Roanoke Gears up to Recruit Young Talent

Experience Leadership is a Roanoke program aimed at recruiting and retaining talent. photo credit: Roanoke Times

The Roanoke Valley is making the leap from thinking about economic development as recruiting corporate investment to recruiting skilled and educated workers. As the national economy continues to grow, the main bottleneck to regional growth is the availability of a workforce with the skills that employers are looking for. Reports the Roanoke Times:

The Roanoke Regional Partnership, an economic development organization, has made a concerted effort to recruit talent to the region. After collaborating with its eight localities, the business community, tourism officials, colleges and universities, and professional organizations such as the regional chambers and Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council, the partnership is developing new and creative ways to recruit talent, ranging from new college graduates to professionals with several years of experience.

Roanoke employers are offering summer internships, organizing networking events for young people, and trying to create workplace cultures that offer more relaxed dress codes, gourmet coffee machines, office beer taps, and more vacation days in the hope of appealing to young people.

In a related initiative, the Roanoke Regional Partnership launched Roanoke Outside several years ago to help brand the region as a place for outdoors enthusiasts. “That,” says the newspaper, “combined with a low cost of living, safe neighborhoods and new breweries and restaurants and transportation options, all can be used as economic development tools help to attract talent.”

Bacon’s bottom line: This is all a really good start. The Roanoke region has a lot to offer. I loved living there some 30+ years ago, and the only reason I left was to pursue journalism opportunities that a small metro couldn’t provide. Western Virginia is a beautiful part of the country and offers tremendous outdoor recreation options. It makes sense to identify the region’s strengths and market them to young people.

A critical challenge will be building a talent pipeline from nearby universities, particularly Virginia Tech. All other things being equal (which, sadly, they rarely are), college grads like to live near their alma mater and their network of college friends.

Another strategy, not alluded to in the article, is to identify the public amenities that young people are looking for (biking trails, mass transit, Tiny homes, coffee bars, music festivals, whatever) and mobilize the community to provide them.

Any effort to recruit and retain young people must be tempered with the sober realization that any small metro suffers a competitive disadvantage in the labor marketplace. Talent tends to migrate to big metros with large, deep labor pools that offer a wider array of employment opportunities. But that’s no reason not to try. Many smaller metros around the country have proven they can succeed. Roanoke has what it takes to be one of them.

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7 responses to “Roanoke Gears up to Recruit Young Talent”

  1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    The relatively new VaTech—Carillion Medical School/Research Center should help draw talent.

  2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Look for Roanoke to explode in population, economic growth, and prosperity. At last the mix of ingredients are fully in place, and stars aligned, to fuel it all.

    One central driver of Roanoke’s renaissance, among many, will be Virginia Tech’s dynamic foothold in Northern Virginia. Its new tech center will be right next to, and a vibrant and critical partner with, Amazon’s HQ2, along with many, if not most, of the satellites that fall into the obits of Amazon and Va. Tech’s center next door. This cross pollination between Va. Tech north & south, between Roanoke, and Amazon HQ2, and their satellites, will be a multi-faceted magic that generates enormous economic power on many levels.

    So Roanoke is only one anchor, the other is its extension into Amazon’s HQ2’s Northern Virginia. And both will be tied together, supplemented, and also fueled by, the Shenandoah Valley’s emerging inland empire that links the two via I-81, and fills in the Valley with its own vibrant new towns along its length.

    Here too, among these emergent wheelhouses, the link of power will be local, regional, and national, tying together the America’s North East, Northwest, Middle Atlantic and South, allowing each to feed, sustained and fuel, one another. Suddenly Roanoke, like long ago, is at the center of, and critical link in, the commercial action up and down the East Coast. Think transport, storage, assembly, light manufacture, high tech, revived towns, linked together up and down the Shenandoah Valley. How many ways these will built one upon another? The sky’s the limit with America’s new economy. These historic inland places will emerge like a phoenix, into Va.’s growth area for the next 60 years at least.

    1. Reed, I hope you’re right. And I hope you’ll continue to elaborate upon your observations about the future of the Shenandoah Valley.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Thanks, Jim. Only now are we beginning to see the full genius, scope, and power of the Amazon deal, how it was so wisely put together and so well by Virginia, including those in Richmond.

        What an accomplishment in the making. This is where much of Virginia’s future lies, vibrant commerce, exceptional governance, on all levels, state, regional, local.

    2. Acbar Avatar

      Reed, I second JB’s remark, “I hope you’re right.” Northern Virginia already has a robust tech community with good employment opportunities in the field, and Amazon HQ2 plus Virginia Tech’s new campus up here will certainly attract transfers from Blacksburg to take courses up here. But will they head back south to a place like Roanoke after graduation? I think the answer could be yes if there is good employment available. You give a lot of reasons why Roanoke ought to be taking off commercially and it’s a saner and cheaper yet somewhat urban alternative to DC; maybe that’s enough to attract tech employers, who in turn will attract tech employees, who seek a critical mass of people like themselves. Chicken and egg. But without the employers I don’t see it.

  3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    I’ve only been to Roanoke a couple of times and then not for a long time. But growing businesses outside the DMV (WDC) makes a lot of sense. Metro D.C. is traffic hell and it’s not going to get much better. MWCOG did a study a few years ago showing that, even if every transportation improvement in the constrained long range plan was built, commuting times would still be worse. Real estate taxes continue to rise faster than income. If you don’t need to be at the federal trough or try to deal with regulation or legislation, why be here?

  4. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Its about the job opportunities. We left Roanoke about the same time you did, Jim, in my case to get into politics, which meant a move to the Holy City. At that point it had been my home for almost 20 years (1967-86). Having been gone 33 years (wow) I won’t try to guess the tone now, but back then the jurisdictional divisions and rivalries were holding the region back. If there is more of a regional spirit, perhaps including the New River Valley, that will help. May head out there in a couple of weeks and check it out. It was a wonderful place to grow up myself, to have a young family. But I still think the people they seek will not come looking for a job, but only if they’ve found one.

    Some people there could be very provincial, though. My Dad came back there from the USAF, but many never understood he had been living in Roanoke before being called back to service in Korea. He was seen as an outsider by many in the 1970s, hilarious since I could take people to various buildings he had designed while at Tech or while working in town for a design firm after Tech in the late 40s. Perhaps you don’t need three uninterrupted generations in town to be accepted now?

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