Roanoke Regional Partnership Redefining Economic Development

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Outdoor amenities, social media supplementing traditional efforts to attract investment, people to Virginia region

Then there's the philosophy that if you attract people first jobs will follow when companies seek talent or those here will build their own businesses. We've developed a hybrid model for 21st century economic development that does both -- attracting investment and talent.

The Roanoke Regional Partnership is redefining economic development by promoting the area's outdoor assets and using social media to attract both investment and people.

While the organization, representing seven communities in Virginia and a population of 300,000, continues to lure businesses with the region's low cost of living, convenient location, low utility rates, strong work ethic and other factors, the Roanoke Regional Partnership (http://www.Roanoke.org) also has added a different approach.

"Typically, economic development has been about getting companies to invest in big boxes where people make or do things," says Beth Doughty, executive director. "Then there's the philosophy that if you attract people first jobs will follow when companies seek talent or those here will build their own businesses. We've developed a hybrid model for 21st century economic development that does both -- attracting investment and talent."

For 25 years, the Roanoke Regional Partnership has practiced a traditional business recruitment model focusing on industry. That has led to $1.3 billion in investment and more than 13,000 jobs created.

"Now, in our 26th year, we don't just talk to corporate site selectors. We also talk to people who can work from anywhere and people looking for a great place to live first and looking for a job follows," Doughty says. "This model is based on economic development research that shows that jobs follow people in greater quantity than large numbers of people following jobs."

To supplement business recruitment, the organization has added retail recruitment, image building and asset development to raise the visibility of the region.

"We don't have a bad image - we have no image," Doughty says. "People don't know we're here."

To combat that notion, the Partnership redesigned its Web site (http://www.roanoke.org) to tell a 360-degree story about working, living and playing in the region. To complement its online efforts, the Partnership was one of the first U.S. economic development organizations to launch a Facebook page, YouTube channel and Wikipedia strategy. It also uses Twitter to connect with people and has quickly gained more than 400 followers.

The Partnership also employs search-engine optimization and marketing and media outreach to tell the story.

"When you mention Roanoke, the first thing people say is how beautiful it is here," Doughty says. The region is bordered by the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains, with the Appalachian Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway, Smith Mountain Lake, Jefferson and George Washington National Forests, and James River within minutes of urban amenities.

"But we've overlooked the potential of our natural amenities as an economic engine. Not only does that outdoor culture create a vibe that attracts people; it's an economic sector in itself," Doughty says.

To leverage its outdoor assets the Partnership created a new position, director of outdoor branding. "Our first order is to catalogue, package and promote these amenities," Doughty says. "If we communicate effectively, talent and investment will want to be associated with the Roanoke outdoors brand."

A new online directory, http://www.RoanokeOutside.com, is in the works to connect people with outdoor-related activities, businesses, and events; printable maps; outdoor-related calendar of events; and video and images. It will also be a conduit for dialogue about the region's outdoors, with links to existing social media channels.

"We work to attract advanced manufacturing -- why not attract the kind of companies that will give us an outdoor recreation-related economy?" Doughty asks.

About the Roanoke Regional Partnership

The Roanoke Regional Partnership was founded in 1983 as a regional economic development organization for the greater Roanoke area that includes Alleghany, Botetourt, Franklin and Roanoke counties plus the cities of Roanoke and Salem and the town of Vinton. Its program of work includes image building, asset development, and business recruitment. The Partnership has been involved in business locations and expansions that have created more than 13,600 jobs and $1.3 billion in investment in real estate and equipment. To learn more, please visit http://www.Roanoke.org.

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