Here’s a roundup of news briefs from around Southwest and Southside. Send yours for possible inclusion to

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PRA Group to close Danville call center, affecting 123 employees

A Norfolk-based debt-collection firm will close its Danville call center effective Oct. 20, impacting 123 workers.

PRA Group notified employees Tuesday that the company will consolidate its collection activities across other locations.

Affected employees in Danville will be considered for open positions elsewhere, the company said in a statement.

The publicly traded PRA Group describes itself as “one of the largest acquirers of nonperforming loans in the world” with operations in 18 countries.

It opened its Danville center, its third location in Virginia, in June 2020 after purchasing and refurbishing a building in Airside Industrial Park.

“As a global financial services company, we understand the need to stay at the forefront of enhancing the customer experience and to further improve our overall performance,” the company said in its statement. “We are grateful for the contributions the entire Danville team has made to our business over the past three years, and we recognize the impact this will have on them and their families.”

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Rail equipment manufacturer to expand in Salem

A rail equipment manufacturer will expand its operations in Salem with a $2.7 million investment, the governor’s office announced Wednesday.

Wabtech Corp., which currently employs more than 200 people in Salem, will expand its existing Graham-White facility to accommodate the relocation of its pneumatically controlled braking systems manufacturing lines, according to a news release. The expansion will add 38 jobs.

It’s not clear where these manufacturing lines are currently located, or what the company’s expansion timeline is. A company spokesperson did not respond to an email Wednesday seeking more information.

The Salem plant currently manufactures air dryers, valves, gauges/flowmeters and braking equipment for rail freight, rail transit, truck and bus industry customers, the release said.

Virginia competed with Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Mexico for the project, according to the release.

The city of Salem, the Roanoke Regional Partnership, the Greater Roanoke Workforce Development Board and the Center for Manufacturing Excellence in SWVA will provide programs to support the expansion, including talent recruitment, marketing assistance and workforce training, the release said.

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New scholarship fund will help Hampton Roads students attend rural colleges

A new scholarship fund has been established for Hampton Roads students attending rural private colleges in Virginia.

The S. Frank Blocker Jr. Memorial Scholarship will honor Norfolk native Frank Blocker. The money will be distributed by the Commonwealth Alliance of Rural Colleges, a nonprofit where Blocker once served on the board of directors. 

The alliance works to expand access to higher education through scholarships, grants and other financial support to its six member schools: Appalachian School of Law, Averett University, Bluefield University, Christendom College, Eastern Mennonite University and Ferrum College.

The scholarship is expected to be rolled out in 2024 for eligible students, who must be graduating from a Hampton Roads high school.

“Our support benefits students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college, and we are excited to now offer a scholarship for Hampton Roads students to cross the state and attend our rural institutions,” Elizabeth Povar, chair of the alliance’s board, said in a statement.

In the greater Hampton Roads area, almost half of adults over 25 have a high school diploma or some college experience but don’t hold a college degree. The region has seven cities, including Norfolk, Newport News, Hampton and Virginia Beach. 

About 45% of the students enrolled in the Alliance’s member schools are first-generation college students, and nearly half are eligible for federal Pell grants, which are awarded on a sliding scale based on financial need. Nationwide, one-third of undergraduate students are eligible.   

The memorial scholarship will be available alongside federal financial aid and aid programs specific to member colleges. Bluefield University in Tazewell County offers a discounted tuition rate for Virginia residents. Ferrum College, meanwhile, offers free tuition to applicants from households with incomes of less than $50,000. 

Alliance President Carthan Currin said the Blocker scholarship is one of the largest grants the organization has received.  Since its inception in 1965, the Alliance has disbursed over $26 million to support students and programming at its member schools.

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New director named for Mount Rogers Health District

The Virginia Department of Health has named a new health director for the Mount Rogers Health District.

Meagan Helmick joined the Health Department in 2020 and most recently served as its southwest region deputy epidemiologist and was responsible for overseeing COVID-19 responsibilities and other epidemiological activities for Southwest Virginia.

Before joining the department, Helmick taught undergraduate and graduate public health and health sciences courses as an assistant professor at Radford University Carilion. She currently serves as an adjunct public health professor at Old Dominion University.

Helmick obtained her bachelor of science and her master of public health degrees from Liberty University. She earned her doctorate in health promotion research and disease prevention from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. 

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UVA Wise launches online program for community college grads to complete 4-year business degree

The University of Virginia’s College at Wise is introducing a new online program designed for working adults to finish their bachelor of science degree in business administration and management in two years or less.

The program is open to students who already hold an associate degree. Advisors will help students stay on track, and the program’s online classes are offered year-round, according to a news release from the college.

Within the program, students need to complete 20 classes, an equivalent of 60 hours of additional course work, to get their business administration degree. They must compete 12 required courses, which include accounting, micro- and macroeconomic principles and principles of finance.