt Rowe said this was one of the quickest projects he has ever worked on.

Several other speakers provided insights into the successes of 2019 and the outlook for 2020.

Alan Larson, market president and CEO of Sovah Health-Danville, said the chamber’s goal is to aid in retention efforts “to retain those industries over time.” His message was optimistic.

“I think we’re going to see some remarkable things ... these are exciting times,” he said. Larson also is the incoming chairman of the chamber’s board of directors.

Outgoing chamber Chairwoman Christine Stover, account manager with Infinity Global Inc., said the Dan River Region has a distinct advantage over other areas: strong connections and relationships in the community.

“We sometimes take this distinct business advantage for granted,” she said.

Alexis Ehrhardt, president and CEO of the Danville Pittsylvania Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has three primary goals in 2020: small business development and entrepreneurship; legislative advocacy and education; and talent development.

“Our region’s growth is dependent upon the businesses that have chosen to locate, stay, and grow in Danville and Pittsylvania County,” she said. “At the heart of our economy is the success of small businesses.”

In terms of talent development, Ehrhardt said the chamber will focus on elevating “the capacity of their human capital.”

“The chamber will work with regional partners to promote collaboration between employers and K-12 and post-secondary institutions to align talent development opportunities with real-time employer needs,” she said.

Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.

Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.

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