Highground Services winner of statewide competition

Published 10:11 am Thursday, September 8, 2011

CHARLOTTESVILLE—A Franklin company was one of five winners in a statewide competition that highlights the most resilient businesses in economically challenged parts of Virginia.

Highground Services was among 88 businesses to apply for the University of Virginia Darden School of Business second annual Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards. As the winner of the Service Sector, company personnel will be enrolled in an Executive Education course at Darden valued at $8,000 to $12,000.

“It is an overwhelming honor for Darden and the Tayloe Murphy Center to select us as a Resilience Award winner,” said Rose Warren, chief executive officer of Highground Services.

“These winners represent resilience in the classic sense of the word — in the face of some daunting challenges, they have bent but not broken, adapted, and become stronger for their efforts,” said Greg Fairchild, executive director of the Tayloe Murphy Center.

When Highground’s top customer and the largest employer in Franklin — International Paper — announced it was closing and laying off 1,100 workers in 2009, it was a blow to the fledgling company.

“Our company was establishing itself when our largest customer announced they were shutting down,” Warren said. “Not only was this devastating for our community and friends, it was potentially devastating to our new business.”

When the closure was announced, the mill represented 50 percent of Highground’s business.

“Rather than seeing the event as life giving us a lemon, we decided to make lemonade,” Warren said. “We hired many of the displaced workers, and used their talents to expand our business in ways that we could not have imagined.”

The engineering and consulting firm hired 24 IP employees, which helped form relationships with new customers. The firm bolstered its ability to seek government contracts by locating in an area underutilized by businesses.

“We have seen Highground Services take off and grow in spite of the enormous difficulties faced by our area,” said Jim Strozier, the company’s co-founder and chief operating officer. “We have turned monumental obstacles into amazing opportunities, and to have the Tayloe Murphy Center at the Darden School of Business recognize us for our efforts is especially gratifying.”

Highground Services grew from four to 35 employees in four years and was named the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2010 Business of the Year.