RICHMOND -- Think of Virginia's billion-dollar vacation industry and most people see beaches, mountain resorts and historical sites -- not almond pound cake or nuclear fuel rods.
"The kids love it," said Cameron Foster, marketing and research director for Rowena's Wonderful Jam & Jelly Factory in downtown Norfolk, where the pound cake is a favorite treat at the end of the factory tour. Rowena's is one of about a dozen Virginia industries that offer public tours to travelers looking for something different to spice up their vacations.
Another is the B&W Fuel Co. of Lynchburg, where groups that set up an appointment can spend two hours seeing how nuclear fuel rods are put together. It's not dangerous, either, said plant manager Richard Alto, because radiation levels are low.
Earlier this month, the state released a new publication listing those tours and others designed primarily for business executives. The "Directory of Technical Tour Opportunities in Virginia" from the state Division of Tourism resulted primarily from foreign groups' requests for study tours, said Sue Brinkerhoff Bland, the division's media relations manager.
The 27-page publication includes listings of available tour sites in the fields of agriculture, communications, education, finance, health care, manufacturing, real estate development, retail trade, transportation and utilities, plus sightseeing opportunities.
It is not intended primarily for vacationers. A large segment of the directory is printed in Japanese for corporate visitors from that country, and not every company listed is open to public tours.
Patti May, a spokeswoman for the Rocco Inc. poultry processing plant near Harrisonburg in the Shenandoah Valley, said tours can be arranged for student groups or business executives. But the company does not consider itself a tourist attraction, she said.
However, many of the places listed in the publication offer tours to the general public, either on a daily basis or with advance booking.
Alto said the nuclear fuel plant has been visited by a wide range of organizations, including school and church groups. "We really haven't been that selective" in arranging tours, he said.
Foster said Rowena's, which prefers to set up tours ahead of time, gets about 1,000 people a year for a half-hour in the kitchen filled with the sweet smells of jams and baked goods. At the end of the tour, visitors get a free sample to taste and, naturally, a chance to buy more.
The hot days of summer have made Williamsburg's Anheuser-Busch brewery, next to the Busch Gardens theme park, one of the state's most popular industrial tours.
James Gay, manager of the brewery's hospitality center, said the plant drew 563,540 visitors last year. About three-fourths of them came from Busch Gardens to see the start-to-finish process of making beer -- and to get a cold sample in the hospitality room.
Another popular industrial stop for tourists is the Philip Morris cigarette manufacturing plant in Richmond. The plant, home of Marlboro and other major cigarette brands, lies along Interstate 95, a heavily traveled north-south thoroughfare on the East Coast. Philip Morris tours are advertised on billboards along the highway.
According to spokeswoman Judith Jones, the Philip Morris plant gets about 50,000 visitors a year for a trip by motorized cart through the cigarette processing area and a look at historical exhibits related to the company and the tobacco industry.
"We don't try to convert anyone" to smoking, she said. "Our purpose is to show that we're a class act and we're proud of it."