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Living and working on Main Street USA: Our Neighbor Austin Stromme



“It’s not about who you know,” declared Austin Stromme. “It’s about how people know you. I’ve always thought that was interesting because if you have good relations with people, you can get pretty far.”

Twenty-two-year-old Austin Stromme is doing his best to be a successful member of the business community in Pulaski. He is a member of what someone once dubbed “The Tribe,” a group of young entrepreneurs who are involved in various business ventures in town. These businesses include West Main Development, Kethanos Properties, Next Level VR, MOVA Technologies and Aggregate Capital.

Austin Stromme has a quick smile and an easy going manner, but he’s no slacker.

He works as the Property Manager for Kethanos Properties LLC, which is comprised of a dozen single family homes most of which are in Pulaski.

“I manage all of those,” he explained. “I show the house. Manage the tenant requests. I also do the West Main property. I manage the three commercial spaces and four apartments for West Main Development.”

He and another member of the Tribe, Luke Allison, have recently started a new company called Aggregate Capital.

“We’re aiming to be like a rural America revitalization company,” says Stromme of this latest endeavor.

Stromme also has a hand in making things happen at MOVA Technologies, which seeks to revolutionize the way pollutants are extracted from the air.

And just this week, he took a position as the newest board member for Pulaski On Main, which aims to revitalize downtown Pulaski.

Austin Stromme was born in Alabama but grew up in Christiansburg. There he played point guard on the varsity basketball team. He worked as a cashier in high school at both Lowe’s and Food Lion. It was during working hours at Food Lion that Austin met a fellow who would have a big effect on his life.

“I made a thing of talking to everyone who came through my line and Steve (Critchfield) asked me what I wanted to do after high school,” Stromme recounted.

“I wanted to be a sports physician because I really love sports,” said Austin. “But then I got introduced to a bunch of things that Steve was involved in with Pulaski and the revitalization projects.”

Critchfield owns West Main Development and was in the beginning stages of a renovation project involving two buildings on that street. Critchfield offered Stromme part time work answering phones and doing odd jobs at West Main.

Stromme graduated from Christiansburg High School in 2016 and briefly attended NRCC while living in Christiansburg with a friend.

He moved to Radford and picked up more part-time work as a cook at the Hyatt in Blacksburg. His daily commute involved driving from Radford to Blacksburg back to Radford then on to Pulaski before returning again to Radford.

Critchfield then offered Stromme full time employment as a property manager for Kethanos Properties and he eagerly accepted. Stromme then considered his living situation.

“I got tired of having people above me screaming and drinking at 10 a.m.,” said Stromme. “After talking with Steve, I drank the Pulaski Kool-Aid. My lease ran out in Radford and these apartments had just been finished.”

Stromme decided to move into the newly renovated apartments located on the upper floor of West Main Development at 29 West Main Street. Kethanos Properties is also located there, as is MOVA Technologies.

In addition to working as Property Manager for Kethanos, Stromme worked as a project manager at West Main Development for the renovations then occurring at 94 West Main, which is now the home of Next Level VR. Stromme also worked as project manager for the renovation of the building across the street at 87 and 89 West Main.

“I was meeting with the architects and meeting with the contractors and being the middle person between the owner (Critchfield) and the builders and people from VHDA and the lenders that we had,” said Stromme. “Trying to make sure all the pieces are where they’re supposed to be at any given time was really what I was doing.”

It was through his experience as a project manager for these buildings that Stromme and Luke Allison decided to form Aggregate Capital.

“It’s like a developer,” said Stromme. “We can help these local projects that are around 2, 3, or 4 million dollars or less and get historical tax credits to renovate dilapidated spaces. What Luke and I want to do is make people more aware that there are state programs to help you get money. There are tax credits to help you fix old buildings just sitting there not being used.”

Stromme refers to the accumulation of these state grants and tax credits as capital stacking. West Main Development was awarded $450,000 in tax credits for the renovation work on those two historic buildings on West Main Street.

“If you pay these syndicators in Richmond to buy the tax credits from you, it’s going to cost two to three hundred thousand dollars across the board, no matter how big the project is,” Stromme explained. “Paying somebody half that money didn’t make sense.”

Instead of hiring a syndicator, Stromme and company attempted to sell these tax credits directly to a bank. They were successful in this and instead of paying a syndicate, West Main received 84 cents on the dollar for their tax credits.

“That’s how we came up with the idea,” said Stromme. “We did this for Steve and his project, so why not create some kind of company doing this? They use these programs all the time in northern Virginia but in Southwest Virginia and rural Virginia, they’re pretty unaware about how these things work.”

Stromme will apply his talents as a project manager and capital stacker in West Main Development’s next big renovation at 37 West Main Street. This building was most recently the home of 1st Pawn and plans are now in the works to turn the bottom floor into a retail space for several small businesses. The top floor will be renovated into seven separate apartments, all with deck space in the back, which will overlook Peak Creek.

Austin Stromme’s tendency to chat up the customers while working as a cashier has paid major dividends.

“When I first started this I was 17 at Food Lion,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot more than I ever thought I would. Nothing is actually hard. It’s just new. Like algebra. You think ‘Wow, this is really hard,’ because you don’t know how to do it. But after learning about it, it becomes easy. It took a lot of time but that’s why I like being a part of this group. We have a dozen guys involved. For a while I was the youngest guy. Luke was the next oldest. He’s 28 and I’ll be 23 on July 29.”

Though Austin Stromme likes his apartment and his commute to work, he’s decided that he would like to buy a house.

“I like the direction that Pulaski is going,” he said. “I’ve even seen it in the property values. The housing market in Pulaski right now is just … it’s going crazy. Every time I see a house in my price range it’s gone in like 48 hours. I mean, they’ll have a contract on it in a couple of days.”

When not working, Austin Stromme plays basketball at the “Radford Rec” or at the YMCA. He also like hiking when he can find a companion and lately he’s found a new way to exercise.

“Last Year Luke and I got into lifting weights,” said Stromme. “I was 135 pounds soaking wet when we started and now I’m like 160. I love to work out and lift as of recently. I’m also a huge sports fan. Love football and basketball. I love to watch basketball and football.”

In any case, Luke plans to stay in Pulaski for the foreseeable future.

Stromme was considering furthering his education, but has since reconsidered … at least for now.

“I really like being in Pulaski,” he said. “It’s not far from anywhere. Hop on interstate and go to Roanoke or Christiansburg or take Route 11 and go to the gym. “I was going to transfer to Virginia Tech starting in Spring semester but with COVID … I’m not going to pay a ridiculous tuition to go there and say I went online and not meet anybody. Getting a college degree can be important but the direction I’m going right now and the people I’m meeting and the connections I’m making … I’m getting the education now and still trying to make some money.”

That sounds like a pretty good plan.



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