Roanoke Misses Out On Solstas Lab Expansion

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by Valerie Garner

Few people know it but Roanoke has recently been involved in a high stakes economic play for 500 jobs. Solstas Lab Partners has dual headquarters in Roanoke and High Point, North Carolina with both locations being in play for a major Solstas expansion. Solstas’ Roanoke administrative headquarters is located in Carilion’s administrative building at Riverside.

The Solstas name evolved from a merger of Carilion Labs in Roanoke and Spectrum Laboratory Network of High Point and now ranks as one of the country’s largest full-service labs. The company provides all lab services for Carilion Clinic hospitals. Solstas presently employs 400 in Roanoke and 721 in High Point. Since 2009 Solstas has grown substantially making seven acquisitions in Delaware, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida.

In addition to Roanoke and High Point the company reached out to two other locations for tentative proposals. The other locations were Knoxville, Tennessee and, to a lessor degree, in Alabama, said Roanoke’s Vice President Bud Thompson in a phone call Monday.

Last Tuesday High Point City Council approved a $500,000 incentive package. A few days later commissioners from surrounding Guilford County approved another $500,000 for a total of $1 million. The state of North Carolina may also kick in another $450,000, said Thompson. High Point has a cap of $1000 per job in their economic development policy.

The hiring would take place over a five year period. The expansion would add $11.6 million to High Point’s local tax base. The average wage of the new jobs is over $45,000 annually, confirmed Thompson.

The projection for the additional 500 jobs was based on their growth experience in High Point. “In two years they added 300 full-time equivalent jobs … we’re expecting the future to look like the past,” said Thompson.

There would be consolidation from the six acquisitions made in 2011. According to Thompson, no jobs would be transitioned from Roanoke to High Point. He expects that all of Roanoke’s IT and billing functions will remain here. They will continue to make the labs inside of Carilion Roanoke Memorial as efficient as possible, he said.

“Our practice is to integrate labs onto the same operating system and information technology platforms,” said Thompson. Other eligible consolidation functions normally include billing and high-end testing. In any given week there are 160 to 180 job postings in their service area.

Rob Ledger, Roanoke’s Economic Development Director, said Monday that he couldn’t release the incentives offered by the city to Solstas. He said they offered them several buildings and/or sites he could not name until Solstas communicates their decision.

Ledger did say that, “we are extremely interested in it and we would do everything in our power to make it happen.” He said they explained the kind of incentives they would be eligible for but it never went any further.

Thompson shared that Roanoke provided a tentative proposal that was 40 percent less than that of High Point. That wasn’t the only reason for the more rigorous approach for expansion in High Point. “Since a substantial portion of our corporate activity resides in High Point it makes sense to build off of that infrastructure that exists there,” he said.

“As a growth oriented company, if things go the way we expect them to, jobs will be created in a lot of different communities,” said Thompson. Placing future jobs will coincide with the best interests of the company. “We have high aspirations for future acquisition” and he expects the Roanoke Valley to benefit from that growth.

Another point Thompson made was that the Triad region provided better recruitment for certain jobs. They also have a higher unemployment rate making it easier to recruit entry-level positions. He also believed that pulling in employees willing to relocate would be easier since there would be more opportunity of employment for a spouse.

Thompson was quick to point out that the Virginia Tech Medical School and Research Center, along with other enhancements, will make Roanoke more attractive for certain kinds of positions in the future.

Thompson made clear that there is no final agreement with High Point yet. Solstas will scrutinize the proffered conditions and benchmarks the company would have to meet in order to receive the grants. He doesn’t expect any problems but it will be two to three weeks before they decide.

If given final approval, construction of the expansion is slated for mid-year.