Today we started a series of programs on Economic and Community Development presented by three local government administrators. First up was Thomas C. Gates Roanoke County Administrator.
Mr. Gates provided us with a brief but comprehensive overview of Roanoke County and regional activities related to economic and community development. He noted that Administrators utilize both short and long term strategies to improve the quality of life for the citizens of our region. The traditional solution to economic development in years past was to attract large businesses through tax and other incentives, the Big Box approach. New approaches, which the club has learned of in recent programs, have augmented and helped to bring about a more multi faceted and successful economic development plan for the Roanoke Valley region.
The Roanoke Valley is a mixture of urban city, small town, and rural environments. Mr. Gates commented on the high level of regional cooperation which he has found since taking office in 2014. The Roanoke Valley Greenways initiative was a first step. The Roanoke Regional Partnership‘s embraced the intrinsic beauty and natural resources of our area. This led to Roanoke Outside being an example of how we have been successfully “re-branding” our region. Lovely landscapes, lack of traffic congestion, low cost of living, good educational systems and more all lend to make our area attractive to live. And to establish businesses.
The partnering of Carilion Health Systems and VA Tech has created the core of an economic industrial sector that when combined with the growing success promoting our quality of life bodes well for our region. Recent decisions by business’s outside our region to locate their expansion here reflect the success of this multi-faceted approach to economic development.
Mr. Gates stated that “governments are better at creating infrastructure than creating markets”. The Greenways are an example. So too is the first acquisition by the Western Virginia Regional Industrial Facility Authority (WVRIFA) of 106 acres along Wood Haven Road in Roanoke County. A recent passing of state law enables local governments to partner in acquiring land for economic development purpose and then share the tax revenue generated by the eventual users. Roanoke County, Roanoke and Salem jointly acquired approximately 106 acres along Interstate 81, near Exit 143, to help fill the need for larger development sites in the Roanoke Valley.
“The City of Salem and the City of Roanoke have difficulty identifying large acreage for development within our boundaries,” said Jane Johnson, Salem City Council member. “But this location, so close to our localities, means economic interaction and benefit extend to us all. It is a great opportunity for Salem to generate revenue from a project it could not otherwise accommodate.”
Another example offered by Mr. Gates is the change of ownership of Tanglewood Mall which “is a fantastic opportunity to work together (with new owners) during a critical time of transition for the Tanglewood Mall property and the 419 Town Center planning effort.”
We look forward to the next in this series of programs on these important topics for our region. We hope the next speakers will corroborate and expand on Mr. Gates instructive comments to the club. We expect they will.