Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe visited Crozet Oct. 6 to announce that Perrone Robotics, which has established its headquarters on the former Barnes Lumber Co. site, will spend $3.8 million to expand and create 127 jobs. The tech company is a leader in the development of autonomous—driverless—cars.
Joining McAuliffe for the occasion were Fifth District Congressman Tom Garrett, 25th District Delegate Steve Landes, Todd Haymore, the state’s Secretary of Commerce and Trade, and White Hall District Supervisor Ann Mallek, as well as other county officials.
“We believe we are creating the future,” said Perrone Robotics marketing director Dave Hofert, who opened the announcement program.
The governor said that under his administration 1,027 new business projects valued at $17.5 billion and generating 215,000 jobs have been announced. His visit came the day after Facebook announced it will build a new data center in Henrico County.
McAuliffe noted that Virginia’s unemployment rate is now 3.8 percent, the third lowest in the U.S.
McAuliffe thanked Paul Perrone, who lives in White Hall, for keeping his business in Virginia after getting relocation offers from California, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
In his remarks Perrone said that it’s been 12 years since the company competed in a Defense Advance Research Projects Agency robotic car challenge in 2006 that held out a $2 million dollar prize to the autonomous vehicle that could best navigate the Mojave Desert. Perrone’s car was in the competition until a closing railroad crossing gate, which the car did not stop for, knocked it out of the game. Perrone’s was one of 40 teams invited from some 400 that were eligible.
“We’re working today with large manufacturers to get autonomous vehicles in every garage,” he said. “A huge quantum leap is required. Huge investments are being made. We are pleased to do this in Virginia. Our area is a prime location for developing autonomous vehicles. It makes working here truly idyllic. The opportunity for growth is truly exhilarating. Trillion dollar stakes are at hand.” Perrone noted that the firm has recently had a capital infusion from Intel Corporation.
“The Crozet area has been working on the ‘new economy’ from about the 1800s. We have a wonderful history,” said Mallek, who also recounted a field trip she took with her summer science students to visit Perrone’s company. “We want to provide places for our locally grown businesses to grow and thrive.”
Congressman Garrett quipped, “If Paul gets this autonomous vehicle right, we can all take more advantage of our wineries and breweries. A light shines today from Crozet that lights the direction of the future.”
Landes said, “I want to thank the Governor. Economic development and education are something we [Democrats and Republicans] can work on together.” He thanked Perrone “for being an entrepreneur and for the opportunities you provide for others. When I first started representing Crozet it was a sleepy village. Now it’s becoming an economic hub. Maybe someday we’ll be a mini-Silicon Valley. This research really is cutting edge.”
McAuliffe, Haymore and Perrone took a tour of the company’s test track in a robot car. Perrone had arranged for a person dressed in a bear costume to emerge from the side of the road, and when it happened the car detected the unexpected figure at the shoulder and stopped. McAuliffe was duly impressed.
“When you have a business like this, it draws other businesses,” said McAuliffe. He said the effect of Facebook’s announcement was that it promptly drew the notice of other companies to Virginia.