Roanoke Regional Partnership Leveraging Outdoors to Build Region's Brand

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The Roanoke Regional Partnership, recognizing the outdoors as a way to attract jobs and economic development, is making some impressive gains to leverage the region's many outdoor amenities.

I think we'll be in better shape for attracting talent and investments.

The Roanoke Regional Partnership, recognizing the outdoors as a way to attract jobs and economic development, is making some impressive gains to leverage the region's many outdoor amenities.

Until recently, the organization, representing seven communities in Virginia and a population of 300,000, focused primarily on luring businesses with the region's low cost of living, convenient location, low utility rates, strong work ethic and other factors. In a recent shift, the Roanoke Regional Partnership also began emphasizing an asset that was literally outside but largely untapped.

In the process, it's leading the way in how an economic development organization is cataloguing, packaging and promoting the great outdoors as a marketing tool to attract workers and companies that value proximity to trails, lakes, rivers and greenways.

"When you mention Roanoke, the first thing people say is how beautiful it is here," says Beth Doughty, executive director of the Roanoke Regional Partnership. 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.

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

To better promote its outdoor assets and build the region as an outdoor destination, the Partnership created a new position, director of outdoor branding. In just the first few months, this new emphasis has led to:

  • Creation of a vibrant and growing online community through social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/roanoke_outside) to connect outdoor enthusiasts.
  • Cataloguing and mapping of the region's hiking trails, fishing spots, canoe and kayaking put-ins, bike routes, greenways, mountain bike trails and more.
  • Soon-to-launch new online directory, http://www.RoanokeOutside.com, about outdoor-related activities, businesses, and events; printable maps; outdoor-related calendar of events; and video and images.
  • An outdoor recreation guide to help hotels and bed-and-breakfasts direct guests outside.
  • An outdoor festival featuring the Banff Radical Reels adventure film tour on Sept. 30.
  • Announcement of the first Blue Ridge Marathon, a calf-cruncher set for April 24, 2010, that climbs to more than 3,500 feet above the Roanoke Valley to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • A weekly e-newsletter with more than 1,100 subscribers with tips and ideas to enjoy the region's outdoors.

"We've seen tremendous momentum from our efforts. I get the same response from everyone I meet and tell my story - a universal nod followed by 'this is so needed' and 'it's about time,' says Pete Eshelman, director of outdoor branding. "I've received e-mails from local outdoor stores and outfitters commenting that they've experienced the buzz. The outdoors plays a vital role in attracting young professionals, businesses and visitors. The outdoors and environment are important to them and they want to know what opportunities and amenities are available to them. We've finally been able to do something about it."

When business prospects visit, Doughty adds, "After 'hello,' the first thing they say is, 'It's beautiful here.' They ask about bike paths and water sports most importantly," she says. "But to some extent, it's right in front of them. They can see right away the depth of the outdoors opportunities in this market.

"If the Roanoke region becomes Virginia's best place to have a life and have fun outdoors," Doughty concludes, "I think we'll be in better shape for attracting talent and investments."

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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