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Southwest Virginia business expands hiring, production for guardrail safety device

BRISTOL, Virginia — A Washington County manufacturing business will add more than 100 jobs and expand production of a guardrail crash safety device.

Economic development group InvestSWVA and owners of SPIG Industry Inc. announced on Thursday that the company has started a $7.9 million expansion of its operation in the Washington County Industrial Park near Bristol based on growing demand for its patented SGET end terminal. The device caps the end of a guardrail length and absorbs the energy from a vehicle crashing into the rail end.

Co-owner Joshua Harmon said the expansion will include new jobs for laborers, welders, machinists, metalworkers and material handlers with wages ranging from $14 to more than $20 per hour.

“Our policy is, if you pay someone well, you don’t have to retrain someone else,” Joshua Harmon said.

The Harmons said the expansion comes from successful testing of the end terminal and acceptance by various state departments of transportation for use on highway guardrails. Chris Harmon said that acceptance of the SPIG product in the past two years has included Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, New Mexico and orders from Mexico and the Canadian province of Ontario.

Joshua Harmon said independent lab testing of repeated crashes with the SPIG end terminal showed no penetration of vehicle cabins or even cracking of windshields in all cases.

“The lab told us that if people had been in there, they probably would have walked away,” Joshua Harmon said.

SPIG Industry has been in the Washington County Industrial Park since 2007 and got its start making guardrails and guardrail posts before starting development of its end terminal in 2011 and production in 2018, the Harmons said. The brothers credited being able to do their expansion in Southwest Virginia to the region’s state legislative delegation: Republican Delegates Israel O’Quinn and Terry Kilgore and state Sen. Todd Pillion.

Joshua Harmon said the company looked at North Carolina and Tennessee before deciding to expand in Washington County.

“It made sense logistically,” Joshua Harmon said, citing the proximity to rail service and to Interstate 81. He and Chris Harmon added that SPIG is also looking at setting up production on the West Coast as well as signing licensing agreements for production in Central and South America.

O’Quinn said the legislators and InvestSWVA pushed for state and local government support of the Harmons’ effort, including a Virginia Tobacco Com-mission Opportunity Fund grant of $99,500 to help with the expansion plan.

“We just want to see our region marketed,” O’Quinn said. “We can’t sit back and wait every five years for something good to happen. Having direct engagement with the delegation is better than no engagement.”

SPIG Industry, as part of its expansion, will build three production plants and a welding shop along with a rail spur to connect with existing area freight rail service. The company is eligible to apply for state Railroad Industrial Access Program funds and can receive state Enterprise Zone benefits along with state funding and services to support SPIG’s employee training during the expansion.

Pillion, in a joint statement with Kilgore and state officials, credited SPIG with recognizing the area’s advantages, including available workforce and quality of life.

“I am proud that our Southwest Virginia delegation took the lead in advising SPIG’s leadership to invest in our community and our people,” Pillion said.

Kilgore, also chair of the Tobacco Commission, said the SPIG expansion highlighted the region’s advantages for manufacturing.

“This project demonstrates that developing industrial parks, something the commission has supported over the years, can pay dividends in the long run for our rural communities, Kilgore said.

“The continued growth of SPIG Industry demonstrates the tremendous success that a homegrown manufacturer can achieve here in Virginia,” Gov. Ralph Northam said. “We thank SPIG for reinvesting in the commonwealth and contributing to our economic recovery amid this global health crisis.”

“Southwest Virginia is having a manufacturing renaissance,” O’Quinn said.

Hawkins deputies going 'Grizzly' to fund Christmas with a Cop

ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office may soon begin to look like a “Grizzly Adams” casting call thanks to a “No-Shave November” fundraiser that the sheriff’s staff is participating in to raise money for the annual Christmas with a Cop program.

On Dec. 5, the HCSO will treat 30 lucky youngsters to a $150 shopping spree at the Rogersville Walmart to buy anything they want.

The children are selected from the Of One Accord ministry’s Christmas for the Children program, which serves more than 1,000 underprivileged youngsters every year.

The HCSO has a rule against beards, but Sheriff Ronnie Lawson gave facial hair a one-month reprieve in November for a good cause.

Christmas with a Cop co-organizer Stacy Webb noted that male officers can pay $20 to grow a goatee or $25 for a full beard.

Female officers and corrections officers can pay $10 and wear a hat.

Webb noted that the department has about 95% participation, and after two weeks, the guys are getting a bit scruffy.

Even those who aren’t growing facial hair or wearing a hat are kicking in their share for the fundraiser.

As of this week, however, the HCSO doesn’t have enough resources to cover the cost of this year’s event, even with the beards and hats.

Anyone who wants to contribute to the program can mail a donation to: Christmas With a Cop, c/o Stacy Webb, 117 Justice Center Drive, Rogersville TN 37857.

All funds donated will be used for Christmas with a Cop.

If more money is raised than is needed this year, leftover funds will be used to begin preparing for the 2021 event, purchasing items after the holidays when they go on sale.

“Aside from the shopping spree, we fill them up a stocking with little knick-knacks and try to get them an outfit, socks and underwear, and a blanket,” Webb said. “We do get some things free from the Shepherd Center, but sometimes we have to go to Walmart and buy them if they don’t have it (at the Shepherd’s Center).”

Webb added, “The Shepherd Center always has an enormous number of backpacks donated full of stuff, so they also get a backpack with school supplies, and usually soap, shampoo, and stuff like that.”

Usually, the sheriff’s office hosts a party for children and their families at the Justice Center, with lunch, games and gifts, before giving them a ride to Walmart in a military surplus armored troop carrier.

This year, however, the party has been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. Deputies will instead meet the kids at Walmart, and after the shopping spree is over, the kids will receive their additional gifts, as well as a gift card to take their family out to lunch.

“The kids are always really tickled about the shopping spree,” Webb said. “It’s a big deal to get to go pick out their own stuff with a police officer. They love it.”

Enhanced electronic newspaper now available from Times News

KINGSPORT — If you’ve visited the electronic version of our newspaper lately, you’ve noticed a change of format.

The new Kingsport Times News e-edition (www.timesnews.net/eedition) is faster, easier to navigate and contains special features that enhance the reader’s experience.

For example, e-readers not only see the full replica of each page in the newspaper, but they also have immediate access to photo galleries, graphics, charts, and videos that accompany articles right from the page. Readers also can click on puzzles, stock listings, obituaries and other features for easier reading, downloading and printing.

“This enhanced product is truly the best of both worlds,” said Kingsport Times News Publisher Rick Thomason, who is also president of the newspaper’s parent company, Six Rivers Media LLC. “E-readers have full access to our printed content, as well as the enhancements available only on the web.

“As the Times News and Six Rivers Media continue to evolve, we want our readers to have every advantage available in modern media,” Thomason said. “This new e-edition is another big step in that direction.”

The new enhanced e-edition features two ways to view a page.

“Replica view” allows readers to see a full page at once, just like reading the print version. “Live article view” lets readers click an article to read it in long form and access the galleries and other special features.

Just select a view from the dropdown menu at the top of a page.

As always, readers can move from page to page by clicking the arrows at the side of a page. Readers also can click the “Pages” button at the bottom to see thumbnail images that enable direct navigation to any page.

To access other recent editions in the archive, scroll down from the e-edition home page or click the newspaper symbol at the top of any page.

For a limited time, complimentary access is available to the enhanced e-edition without logging in. Soon, only subscribers to the Times News — either for home delivery or solely to the electronic version — will have access.

To subscribe, visit timesnews.net and click “Subscribe” or contact our Customer Service desk at (423) 392-1390. There is also a link to the e-paper in the top navigation of our home page.

If you are already subscribed and do not have a login, simply contact our Customer Service desk. Our Customer Service representatives also can help you navigate through the changes.

Four new COVID-19 deaths, 306 new cases reported in Northeast Tennessee

Four new COVID-19 deaths and 306 new COVID-19 cases were reported Thursday in Northeast Tennessee, bringing the eight-county region’s pandemic totals to 330 deaths and 17,683 cases.

The four new deaths, by county: two in Unicoi; one in Washington; and one in Johnson.

New cases, by county: zero in Hancock; eight in Unicoi; nine in Johnson; 37 in Hawkins; 49 in Greene; 61 in Carter; 66 in Washington; and 76 in Sullivan.

With the above, county totals as of Thursday:

Hancock — 127 cases (one active), three deaths.

Unicoi — 621 cases (106 active), 16 deaths.

Johnson — 1,303 cases (71 active), 17 deaths.

Hawkins — 1,534 cases (210 active), 31 deaths.

Carter — 2,138 cases (328 active), 42 deaths.

Greene — 2,381 cases (341 active), 63 deaths.

Washington — 4,701 cases (594 active), 84 deaths.

Sullivan — 4,878 cases (616 active), 74 deaths.

Statewide, 27 new deaths and 3,344 new cases brought Tennessee’s pandemic totals to 3,788 deaths (3,531 confirmed as COVID-19 and 257 probable) and 296,725 cases (277,081 confirmed as COVID-19 and 19,644 probable). Of the 296,725 total, 88% (262,527) were listed as “inactive/recovered.”

The 27 deaths reported statewide, by age group: 12 in the 81+ group; six in the 71-80 group; four in the 61-70 group; two in the 41-50 group; one in the 51-60 group; one in the 31-40 group; and one listed as “pending.” The new case numbers were based on 21,184 new test results statewide, compared to a day earlier, with a positive rate of 13.46%.

The average positive rate over the past seven days, by county: Hancock, 1.4% (average of 15 tests per day per 10,000 of population); Johnson, 10.3% (average of 43 tests per day per 10,000 of population); Hawkins, 12.3% (average of 28 tests per day per 10,000 of population); Washington, 14.5% (average 32.5 tests per day per 10,000 of population); Sullivan, 14.9% (average of 30.4 tests per day per 10,000 of population); Greene, 14.9% (average of 33 tests per day per 10,000 of population); Unicoi, 18.4% (average of 31.7 tests per day per 10,000 of population); and Carter, 19.4% (average of 34.3 tests per day per 10,000 of population).

Total cases by county, per 100,000 of population, to date: 1,926.6 in Hancock; 2,710 in Hawkins; 3,080.6 in Sullivan; 3,447.4 in Greene; 3,476.3 in Unicoi; 3,633.9 in Washington; 3,791.5 in Carter; and 7,326.8 in Johnson (which is skewed due to the location of state prison Northeast Correctional Complex, where the Tennessee Department of Corrections reports more than 500 cases total among inmates and staff).

The Tennessee Department of Health defines “inactive/recovered” as “people who are (1) at least 14 days beyond their symptom onset date, or are at least 14 days beyond the first test confirming their illness if asymptomatic, and (2) are not deceased.”

COVID-19 in SWVA: Region nears 70 cases

Far Southwest Virginia tallied almost 70 new COVID-19 cases, according to Thursday’s state COVID-19 data report.

The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) reported that the state had 1,521 new cases and 17 additional deaths in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 198,027 cases and 3,758 deaths.

The LENOWISCO Health District saw 68 cases for totals of 2,294 and 32 deaths during the pandemic. Wise County had 44 cases for totals of 953 and 12 deaths. Scott County saw 14 cases for 579 and nine deaths.

Lee County added 10 cases for 700 and 11 deaths, while Norton remained at 62 cases and no deaths.

The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Thursday’s VDH report was 3,088,771 of 8.63 million residents, or 35.79%. For nasal swab testing only, 2,853,797 people have been tested to date, or 33.07%. In the LENOWISCO district, 21,187 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 24.5%.

testing rates by locality:

• Lee County, 6,631 of 23,423, or 28.31%

• Norton, 2,049 of 3,981, or 51.47%

• Wise County, 7,890 of 37,383, or 21.11%

• Scott County, 4,617 of 21,566, or 21.41%

Red Onion State Prison remained at 20 inmate cases and one active staff/contractor case, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap remained at no inmate cases and dropped from three to two active staff/contractor cases. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 16 inmate cases and one active staff case.

The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Thursday’s report rose from 12.5% to 13%. The statewide positivity rate rose from 6.2% to 6.5%.

According to Thursday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard, cases in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — were ranked as rising after a 52-day increase in cases. The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results remained increasing based on a 32-day increase in that measure.

All four school systems in the LENOWISCO district — Wise, Lee and Scott counties and Norton — were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district. Wise County Schools were ranked highest-risk for percent change in seven-day case incidences. Lee and Scott counties and Norton schools were ranked lowest-risk.

Where to be tested

Do you think you might have COVID-19? Local health departments provide free testing.

The LENOWISCO Health Department, which covers Norton and Lee, Wise and Scott counties, posts regular updates on testing sites across the district and offers free COVID-19 tests at its county offices. Those seeking a test must call in advance for an appointment. Contact numbers for the county offices are:

• Lee County (Jonesville) — (276) 346-2011

• Scott County (Gate City) — (276) 386-1312

• Wise County and Norton (Wise) — (276) 328-8000

Additional testing and COVID-19 precaution information can be found at the LENOWISCO Health District’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Lenowisco.

The Health Wagon will partner with the Virginia Department of Health to offer 17 sessions of free drive-thru testing at Food City in St. Paul through Dec. 31. Call (276) 328-8850 for an appointment.

In Southwest Virginia, online resources are available to help evaluate whether residents might be infected and where to get a COVID-19 test. The Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDCHECK (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck/) can walk a user through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other testing sites.