The Center for Economic and Community Engagement developed a five-year strategic plan for Roanoke County’s Economic Development Department, providing recommendations to advance the county’s economy and help them recover post-pandemic.

Center staff completed secondary and primary data collection, conducted focus group sessions and interviews, and distributed surveys to gain an understanding of community needs.

 “I love doing the interview portion of any project because it gives me the opportunity to learn about a community from someone else’s eyes and hear their perspective and opinions,” said economic development specialist Ashley Posthumus, who co-led the project with associate director Scott Tate. “Even if you’re familiar with an area, you never really know the ins and outs of everything. We had twelve interviews from a variety of stakeholders. They gave some great feedback and ideas on how Roanoke County can develop in the future.”

Some of Roanoke County’s strengths discussed in the interviews include its outdoor recreation opportunities, such as Explore Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Appalachian Trail. Roanoke County also has thriving medical and research facilities and a high quality of life with a vibrant downtown, close-knit communities, a strong school system, and low cost of labor and living.

“The CECE team was great to work with throughout Roanoke County’s strategic planning process,” said Jill Loope, the director of Roanoke County’s Department of Economic Development. “Their professionalism and guidance was invaluable in analyzing demographic data, communicating the county’s economic position, facilitating public input and identifying relevant strategies that will help guide the county’s actions and investments to yield future results.”

As the community recovers from the effects of the pandemic, Roanoke County’s business retention and expansion program has also been a highly praised asset.

“Through the pandemic, Roanoke County’s Business Retention and Expansion program’s work was among the best in region,” said a stakeholder in an interview.

 “I am grateful for the opportunity I had to support our team and Roanoke County in their efforts to plan and foster future economic progress with intentionality,” said Anna Nagorniuk, project specialist for the center. “Stakeholders throughout the process agreed resoundingly that the county enjoys a high quality of life. It’s great to be able to support the county and Jill Loope in matching those strengths with actionable ways to address changing workforce trends, business needs, and talent retention issues.”

Some of the challenges Roanoke County faces in the future include a lack of large developable property, limited housing stock, and young people leaving the region in search of other opportunities.

“It’s important that the Roanoke County Economic Development Department coordinates with the Roanoke Regional Partnership and higher education institutions to make sure they’re working together to retain talent because that’s what will help boost their population,” said Posthumus.

“One of the strategies in the plan is understanding what young professionals, and just people in general, love about the area, such as the natural amenities. By lifting up those assets in marketing materials they can raise awareness of what the region offers, encouraging people to stay in the region or attracting people outside of the county,” she said.

Improving transportation options was also mentioned in surveys. While Roanoke County is well connected with highway, rail, and air transport, some areas lack walkability features and multi-modal access.

Some infrastructure focus group participants mentioned that it is important to make sure that all Roanoke County residents have access to broadband, as some rural areas of the county are underserved or unserved by telecommunications, which poses difficulties for those who want to work or learn remotely. All five focus groups agreed an opportunity in the region is its promising environment for remote work. Participants suggested that Roanoke County think about creating a branding effort to capture their employers’ flexibility and work-life balance.

Roanoke County’s Department of Economic Development will present the strategic plan to their board of supervisors, who will then decide when they would like to adopt the plan.

You can read the strategic plan here.

Written by Julia Kell