Roanoke has long been a place associated with transport and visitors. The Great Wagon Road and the Wilderness Road saw some of the earliest settlers and founders of our Nation explore the Roanoke Valley long ago. Beginning in the late 1800s, the railroads moved freight and people through Roanoke and, more recently, thousands travel to and through the Roanoke area every day on I-81, including visitors who come from afar to tour the Blue Ridge Parkway. While Roanoke’s presence continues to gain a higher profile in our country, people may not be aware of just how connected to the world Roanoke has become.
A New Home
For the past several decades, Roanoke has become home for refugees from conflict-torn areas throughout the world. More than 7,000 people from places such as Vietnam, Myanmar, Burundi, and Somalia have found safety here in Roanoke, where they are offered assistance with housing, health care, education, English language training, and job skills development. Most importantly they are offered a new opportunity – a place to be safe and to start a new life filled with hope rather than the fear they previously lived with. As a result, Roanoke is a place where dozens of languages are heard, restaurants offering varied ethnic food choices can be found – especially along Williamson Road – and great celebrations like the annual Local Colors Festival are held.
For decades, Roanoke has participated in the Sisters Cities International network and has formal relationships with seven cities from China, South Korea, France, Mexico, Poland, Russia, and Kenya. Most recently this program saw a visit from the Mayor of Saint-Lo France, in part to continue the decade’s long commemoration of the city’s liberation by American forces – many of them from Virginia during the D-Day campaign. This program also includes exchanges of medical students in association with the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, the sharing of internationally-inspired art and food, and various other celebrations of our connections.
Global Economy Locally Connected
We have all heard that we live in a global economy and that is as true here in Roanoke as anywhere. The Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute located in Roanoke’s Innovation Corridor houses researchers and research teams that come from all across the Globe and can be found presenting their findings in such diverse locations as Stockholm, Sweden and Hue, Vietnam. Companies like Harkness Screens and Eldor Automotive are examples of large international businesses selling products made here in the Roanoke area to countries throughout the world. In addition to these large global companies there are smaller locally based businesses engaged in international trade in perhaps some surprising ways. There is Tree Fairfax that sells leather goods internationally both on-line and in stores located in Europe and Asia. There is American BioSystems that produces nutritional supplements for agricultural operations in the United States, Asia, and the Middle East. And there are, of course, the many farms and orchards that have for many years exported products and goods throughout the world. There is no question that the Roanoke economy is tied to the global economy and increasingly businesses based here are playing a much more active role in that economy.
The presence of individuals, families, students, visitors, and businesses from throughout the world is something to celebrate. Roanoke is fortunate to have this diversity, which makes our community a stronger place – a more competitive place. Seeing people who have different backgrounds, hearing languages spoken other than English, working in markets outside of the United States, and collaborating with international partners regardless of what nation they may reside in, all make us a better place and better people.
In September we have another opportunity to celebrate our global connections. The week of September 14-23, 2018 will be recognized as Welcoming Week here in Roanoke – a part of a national movement to celebrate diversity and to demonstrate how America has, and continues to, welcome the world. Welcoming Week in Roanoke includes a number of events and opportunities for you to join in the celebration. You are encouraged to visit the website, follow the events on Facebook and Twitter, or email our Office of Citizen Engagement for additional information. Help us demonstrate how Roanoke Welcomes the world!
- Bob Cowell