Virginia's southwestern Piedmont area is the northernmost extension of the Piedmont Manufacturing Belt. This industrial zone, a dynamic belt of small- and medium-sized manufacturing cities, sprawls across the Piedmont from northern Georgia to Lynchburg. Although the western edge of this industrial zone in the rest of the South corresponds closely with the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Virginia's case the river gaps cut in the Blue Ridge by the James and Roanoke rivers have helped to shape the state's transportation corridors and have allowed the industrial development of the Piedmont to spill west beyond the Blue Ridge.
Therefore, it is appropriate to add Roanoke and several adjacent cities in the Southern Valley to the zone. The whole Virginia region, appropriately called the Southern Piedmont-Valley Industrial Zone, includes planning districts 4, 5, 11, 12. The region is home to almost 850,000 people, 14 percent of the state's 1988 (provisional) population.
A wide variety of products are manufactured in the cities and counties of this region, but most employment derives from the manufacture of textiles, apparel, shoes, and furniture. Chemicals, primary and fabricated metals, electrical machinery, and food processing are secondary specializations. In total, this region employs more than 112,000 manufacturing workers, about 29 percent of the state's labor force in manufacturing.
Lynchburg and Roanoke are the two largest metropolitan areas in the region. While metropolitan Lynchburg's specialties are electrical machinery and primary and fabricated metals, all manufacturing categories important to the zone are located in the Lynchburg MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area). Roanoke, by comparison, is a more diversified city.
Despite a larger population--223,700 in the Roanoke MSA and 145,700 in the Lynchburg MSA--the Roanoke MSA has 3,000 fewer manufacturing employees than Lynchburg. Instead, Roanoke is more specialized in transportation, communications, trade, and services. This partly reflects Roanoke's evolution as a railroad city and the city's geographic situation at the crossroads of two major transportation corridors; the north-south I-81 corridor through the Shenandoah Valley and Route 460 east to Lynchburg and the Richmond Region. Roanoke is in a better position than Lynchburg to capture wholesale and retail trade from all of the Southern Valley and from Southwest Virginia.
To the south of Roanoke and Lynchburg is the Danville-Martinsville complex. These two cities are only thirty miles apart, and together with their surrounding counties of Henry and Pittsylvania, they are home to 185,000 people--39,000 more people than in metropolitan Lynchburg.
Approximately 38,700 manufacturing employees work in these four cities and counties--a remarkable figure in comparison to population size. Thus, the urban-industrial core of Virginia's Southern Piedmont-Valley Industrial Zone is best thought of as centered not simply along the Lynchburg-Roanoke axis, but rather as centered about a triangle whose three points are Danville-Martinsville, Roanoke, and Lynchburg.
In addition to manufacturing, this region also has important agricultural and forestry production. Pittsylvania is one of the six Virginia counties with the largest agricultural production, as measured in terms of value; and the Valley counties of the region produce a variety of livestock products and crops, especially tobacco. Because of the importance of the furniture industry as well as forestry production, the region's Planning District 12 is dependent on the forest products industry for one-third of its base employment, the largest proportion of dependence among all of the state's planning districts.