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Feb 25

[ARCHIVED] Hitting Above Our Weight

The original item was published from February 25, 2020 9:54 AM to February 25, 2020 9:58 AM

“Punching above their weight” is a reference used in boxing when a lighter-weight boxer defeats a heavier-weight boxer—illustrating an accomplishment beyond what would be expected.  So it often is in Roanoke. Our City continues to provide experiences that exceed expectations, whether it be a visiting dignitary, the research coming from the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, or an art exhibit. Last week we had two such occurrences. 

The first was hosted by Roanoke College with the visit of Washington Post columnist and acclaimed author David Ignatius. The second was provided by RAMP, the region’s innovation and businesses accelerator, with the visit of Michael Vonesh, who leads the innovation work group for W.L. Gore and Associates.

Can We Be Civil?

Roanoke College, through its Henry Fowler lecture series, has brought Presidents, United Nations Ambassadors, Supreme Court Justices, and other political and thought leaders to our area.  Henry Fowler was born and educated in Roanoke before earning his law degree at Yale. Fowler went on to lead the legal team with the Tennessee Valley Authority and later served in the Treasury Department under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, the latter as Secretary of the Treasury.  His family has long provided generous financial support to Roanoke College to host speakers not often heard at small colleges in small cities. 

The most recent speaker, David Ignatius, spoke on the state of discourse in our Nation, bemoaning the vitriol so often found in politics today.  Though deeply concerned about the future, he held out hope, highlighting a recent trip where he accompanied a contingency of Congressmen to a national-security-related conference held in Germany, where away from the bombard of reporter questions and Twitter feeds, they engaged in collegial conversations and bipartisan ideation about things that really matter.

Ignatius especially highlighted the need for consumers of news to be diligent in knowing their sources and that the bar has been raised for all levels of media to seek real facts and make real contributions to what is needed to promote engagement and knowledge.  His was an enlightening and surprisingly optimistic presentation.

Innovative to Succeed

RAMP, the region’s innovation and business accelerator, and the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council, the region’s tech-oriented business association, held a dinner with speaker Michael Vonesh.  Vonesh leads W.L. Gore and Associates innovation efforts, a pretty big deal for the company that invented Gore-Tex!  Perhaps even more significant is that Vonesh was here in Roanoke speaking at the invitation of faculty at Virginia Western Community College who serve as instructors at RAMP and also as consultants for Michael at W.L. Gore and Associates! 

Vonesh shared the significance of innovation in advancing business interests, as well as making meaningful changes in people’s lives, citing the work done by his team on medical devices.  Many of Vonesh’s points aligned with the varied efforts underway in our community in the areas of advanced manufacturing, technology, and certainly bio-medical research and healthcare. 

These are just the latest such events that continue to display how often Roanoke and the region are able to hit above their weight.  These types of events are two strong examples of what a special place we live and work in, and provide continued hope for a bright future.

— Bob Cowell