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WATCH NOW: 'Danville is a model for the rest of this country,' governor says celebrating Morgan Olson

WATCH NOW: 'Danville is a model for the rest of this country,' governor says celebrating Morgan Olson

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RINGGOLD — Delivery van manufacturer Morgan Olson, which announced in October 2019 that it would bring 703 jobs to the Dan River Region, started production in June and has hired more than 300 employees since January. 

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam spoke Thursday morning at the company's 925,000-square-foot manufacturing facility during a celebration of the company's start of operations at its warehouse — Ikea's former location — in Cane Creek Centre in Pittsylvania County just outside Danville. 

The governor, during remarks inside the warehouse at the event attended by about 50-75 people, praised the region's efforts at training workers and attracting industry. 

"Danville is a model for the rest of this country," Northam told attendees seated in chairs spaced six feet apart. He spoke in front of a large, white Morgan Olson walk-in step van that announced "Now Hiring" in black letters at the top. 

He also remarked how swiftly the company cranked up production after officials announced its plans less than a year ago. 

"Morgan Olson — they meant business," Northam said. 

The company, based in Sturgis, Michigan, announced in October that it would bring 703 new jobs and a capital investment of $58 million. It makes delivery vans for such clients as FedEx and UPS. 

Mike Ownbey, president and CEO, told the Danville Register & Bee during the celebration that that company plans to have 450 people hired by the end of the year. Company spokesman Kenneth Klein said the goal of having 703 employees should be met by the end of 2021.

"We're making 14 trucks a day," Ownbey said, adding that the company plans to produce as many as 48 per day in the future. 

The step vans made at the plant are delivering medical supplies to hospitals and homes, and food and water to people's doorsteps, Ownbey said in a prepared statement. 

The company took ownership of the former Ikea building in March. 

"We converted this ... facility into a state-of-the-art automotive factory," Klein told the Register & Bee.  

While many businesses are closing or sending their employees away from the office to work at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, Morgan Olson has its facility up and running, he pointed out. 

"This is a good COVID story," Klein said. 

Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, pointed out that it's been about a year since Ikea announced it would close its plant by the end of 2019. It wasn't long before Morgan Olson stepped in. 

"All the cards fell into place at the right time," Marshall said during an interview inside the plant just before the event. "That was a real plus to take this over to get it back up and running." 

The company also credits the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance with helping it open on time.  

Ownbey also praised the success of the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, which trained workers for jobs at Morgan Olson. 

Bob Warren, chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors, said of Thursday's celebration, "It's a wonderful event for the community because we have a first-rate company that has located here. We're really happy to have them."

Klein said the company plans on holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony once pandemic travel restrictions are lifted.  

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