The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 42

and Spain had the basement. Pretty soon the basement gave way to a 600-square-foot building, then
multiple expansions in the 1960s and ultimately to
the 45,000-square foot space that MCDI occupies in
Salem today.
The idea was to start a custom machine shop that
led to a spin-off-Medeco Locks, which was sold in
the 1980s. More recently, MDCI spun off a small
sister shop next door, which has one customer. The
company is now run by a second generation of Powells with a third generation (John Powell and JP Jr.)
waiting in the wings. The eccentric genius (JP Jr.'s
description) sold out long ago.
Today, MDCI is a buzzing factory with millions of
dollars worth of machinery-making machinery inside
and 25 highly-skilled employees running them (some
as many as three machines). That number is significantly down from the 120 workers of the 1970s, but
not for the reasons you might expect: automation
has cost employee numbers, but promoted intense efficiency. Mechanical Development sells its expertise to
a wide range of customers, most of whom do not have
machine shops because it would not be cost effective
to do that in-house.
Some of the operators, says John Jr., are in their
60s in a profession that has been called "dying" for
years. John Jr. notes the recent retirement of legendary machinist Bob Cole at 80. MDCI trains its operators because the work is specialized, but occasionally
a local trade school (Danville Tech, for example) will
send a dandy over, as it did recently. He still had to
be trained specifically, but his foundation was solid,
says the junior Powell.
MDCI has "35 to 50 regular customers," says Powell Jr., few of them with a lot of work to do, but

there is enough work consistently for the company
to have seen considerable growth in recent years, says
Powell Sr.
The younger Powell was asked a few years ago to
join the company (he'd "grown up in the back shop,"
when his uncle Walter Daniel was in the management
mix, but had earned a law degree and had just started
practice). He replaced Walter's son, Lin, who died at
47. Powell Sr., 61, took over the company in 2007,
having worked there since 1982. The law degree, says
John Jr., who is 36, "helps any business. It requires a
strong basis in critical thinking."
MDCI has had to evolve over the years and John
Sr. notes a time when "there was an auction about
every week of a machine shop going down the tubes."
But the company found a niche, bought machines,
produced with great efficiency and thrived. John Sr.
says the intention is and always has been "to remain
a small, family business," and yes, both Powells can
run the machines.
The challenge is still finding good employees when
they are needed. John Sr. insists "we pay better than
the average lawyer" earns, but students tend to avoid
trade schools because of the image. "Until recently,
training in this area [of Virginia] was not good." That
seems to be changing and that's good for MDCI.

OPTICAL CABLE CORPORATION
OCC has been such a pillar of strength and corporate
virtue in this region for the past 15 years, so it is easy to
forget what a hot mess it was in 2001 when the board
finally had enough and fired founder and CEO Bob
Kopstein, an eccentric genius if ever there was one.
The company came through that near-fatal stock
problem pretty severely bruised, but with enough

MDCI's John Powell Jr.
and Sr.

"The company found
a niche, bought
machines, produced
with great efficiency
and thrived."
42 | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2017

THEROANOKER.COM


http://www.THEROANOKER.COM

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Roanoker - January/February 2017

Front Cover
Letters/Worth a Click
From the Editor
Lunch With . . .
Streets of Roanoke
The Gist
Events
25 Great Things in Roanoke, 2016
Five National Best-Selling Authors Right Here?
Making it in Roanoke
The “From-Scratch” Bullington Home
Blue Apron, La Petite Fondue: Two for Distinctive Dining
The Dish
SPECIAL SECTION: Valley Life
SPECIAL SECTION: The Menu Dining Guide
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - Intro
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - Cover1
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - Cover2
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 3
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 4
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 5
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 6
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 7
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 8
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 9
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - Letters/Worth a Click
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 11
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - From the Editor
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 13
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - Lunch With . . .
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 15
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - Streets of Roanoke
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 17
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - The Gist
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 19
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 20
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 21
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - Events
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 23
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 24
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 25
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 26
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 25 Great Things in Roanoke, 2016
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 28
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 29
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 30
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 31
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 32
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 33
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - Five National Best-Selling Authors Right Here?
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 35
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 36
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 37
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - Making it in Roanoke
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 39
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 40
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 41
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 42
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 43
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - The “From-Scratch” Bullington Home
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 45
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 46
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 47
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 48
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 49
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 50
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - SPECIAL SECTION: Valley Life
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL2
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL3
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL4
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL5
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL6
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL7
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL8
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL9
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL10
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL11
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL12
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL13
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL14
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL15
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL16
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL17
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL18
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL19
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL20
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL21
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL22
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL23
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL24
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL25
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL26
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL27
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL28
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL29
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL30
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL31
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL32
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL33
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL34
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL35
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL36
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL37
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL38
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL39
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL40
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL41
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL42
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL43
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL44
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL45
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL46
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL47
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL48
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL49
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL50
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL51
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL52
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL53
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL54
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL55
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL56
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL57
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL58
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL59
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL60
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL61
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL62
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL63
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL64
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL65
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL66
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL67
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - VL68
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 51
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 52
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 53
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 54
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 55
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - Blue Apron, La Petite Fondue: Two for Distinctive Dining
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 57
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 58
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 59
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 60
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 61
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 62
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 63
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 64
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 65
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - The Dish
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - Cover3
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - Cover4
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - SPECIAL SECTION: The Menu Dining Guide
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M2
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M3
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M4
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M5
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M6
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M7
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M8
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M9
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M10
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M11
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M12
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M13
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M14
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M15
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M16
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M17
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M18
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M19
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M20
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M21
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M22
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M23
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M24
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M25
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M26
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M27
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M28
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M29
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M30
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M31
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M32
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M33
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M34
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M35
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M36
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M37
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M38
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M39
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M40
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M41
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M42
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M43
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M44
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M45
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M46
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M47
The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - M48
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