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March 15, 2012

Waynesboro's PGI Celebrates Accomplishments with Lt. Gov. Bolling

Bob Stuart
The News Virginian

Both Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Waynesboro's Polymer Group Inc. plant had reason to celebrate Thursday, and both did together.

The Waynesboro facility celebrated twin accomplishments: receiving the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry's Voluntary Protection Program Star Award for safety, and the recent completion of a $65 million expansion that added 41 jobs.

The expansion, announced almost exactly two years ago, facilitated PGI's production of hygiene and health-care fabrics, said Cliff Bridges, the company's director of corporate communications.

Bolling said the PGI expansion was one of his first economic development projects in the administration of Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Thursday's celebration also came during a week when Virginia's unemployment rate dipped to 5.8 percent, the lowest mark in three years.

"This shows our focus on economic development and job creation is paying off," said Bolling, who has spent much time on the road serving as McDonnell's chief jobs creator the past two years.

The lieutenant governor said the bulk of the economic development deals have come from situations such as PGI's: established Virginia businesses wanting to expand.

"Projects like this have been the foundation of our success," he said.

Bolling cautioned that while state unemployment has dropped from 7.2 percent to 5.8 percent while McDonnell has been in office, it was 3.4 percent when the recession started.

"We are not taking a victory lap," he said. "There is a lot of work to do with state, local and private-sector partners."

Bolling also spoke of his upcoming battle with Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for the Republican nomination for governor in 2013.

"Given the attorney general's decision to enter, we have been forced to do things more quickly," he said.

The lieutenant governor said he had hoped to form a team with Cuccinelli but must now oppose him for the GOP nod.

Meanwhile, Waynesboro PGI Plant Manager Ian Mills told employees that receiving the Voluntary Protection Program Star Award represented one of the company's top priorities: safety.

PGI Waynesboro has a safety team and 10 safety sub-teams. Mills said that protecting employees is part of a "journey that never ends:" The goal is for the company to have zero safety incidents.

And PGI CEO Ronee Hagen spoke of the company's decision to expand in Waynesboro, when there was competition from company facilities in North Carolina.

"The collaborative spirit we saw here in Virginia tipped the balance in your favor," Hagen said.

Like Bolling, she said it is important for the Old Dominion to retain its existing businesses.