Near the end of "American Made Movie," a 2013 film documentary on American manufacturing that's just now gaining wide release in the U.S., the conversation turns to the most quintessential of American-made products: the Stars and Stripes.
Are the flags that people buy at stores actually made in America?
In South Boston, most people may know the answer to this question. "American Made Movie" clues in the rest of the world — by paying a visit to South Boston's Annin Flagmakers plant and interviewing the company's president, Carter Beard.
In an 85-minute film that skips smartly from the industrial ruins of Detroit to the rising manufacturing centers of East Asia and back again to America's small towns to witness their struggles to secure a place in the global economy, it's the South Boston segment that brings the core message home:
Yes, U.S. manufacturing is worth saving, and there are many people working to do so — successfully.
Produced by documentary filmmakers Nathaniel McGill and Vincent Vittorio, "American Made Movie" had limited release in U.S. cities last year and earned general acclaim — with the Los Angeles Times praising it as "patriotic but not overly rah-rah, inspiring without an excess of feel-good calculation." This month, the movie became available for viewing via cable video-on-demand and digital platforms; it's going on the web in May, and it will be available through Netflix and Hulu in the fall.
"America Made Movie" touches on issues that will be familiar to anyone who runs a small business, or works in the field of economic development, or has ever felt the impact of the decline of domestic manufacturing — which is to say most of us. Its elegiac images of closed factories come from visits to Rust Belt cities and hollowed-out southern towns, although South Boston, in a cameo role, is assigned the task of undercutting the conventional wisdom.
After posing the proverbial question — are American flags made in America? — the documentary cuts to an interview with Beard. (The segment was shot at Annin's New Jersey corporate office, where Beard works, although the film doesn't mention this fact.) Framed by snippets of the local plant shop floor, Beard recounts the company's long history of producing American flags since its founding in 1847. It was an Annin-made flag that draped the coffin of Abraham Lincoln, that flew atop the hill at Iwo Jima, that astronauts unfurled on the moon. Deep in the film, Beard touches on another signature event in U.S. history: the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"I lost some friends in the towers of 911," he says haltingly on camera, "and so I think in the last 10 years I've viewed the American flag differently than I used to. You make it every day, you're worried about the workers being efficient, the fabric being dyed the right shade, the star fields having the right density of stiches and the stars — but then 911 happens, you view the flag much differently.
"I think that most people feel it just makes the most sense to make the flag here."
The filmmakers make a deliberate appeal for consumers to think the same way about other American-made products. Vittorio, interviewed yesterday by telephone from New York City, where he is promoting the movie, said the visit to South Boston began with a contrarian debate: Are there any items made overseas that Americans would — or should — resist purchasing?
"I personally would feel disgraced buying something that represents the country I'm from and buying it when it was manufactured somewhere else," he said. He and his cinematic partners came up with two goods that fit the description: the American flag and soldiers' boots. The footage concerning the latter didn't make the film's final cut. But the segment on Annin did.
Vittorio said the impetus for "American Made Movie" was partly personal — his wife's family is from Detroit, his co-producer's father worked for General Motors — but it also stems from a long-standing interest in economic matters. The documentary touches on a wide range of proposed solutions but is studiously non-political — "manufacturing is just too complicated to understand" through the lens of ideology.
In promoting the movie's video-on-demand release over the past several weeks, Vittorio received an opportunity to testify to a congressional panel — and used the appearance to screen the movie for elected officials and staff. "They were really fired up. The best thing they said is that this film brought a sense of hope.
"It's been well-received — it hasn't reached the millions that we hoped, but it's been well received.
The movie, released by Virgil Films, will become available on the web in May at MadeAmerican.com. It can now be viewed through digital and cable video-on-demand services, and it should become available on Netflix and Hulu in September, said Vittorio.
Also, on May 20, the film will be released on DVD and BluRay. The disc versions come with a special touch — 100 percent of the components, from the plastic cases to the paper liners, are American-made.
"I think [the documentary] can ultimately continue this conversation in the hope that people will talk about and hopefully change things soon," said Vittorio.
The Halifax County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) has been awarded a grant by the United States Community Advancement and Improvement Program (USCAIP) for use on Phase III of the IDA's Southern Virginia Advanced Manufacturing Center (SVAMC) on Greens Folly Road. The $427,500 grant will used to improve and expand on-site utilities and infrastructure.
The IDA worked with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), which helped identify this grant opportunity for Halifax. "Investment by this USCAIP partner organization is significant for the development of the Southern Virginia Advanced Manufacturing Center," says Liz Povar, Vice-President of Business Expansion for VEDP. "The investment aligns with state, regional and local strategies and will add to the strength of Halifax County's business attraction and retention opportunities."
"The USCAIP grant provides benefits beyond its dollar value," says Matt Leonard, The IDA's Executive Director. "It will act as the required local match for the recently awarded $1,114,535 from the Tobacco Commission, relieving the County from having to make this match. It will also extend natural gas onto the site through an easement under the railroad, making natural gas available to the south and east side of the tracks for the first time." This includes South Boston, and some of the largest assets of the public school system, as well as many large private companies and residences.
Columbia Gas of Virginia Representative Jon Slaunwhite describes the collaboration with the IDA and importance of this extension, saying "We are committed to supporting the Halifax IDA in growing Virginia's economy. This project is an example of this collaboration and will allow Columbia Gas to expand our facilities and allow clean, reliable and domestic natural gas to support jobs and growth in the region."
Much of the grant monies previously received and spent to date have been used to replace the SVAMC's roofing and update the fire protection facilities. "We understand that work so far, while critical to stopping the facility's decline, is not highly visible work" says Leonard. "Over the next year and a half, Halifax citizens will see the building and grounds begin to transform, and our prospect industries will find a more ready site for them to consider."
Halifax County and TMI Auto Tech, the maker of the Ariel Atom performance racing vehicle, are teaming up to create a new manufacturing niche for the area: the production of lightweight, high-strength woven carbon composites.
It's just the material needed for a new racing vehicle that TMI Auto Tech has on the drawing board — the TMI Sniper.
The Sniper, unlike the Atom, is a closed-body racer, said Matt Leonard, executive director of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority, which has put in an $838,786 R&D grant request to the Virginia Tobacco Commission to launch the project. The market for the Sniper is a familiar one for the company: club racers, promotional vehicle purchasers, school car programs. The company is aiming to build 100 of the vehicles for international distribution over the next five years.
Starting price point: $135,000.
TMI Auto Tech is projecting it will almost double its current workforce by hiring 19 new workers to build the Sniper at its facility at the Virginia Motorsports Technology Park, part of Virginia International Raceway. Yet the IDA has aspirations of the Sniper project becoming a springboard for even more jobs.
"If [research] finds that right formula to create carbon fiber-based materials in a cost effective way, it could be broadened [for use] in more products and more jobs here," said Leonard. "We think this could be the start of us making these high performance materials."
Destination Downtown South Boston and the Town of South Boston were presented with Virginia Main Street Milestone Achievement Awards for the dedication of over 20,000 volunteer hours to the revitalization of the downtown's historic commercial district and for creating an investment environment in the downtown that has fostered over 250 private investments.
The awards were presented Wednesday, March 19.
The organization also was awarded a Special Achievement Award for its leadership in partnering with the town and Rehab Development, Inc. in the conversion of the town's last standing tobacco warehouse into 27 new, market-rate apartments in the Main Street district. The awards were presented at Richmond's historic Hippodrome Theater.
At the ceremony that focused on the results of Main Street efforts, Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones spoke to the audience of nearly 90 downtown revitalization volunteers and professionals from around the state about the visible results of their hard work.
"This year, you have been thinking outside of the box and using entrepreneurship as a keystone to successful downtown revitalization," said Secretary Jones. "With entrepreneur development strategies like business boot camps and even an Ideaspace, you are bringing new ventures and amazing growth to your downtowns."
In 16 weeks the Virginia-Pilot newspaper reviewed 200 restaurants throughout the state to name "The 30 places to eat in Virginia before you die," and local restaurant Molasses Grill was named to the list. Their review follows:
"In the vast expanse of central Virginia, towns are like islands surrounded by rolling farmland. It's impossible to guess where gourmets gather. That's the case in Halifax. Across from the pillared courthouse, circa 1777, the Molasses Grill has been pleasing refined palates since 2005. That's when chef Steven Schopen, an English chap with worldly roots, and his wife, Karen, opened this restaurant. Inside, brick walls and burnished pine lend a sense of calm, but opening the menu causes palpitations. Schopen pairs Southern staples with locally sourced ingredients and turns out house-made sausages, breads and dishes such as grilled pork tenderloin with a shellac of bourbon and molasses. Or how about fried chicken and some pimento mac and cheese? Worth the 5-mile or so detour from the straightaway."
The Prizery has hired Pat Anderson-Flowers as its new managing director.
For the past 27 years, Anderson-Flowers has worked at Birmingham Southern College where she started as a faculty member in the Theatre Arts department and ended as an assistant vice president of Institutional Advancement for the college.
Her professional experience also includes time as the Artistic and Educational Outreach director of the Birmingham Children's Theatre.
"We are very lucky to have found Pat," said Matt Leonard, vice president of The Prizery, who led the search. "It took a year and national reach to make sure we had the right person.
"Pat brings the critical mix of organizational management, fund raising and development and the experience we need to build on the hard work and progress of our already dedicated staff and volunteers."
Rehab Development, a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based developer specializing in downtown Main Street revitalization, historic preservation and successful public/private partnership formation, has completed construction on New Brick Historic Lofts in South Boston, a project that included both state and federal historic tax credits.
Located at 701 Jefferson Avenue, New Brick Historic Lofts afford premier residential spaces in the heart of downtown South Boston. During construction, state of the art green building techniques were incorporated to provide a desirable environment for residents. The building features twenty seven apartments for lease, fourteen of which are spacious two bedrooms, two bath townhouse lofts. The remaining thirteen units are beautiful one bedroom, one to one and a half bath flats.
"This project was a lot of fun. We believe the effort of the entire project team, at every level, shines through when you walk through this building," said Patrick Reilly, Principal at Rehab Development. "The original constructors of this building should be commended for their fine work all those years ago, as well as the Town of South Boston's leadership for their vision and support. We look forward to continuing to work on buildings in the area and helping preserve more of the incredible architectural history of Halifax County."
On March 3, the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification & Community Revitalization Commission will host a session to provide information and answer questions about its Research & Development Grant Program. These R&D grants focus on the target sectors of energy, biomedical and health care, information technology services, chemicals and materials, and clean energy & environment.For more information click here