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.There are currently no comments highlighted.