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Mar 04

[ARCHIVED] Developing Our Local Economy

The original item was published from February 25, 2019 10:45 AM to January 1, 2020 12:00 AM

Tucked in next to the Church Avenue Parking Garage and across the street from Texas Tavern exists a small office, housing a city department not many may be familiar with, but one that has great impact on much of what happens in the city related to its economic success.  This week’s post will focus on this small but mighty group.

Located at 117 Church Ave. SW, the Department of Economic Development is a small operation that, in partnership with others in the region, works every day to identify opportunities for economic expansion in our community and seeks to aid businesses located here.  The department focuses its attention in a few vital areas—attraction, retention, and expansion; development; and entrepreneurship.  In each of these areas it is assisted by partners including the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Roanoke Regional Partnership, Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, and others.  It is further assisted in carrying out its mission by the Roanoke Economic Development Authority, a Council-appointed body that assists with the city’s incentive programs including the Enterprise Zone and Facade Improvement Program.

Attracting Others to Roanoke 

If one gives any thought to local economic development, it is often to the attraction aspect—the efforts that are captured on the evening news and front pages of newspapers.  These efforts have included the recently announced Mast General Store, Deschutes Brewery, and others.  For some time these efforts have been regional in scope and therefore include such recent projects as Eldor Automotive in Botetourt County and Stik-Pak Solutions in Franklin County.  These activities are important because they are vital in the growth of our overall economy, bringing interests, jobs, and funding from outside of our area.

Dance With the One that Brought You

The less often celebrated, but in many ways even more critical, efforts relate to business retention and expansion.  Most new jobs and most new dollars invested in our community are from businesses already located here.  The expansion and growth of businesses such as Power School, Orvis, Atlantic Finance, and many others fall into this category.  In this area, the staff of the Economic Development Department frequent existing businesses to determine how they may help with expansion or retention of existing jobs.  Very often, the staff provides ombudsman services for the business, connecting them to resources and helping them through permitting or other regulatory processes.

Helping Get Stuff Built

Product development is another area the staff gets involved with.  At times this has included getting infrastructure extended such as street construction underway in the Blue Hills Industrial Park; starting up an entirely new business park, such as with Wood Haven in Roanoke County; or facilitating redevelopment such as in downtown or along the City’s Innovation Corridor.  Most often these efforts involve staff orchestrating a dizzying array of partners, funding mechanisms, grants, and much more.

Starting Something New

Another focus area for the staff is helping get new businesses off the ground and accelerating their success.  Support of such entities as the CoLab in Grandin Village and RAMP in the Innovation Corridor are a part of this effort, along with efforts such as the Mayor’s Small Business Summits, supporting grand openings, ribbon cuttings, etc.  For the past few years, staff has especially paid attention to opportunities surrounding biomedical research and the burgeoning tech opportunities in the community.  This has most recently become the responsibility of a specific cluster within the department focused on innovation.

Opportunity for All

Increasingly, the staff has turned a part of its attention to economic inclusion, with a specific cluster focused on ways to create opportunities for area youth, small businesses, and others to secure employment and opportunity within the growing economic sectors within our region.  This has resulted in summer youth employment programs, internships and apprenticeships, workforce development, training, and other efforts.  It is critical to the success of our region that all who live here have access to the opportunity to succeed to the fullest of their potential and the staff in Economic Development are doing their part to see to it.

So if ever you should find yourself at the Texas Tavern or parking in the Church Street Parking Garage and you want to see one of the most dedicated small groups of city employees plugging away to make Roanoke a better place to live, learn, work, and invest, then stop in and visit the staff of the Economic Development Department.  They are always looking for a way to help and are always ready to share how Roanoke is ready to help you and your business succeed!

—Bob Cowell