Volvo Trucks Worker

Volvo Trucks, Pulaski County


The word is out that Pulaski County is a “center for international business,” says Jonathan Sweet, administrator for the western Virginia county. Among the 33,000 people who call Pulaski County home is a large community of expatriates hailing from countries around the world. 

“We have a diverse foreign population here because we are home to so many international companies,” Sweet said. “We’re a melting pot of diversity and we love it.”

Sweden-based Volvo Group has had a sizable impact on that melting pot. Expats from Sweden, Belgium, and Brazil support Volvo’s local workforce of 3,600 people. Since rolling its first trucks off its production line in the town of Dublin in 1982, the manufacturer has grown to become the largest private employer in the New River Valley.

What started as a final assembly plant producing 20 trucks a day is now a fully integrated factory, performing welding, painting, and final assembly for all Volvo trucks produced for the North American market. In 2023, Volvo produced more than 32,000 heavy-duty trucks, said Koen Knippenberg, vice president and general manager for Volvo Group’s New River Valley operations. 

A wealth of local resources helped prompt Volvo to select its Dublin plant as the site for a significant expansion in 2019. The $400 million investment prepared the plant to produce a fully reimagined Volvo VNL on a platform that will serve as the basis for all upcoming Volvo Trucks technologies. It also marked Volvo’s biggest investment in a single plant and established Dublin as the company’s largest truck manufacturing site in the world.

Volvo Trucks Worker

Volvo Trucks, Pulaski County


As a center for Volvo’s future vehicle development, connectivity is essential for the Dublin plant. “To give you an idea of the magnitude of material that has to arrive here daily, we need around 200 trailers of it a day,” Knippenberg said. A location near the intersections of Interstates 81 and 77, in conjunction with the port of entry at the New River Valley Airport, simplifies the process of importing materials from global suppliers.

In addition to Volvo, foreign direct investment in Pulaski County includes companies as diverse as Mexican baking giant Bimbo Bakeries, Canadian and Mexican vegetable grower Red Sun Farms, German candlemakers GALA GROUP, and Irish building product manufacturer James Hardie. Even that list undersells the impact of foreign direct investment in the community — Colombian packaging manufacturer Grupo Phoenix selected Pulaski County for its headquarters in 2010 and expanded that facility twice over the next few years, although the company has since been sold to Pennsylvania-based TekniPlex.

Red Sun Farms Puts Down Roots in Dublin

The geographic advantages Knippenberg alluded to helped narrow the field of potential locations when Red Sun Farms was evaluating U.S. locations for expanding its high-tech greenhouse operations in 2013. The tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers grown and distributed from its Dublin greenhouse are sent to retailers and foodservice providers from South Carolina up through Pennsylvania. The location also provides proximity to certain key supplies, such as corrugate and fertilizers. 

“Our logistics and connectivity to locally and regionally owned enterprises and OEMs, along with our supply chain, create a lot of opportunity for foreign companies to come to Pulaski County and access business opportunities,” Sweet said.

Red Sun Farms Worker

Red Sun Farms, Pulaski County


Yet it was community support that truly made Pulaski stand out, according to Carlos Visconti, CEO of Red Sun Farms. “What pushed Dublin out in front was the level of enthusiasm and cooperation from the local community and authorities,” he said.

For Sweet, that’s just part of doing business in Pulaski County. “We listen to what the business community needs and what our prospects need and we try to solve their problems,” he said.

Our logistics and connectivity to locally and regionally owned enterprises and OEMs, along with our supply chain, create a lot of opportunity for foreign companies to come to Pulaski County and access business opportunities.

Jonathan Sweet County Administrator, Pulaski County

Today, Red Sun employs more than 80 people in its greenhouse and distribution center in Dublin, and its skilled workforce has become another leading advantage of its Virginia site. As Visconti put it, the company found early on that there was a limited existing agriculture workforce on which it could draw. However, the county’s robust resources helped the Canadian company equip employees with the specialized skillsets needed to operate a high-tech controlled environment.

“Red Sun Farms has taken advantage of our proximity to Virginia Tech to recruit interns from their agriculture technology students,” Visconti said. Virginia Tech — home to the country’s 10th-best agriculture program, according to College Factual — and Radford University are both less than 30 miles from the Pulaski County lines, providing companies with access to a tremendous depth of workforce development and research capabilities.

The high-tech greenhouse has also worked with New River Valley Community College (NRCC) and career technical education centers at local high schools to tailor training opportunities. To craft these various programs of study, Red Sun’s leadership team in Dublin has served on educational advisory boards on subjects including innovations in agriculture, agriculture and applied economics, and business and industry leadership, among others.

Community Partnerships Create Workforce Synergies

For Sweet, “NRCC is Pulaski County’s biggest asset when it comes to workforce training programs.” The school offers certificates in mechatronics, machine operations, advanced manufacturing, and industrial maintenance to support manufacturers in the region. Sweet pointed out that the school’s location near the county’s industrial center adds to the ease and convenience of accessing the customized training programs the community college develops. 

Volvo has taken a similar approach to workforce development. The company attracts interns and graduates from Virginia Tech and Radford University each year. However, its demand for specialized skillsets has also pushed the company to connect with students through middle and high school career forums, building awareness about the range of skills needed to support advanced manufacturing. It has also hosted middle and high schoolers participating in the FIRST Tech Challenge, where student teams design, build, and program robots with which to compete against other teams. Events like this provide an opportunity for students to see and get excited about real-world applications for robotics. This interest is then further fueled through NRCC’s advanced manufacturing and skilled trades program.

Red Sun Farm Worker

Red Sun Farms, Pulaski County


Now, with the new VNL platform taking off, Knippenberg says that the plant is planning to expand hiring this year. And it’s because the new full-bodied line is fully automated that the plant has greater need than ever for skilled tradespeople. Automation has fueled the need for people able to operate and maintain this advanced equipment. 

Some of those people may come from offices around the world. But as Volvo, Red Sun, and the rest of Pulaski’s international employers have found, the county offers more than a strong business ecosystem. It’s a welcoming community and recreation-rich home. 

“We’ve got a diverse offering of places to live and things to do,” Sweet said. He added, “Many of these international employees value outdoor recreation and we have an abundance of it, so we often hear that it feels like home when they’re here.”

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