City Manager's Blog

Learn about the City of Roanoke from the City Manager's point of view.

Aug 20

A Plan Coming Together

Posted on August 20, 2019 at 2:03 PM by Melinda Mayo

A couple of weeks ago, an article ran in The Roanoke Times that exemplified an aspect of our economic development that so many here have worked to nurture.  A collaboration involving entrepreneurs, federal agencies, city government, the community college, a technology council, and others.

The Opportunity 

Micro Harmonics is an area firm that manufactures Faraday rotation isolators (I won’t even begin to try to explain what they are!) at their facility in Fincastle.  They have received significant funding from NASA to further develop their technology.  The owners, a brother-and-sister team, are successful scientists, marketers, and business people.  The technology is used for a number of purposes, but holds great promise with 5G and even 6G technology.  They are seeking opportunities to expand the business and attract outside investment.

The Accelerator

Micro Harmonics is one of six firms participating in RAMP (Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program), housed in the City-owned former Gill Memorial Building located in Roanoke's Innovation Corridor. RAMP is designed to provide existing businesses the opportunity to accelerate their success through intense education and training, partnerships with mentors, and access to capital.  The current cohort, RAMP’s third, includes (in addition to Micro Harmonics) firms engaged in soil testing, collegiate sports ticket sales, blockchain technology, and technology solutions for entities interacting with clientele with cognitive disabilities.  RAMP is led by Dr. Mary Guy Miller through the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council.  Experts from throughout the region provide education and training with a curriculum developed and overseen by faculty from Virginia Western Community College and Virginia Tech.  Further support and mentoring come from individuals and businesses throughout the region.

The Pipeline

Perhaps most exciting about the Micro Harmonics example is not only its presence in RAMP, but its reliance on yet another local program for much of its staffing—the Virginia Western 
mechatronics program.  The mechatronics program is a part of Virginia Western’s School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and equips area residents with the skills needed for work as an engineering technician in fields as diverse as medicine, logistics, and manufacturing.  This field holds great promise and is part of the reason Virginia Western is expanding their facilities with the new STEM Building nearing completion on their Colonial Avenue campus.  There are even elements of this program available through Goodwill Industries of the Valleys at their job campus on Melrose Avenue in Roanoke.

All the Pieces

It’s pretty amazing to see how training opportunities with the local community college provide equipped technicians for an area business that has secured a series of federal grants. This is accelerating opportunity through participation in a collaborative effort at business mentoring and networking—all in an effort to advance a small business in one of the most promising technology-based growth sectors!  I might not be able to explain what a Faraday rotation isolator does but I do know when I see a plan come together, and what we have going on over at RAMP and Virginia Western is just that!

--Bob Cowell

Aug 12

Something Special

Posted on August 12, 2019 at 2:33 PM by Melinda Mayo

I had a couple of experiences last week that reminded me just how special Roanoke is, and that what we have going on here should not be taken too casually.  

Excellent Partners

I was part of a small group of economic development and technologically minded folks who traveled to Lynchburg and met with some of the same there.  The purpose of the meeting was to talk about how the regions—in this case the New River Valley, the Roanoke Valley, and Lynchburg (in State economic terms, lovingly referred to as the Go Virginia Region 2)—might partner more often to advance regional economic activities.  As the conversation progressed and we spoke of the partnerships we have in place here in Roanoke, I realized just how special the relationship is that we have with Virginia Tech and the Virginia Tech Foundation.  This partnership, which stretches back years, has included such diverse initiatives as the redevelopment of Hotel Roanoke and joint operation of the Conference Center, a school of medicine, and a world-class research institute.  We are indeed fortunate to have this partnership and the investments the University continues to make in our community.

Many Hands

I also had a visit from an out-of-state researcher who came to find out what we are doing in the area of addressing health outcomes, information he will use to write a book on this subject.  He left, in his words, “astonished and nearly speechless, his faith in the ability of people to come together and work for a common good restored.”  While here, he was able to see the collaborations that have yielded responses to access to health care, affordable and safe housing, homelessness, access to fresh produce, early childhood reading, opioid use, and much more.  During this visit, he learned how dozens upon dozens of partners have come together and collectively worked to address these issues.  He saw the impact made by those as large as Carilion Clinic and as small as an individual volunteering their time at the Rescue Mission where, not too long ago, they themselves had resided.

Making it Happen

In each of these situations I was reminded how this community and its members, big and small, many and few, come together to seize opportunities and tackle challenges.  I was reminded how comfortable folks are here with assuming leadership roles in some instances and then a supporting role in another— not much drama, not much silo building.  I was reminded that we are not a monetarily wealthy community, which requires us to be creative in how we stretch resources and leverage efforts.  Most importantly, I was reminded that in many places this is not the norm, that communities miss opportunities and find themselves unable to address issues because they just haven’t figured out the best way to get things done. We have!  And for that I am grateful and amazed each and every day in this wonderful city.

— Bob Cowell 

Aug 05


Posted on August 5, 2019 at 4:39 PM by Melinda Mayo

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Dumas Hotel Legacy Ball, an event designed to celebrate what the Dumas Hotel meant to our community, and to remind us of the contributions made by members of our African-American community and the legacy they helped build.  This caused me to think about legacies and wonder what future our community is building today.

Legacy of Education

So much of the future of our community and our residents is shaped by education.  A legacy of success for our children depends greatly on their ability to learn, especially in the fields of science and technology.  Interestingly though, research has shown that to succeed in science and technology—the realm of numbers and experiments—one must be able to read well.  It is for this reason that our community has placed such an emphasis on early childhood reading through the Star City Reads initiative.  Ensuring by the time children enter the Third Grade they are reading proficiently is key to their future success as scientists, mathematicians, artists, and engineers. 

As important as early childhood learning is, so too is access to quality education at all age levels.  It is for this reason more tax revenue is invested in the public schools of Roanoke than any other funding category.  This investment has contributed to all our public schools being accredited, which in turn has led to increasing graduation rates and test scores regardless of where one lives.  It is this same focus that has led to the Community College Access Program, which makes college available for area high school graduates who do not have sufficient financial aid to pay tuition costs. Students who qualify for assistance can attend tuition-free at Virginia Western Community College for up to three years. This program has been a great asset in helping to ensure all students have access to education beyond high school.  These are but a part of the legacy of education we are forming.

Legacy of Arts and Culture

Arts and culture help make our City vibrant and enrich our lives.  Investments have, over the years, been made in world-class museums such as the Taubman Museum of Art, the O. Winston Link Museum, the History Museum of West Virginia, and the Science Museum of Western Virginia; as well as Jefferson Center with its Shaftman Performance Hall.  Not only do such places provide ready access to knowledge and entertainment, but in many instances they offer opportunities to dig deeper, allowing us to gain an even greater appreciation for something specific or even perhaps to learn something entirely new. 

The Historical Society’s upcoming “Fights for Freedom” bus tour is an example, as is the Taubman Summer Arts Program, the Music Lab at Jefferson Center, and the Robotics and Science Girls Camps offered by the Science Museum.  Places such as the Harrison Museum of African American Culture and the Virginia Museum of Transportation highlight both the great achievements and great struggles that have shaped our Star City.  Each of these, and the many other arts and cultural institutions present in our community, ensure a legacy of remembrance and creativity.

Legacy of Collaboration 

None of these examples happen without the collaboration of many individuals and organizations, and it is perhaps this spirit of collaboration that is the greatest legacy we could help shape and leave for those who will follow.  For it is through this collaboration that we will achieve the best and overcome the worst.  Collaboration has helped to ensure educational opportunities are available for all in our community, to get great museums built, and to see that wonderful programs are available; and it will be collaboration that will enable us to recognize the contributions made by those we have marginalized or discriminated against for so long. 

These are but some of the legacies we are building, some of what will continue to ensure Roanoke remains great many generations into the future!

-- Bob Cowell