By Dave Ongie
A 22-month effort dubbed “Project Homecoming” yielded an announcement on Tuesday afternoon that Atlanta-based EarthLink is investing $5.4 million in a major customer support center in Norton, Virginia that is expected to generate 285 jobs in the region. The customer service positions are being returned to the United States from overseas.
Founded in 1994, EarthLink is a top U.S. Internet service provider to homes and small businesses. Company CEO Glenn Goad is from southwest Virginia and is thrilled his company will be putting down roots in the region.
“Having grown up in this area, it gives me great pride to further EarthLink’s efforts to provide award-winning customer experiences through our new sales and service center in Norton, Virginia,” Goad said. “We look forward to a long partnership with this community and the employees who will become a part of EarthLink.
EarthLink will be the first tenant in the new “Project Intersection” site, which is located at the intersection of Highways 58 and 23 in Norton. A 30,000-square-foot facility will be constructed on Site #4 of the 200-acre property that sits on a reclaimed mine site.
“I am happy to hear that Earthlink has chosen to locate its newest customer support center at the Project Intersection development in Norton,” said Congressman Morgan Griffith. “Project Intersection was recently selected to receive $2.5 million in funding from the Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) program. I have continuously led efforts in the House to secure this federal funding for Virginia, and I am pleased to see projects like this take shape. I welcome the news of Earthlink’s incoming customer support center, along with the 285 jobs projected to be brought to the City of Norton.”
Will Payne of InvestSWVA said the 22-month recruitment of EarthLink evolved into a partnership during over 100 in-person, Zoom and phone conversations between EarthLink executives and a team that included Payne, Delegate Terry Kilgore, Senator Todd Pillion, Delegate Israel O’Quinn, LENOWISCO Planning Commission executive director Duane Miller and the late Senator Ben Chafin, who passed away on Jan. 1 of this year.
“I have spent countless hours with the EarthLink team working on this opportunity and can definitely say that we are not only getting a new company that will be creating 285 new, good paying jobs in Southwest Virginia, we are also getting a company that will be an innovative, leading community partner,” Kilgore said.
Both Miller and Payne believe EarthLink is making a long-term commitment to the region. The scope of discussions with local legislators has extended well beyond the opening of the new facility.
“They’re making a commitment not just to get them through the finish line of the announcement, but they’ve got a commitment for when the company is here for the long haul,” Payne said. “I think the company and the leadership want to know they’ve got support as they continue to grow in the region.”
As southwest Virginia competed against other sites around the country and the world, Miller believes the regionalism in action shown by the entire delegation made an impact on EarthLink’s executives. “They’ve mentioned that to me more than once how everyone here is working together,” he said.
In the same way that a collaboration between Wise, Lee, Scott and Dickenson counties and the City of Norton made the site at “Project Intersection” a reality, cooperation by elected officials in southwest Virginia that stretched beyond the borders of their respective districts helped close the deal on “Project Homecoming.”
Miller recalled a visit to EarthLink’s headquarters that included four elected officials from southwest Virginia made a deep, positive impact that helped get the deal to the finish line.
“This announcement by Earthlink to onshore jobs from overseas to here in Southwest Virginia is a prime example of how working as a region to develop economic development infrastructure can poise us to not only compete, but also win in the highly competitive world of economic development recruitment,” Pillion said. “This announcement is a win for the entire region.”