You are viewing this page on a small screen or mobile device. Viewing on a larger screen is recommended for best navigation.

Resilient Economy 

Vision: In 2040, Roanoke’s economy will continue its sustainable growth through the recruitment of diverse industries, revitalization of underperforming commercial spaces, support for small and local businesses, and its continued partnerships with strong regional and national players. 

Our economy will be one that builds on a strong collaboration between private businesses, non-profits, local government, and educational partners in order to develop a strong, skilled workforce across all ages, skill levels, and backgrounds that meets current and future employment needs and provides for good paying jobs. These critical stakeholders will value, support, and celebrate each other’s successes.


Introduction

A key measure of prosperity is opportunity; Roanoke’s residents should have opportunities for meaningful careers at all skill levels and for good wages. Roanoke’s economy is driven primarily through private enterprise but the City has a role in creating an environment for growth. While private employers make decisions for location and growth within our region, there are ways the City can positively influence these decision makers. This theme provides a set of priorities, policies, and actions that stakeholders, including the City, can implement to achieve positive economic growth that benefits all citizens.

Background

Roanoke is an ideal place to live, work, play, and do business. As the Southwestern Virginia Region’s economic hub, Roanoke draws many advantages from its economic, cultural, and social gravity. As businesses discover Roanoke’s unique combination of scenic outdoors, low cost of living, outstanding amenities, and a business friendly environment, there are actions that need to be taken in order to ensure a strong economic future.

As technological advancements accelerate, economies around the world compete to keep pace and so must Roanoke. In a rapidly changing world, we can no longer rely on the same models that got us here. In the few years leading up to this planning process, Norfolk and Southern, which employed hundreds of people from across our region, announced that it would move high-paying jobs from our area. Advance Auto Parts, a home grown company that was a major local employer, expanded operations into other markets. Public and private institutions across Virginia are experiencing the effects of the state fiscal issues. In addition, formerly reliable sources of local tax revenue, including the sales tax, appear to be in decline (in the case of the sales tax, due to seismic shifts happening in the retail sector as more sales are conducted online). As our need for proactive economic development grows, the landscape of economic development is shifting. With the ability to conduct business anywhere, through technological advances in remote working and virtual meetings, today’s economic development requires more than traditional development incentives like tax breaks and rebates. Quality of place is at the forefront of both businesses’ and workers’ minds as they decide where to locate.

In recognition of these challenges, this plan recommends policies organized among six key priorities to encourage an economy that supports all members of our community. In addition to traditional approaches like diversification, regional cooperation, and workforce development, this plan calls for work in the areas where economic development and community development goals intersect. This means redirecting support into small scale and local entrepreneurship and guiding new business development into existing commercial and industrial areas. The ideal is a model of economic diversity and innovation, where the benefits of local value-creation are realized locally, where jobs and goods and services are in, or near, our neighborhoods where they can use the infrastructure already in place.

Priority One: Promote Broad Diversity in the Economy

Diversity means resiliency to downturns in the global economy or disruptions in specific industries. Diversification means that if one business fails, the effect on the overall economy within the region is minimized; economic changes can have severe consequences for localities that “put too many eggs into one basket.”

During the 20th century, we saw neighboring localities experience the harsh realities of relying heavily on specific sectors of their economies (textiles, furniture, manufacturing, etc.). Roanoke was heavily reliant on the railroad, and the manufacturing sector employed half of all workers. Fortunately, the decline in manufacturing we experienced was more gradual, enabling some absorption of the impact. Manufacturing was progressively replaced by a strong service industry of professionals including healthcare, law offices, architecture firms, engineers, bankers, and insurance agencies. More recently, Roanoke has become a hub for innovation and technology, most specifically in the field of healthcare research through a partnership between Carillion Clinic and Virginia Tech. It is said that Roanoke has moved from trains to brains as a driver of the economy.

In addition to providing resilience, diversification helps support more varied business sectors. Large office buildings need office supplies, construction companies need lumberyards, and wholesalers, grocery stores need agricultural production and other home goods suppliers, etc. A diversified economy creates a sustainable cycle of economic activity where businesses continually feed off one another and grow as the entire economy grows.

The intent of the policies and actions below is to ensure success in recruiting and promoting business across many industry sectors.

Action Items:

  • Analyze the industry segmented location quotients of Roanoke and compare them to other economic centers of relative size
  • Create a Comprehensive Economic Development Plan that will work with regional partners to identify target industries and businesses, identify current best practices for recruitment, retention, and outline a strategy for their implementation
  • Explore new business location technologies, such as multimedia or map-based web services, that can easily provide information to the business and development community on available sites and developable areas
  • Designate a lead agency to coordinate programs, resources, and planning for development of technology businesses
  • Create a web site that promotes Roanoke to technology companies including information about available space, communication infrastructure, and links to other technology resources

Action Items:

  • Promote and market Roanoke’s cultural, historic, recreational, educational, transportation and environmental assets

Action Items:

  • Support co-locating facilities and incubator spaces that enable sharing of space and facilities to stimulate local business and entrepreneurship
  • Promote and Sponsor events or award competitions that encourage development of new technology, governance and engagement methods
  • Engage businesses to understand the support resources needed in order to expand operations and employment

Action Items:

  • Ensure transportation infrastructure is maintained to provide a high level of mobility to support business activity, such as efficient movement of both products and employees into and out of our region
  • Support the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport master plan
  • Develop competitive fiber-optic networks in the Region
  • Provide entrepreneurial support for small businesses
  • Support a business networking community

Action Items:

  • Allow for and encourage experimentation and innovation – including potential changes to City policies and practices – consistent with City goals and priorities of the Innovation Corridor, including development, sustainability, job creation, entrepreneurship,  and equity
  • Support innovative approaches to energy efficiency, parking, transportation, construction, and redevelopment
  • Support new development and redevelopment opportunities that align with and enhance the Innovation Corridor’s initiatives, including, housing, sustainable infrastructure, creation or preservation of green space, and job creation initiatives
  • Support Innovation Corridor approaches to energy, storm water management, parking management, and waste management

Priority Two: Establish Stronger Economic Ties to Our Regional Partners

Roanoke Region Map

Economic development is inherently a regional enterprise. The City of Roanoke is one of many active participants in the Roanoke Regional Partnership and an active member of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP). The Roanoke Region of the VEDP is in the midst of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains and serves as the transportation hub of the area, with an integrated interstate highway, rail, and air transportation network. The Roanoke metropolitan area serves as the medical center for the region and Southwest Virginia. Anchored by Carilion Clinic, one of the largest health care companies in Virginia and the region’s largest employer. The life science sector is one of Roanoke’s strongest clusters, and residents have access to leading-edge medical care.

Roanoke is also the cultural and recreational hub, boasting the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and museums like the renowned Taubman Museum of Art, Center in the Square in the midst of the open-air farmers’ market downtown, and the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

Map of Roanoke Region

More than 100,000 undergraduate and graduate students are educated each year from 25 higher education institutions located within an hour’s drive, including Virginia Tech, Roanoke College, and Virginia Western Community College. These education centers are important for the region as it looks to build up its workforce for the skills and technical expertise of tomorrow.

As a true recreation destination, Roanoke’s burgeoning outdoor industry thrives from assets such as the nearby Appalachian Trail, James River, Blue Ridge Parkway – the most visited national park in the U.S. – and Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia’s largest lake.

While the City is the main economic engine driving the region’s economy, regional benefits are derived through regional cooperation among the Valley’s local governments. In order for the Region to build on its economic successes, policies and actions have been recommended below in order to bolster the work that has already been done.

Action Items:

  • Support the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy framework of roles and responsibilities
  • Implement a customer relationship management tool to ensure development and maintenance of relationships with regional developers, brokers, site selectors and state and regional organizations
  • Host forums with developers, brokers and other target audiences in order to promote the region and discuss regional development strategy

Action Items:

  • Form stronger collaborative economic development partnerships involving leaders from both the public and private sectors that encourage companies, colleges, and secondary schools to work together
  • Support the informal regional and institutional networks, such as university alumni associations, to aid in facilitating knowledge transfer and networking opportunities

Action Items:

  • Identify areas for tourism, such as the Downtown Roanoke Tourism Zone, to provide incentives that attract investments and private companies in these areas
  • Support Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge’s efforts to attract additional conferences to the City
  • Work with Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge to support and promote local businesses in marketing efforts
  • Encourage development of Downtown lodging and construction of new hotels in order to support the growth of events, conferences, and tourism
    • Promote community events as economic opportunities and aspects of community identity

Priority Three: Conversion of Underperforming Commercial and Industrial Areas

As commercial and industrial developments around the City age and become obsolete, the City needs to be proactive in the redevelopment of the properties left behind. Market forces have not served the City well in some areas. As commercial and industrial enterprises fail or relocate, buildings are left unused or underused for years or decades. Disuse and abandonment, even for short periods of time, affect surrounding property values and drive other businesses away, creating entire neighborhoods of blight.

One issue to acknowledge is that Roanoke has a gross excess of commercial and industrial property. The fear of missing out on economic activity led many localities to zone too much land for commercial and industrial uses, and Roanoke was no exception. The oversupply manifests in land values that are so low that owners are not compelled to generate much, if any, income from the use of the property. Moreover, the way we tax real estate means that taxes are so low that carrying costs are negligible. The result is property that is occupied by passive uses like used car lots, junk yards, storage lots, bulk landscaping wholesalers, towing yards, wrecker yards, etc. These uses are often characterized by expanses of pavement or gravel with no runoff management, resulting in intense pressure on public storm water systems. These uses tend to be unsightly, generate little revenue or economic activity, and further devalue adjacent properties. Many even have the potential for environmental damage. Once in this cycle, these areas never seem to improve without intervention.

Neighborhood centers have not emerged despite identifying locations in neighborhood plans and establishing the zoning patterns to encourage them. The excess of commercial land inhibits development in the places we want to see growth.

Passive strategies–waiting and hoping for the market to generate renewal–simply have not worked. Some corridors and industrial centers have not improved appreciably over the past 50 years. This plan calls for a transition to a proactive program of policies that work together to create a more rational, successful, and sustainable business environment for Roanoke. This plan recommends a multi-dimensional approach of acquisition and renewal, restructuring our real estate tax rates, and thoughtful management of where and how we support business development.

Action Items:

  • Create partnerships with private redevelopment entities to plan and implement redevelopment strategies
  • Support development of a land bank and land trust to acquire and convert property to productive uses
  • Identify and approach landowners in underperforming commercial areas and pursue partnerships to facilitate redevelopment
  • Create an inventory of areas warranting acquisition and redevelopment during the neighborhood/area planning process
  • Use brownfields grants and other resources to clean up these sites if needed
  • Prioritize support for businesses identified as potential regional industry clusters
  • Implement an Opportunity Zone Strategy Plan and Prospectus

Action Items:

  • Explore real estate tax models that use land value or a combination of land and building values to promote smart growth tactics, prevent land speculation, discourage derelict properties, and encourage rehabilitation and redevelopment

Action Items:

  • Continue to encourage revitalization of commercial corridors through major streetscape improvements, landscaping, formal open spaces, and transportation network connectivity
  • Continue to accelerate redevelopment activity along commercial corridors through performance-based incentives such as, Job Creation Incentives, Rehabilitation Incentives, Demolition Assistance Program, Beautification Grants, ground breaking/grand opening ceremonies, and public announcements that allow our citizens to recognize the economic growth within the City
  • Emphasize Corridor Planning as part of the neighborhood planning process
  • Conduct regular reassessments of local enterprise zone designations and the package of incentives provided to maximize geographic impact and economic benefit
  • Locate trade schools, workforce  training centers, and other employment services within and adjacent to neighborhoods where they are needed
  • Create a toolkit for incentivizing redevelopment of failed commercial properties ripe for redevelopment

Action Items:

  • Remove the ability to request land consumptive, passive uses from the City’s commercial areas, particularly along commercial corridors
  • Encourage more neighborhood commercial zoning around targeted “village centers” that is compatible with the City of Roanoke’s character and vision
  • Examine parking requirements attached with zoning use classifications in order to reduce the amount of unused parking

Action Items:

  • Avoid adding to the oversupply of general commercial and industrial land and closely scrutinize land use requests that add to the supply of such zones
  • Revisit the individual purpose statements of the multiple-purpose Districts in the Zoning Ordinance

Priority Four: Local Business Development

When it comes to local economic benefit, not all business activity is created equal. Locally-owned and managed businesses have more community benefit because of how money cycles through the local economy due to multiplier effects. Nearly all of a local retailer’s economic activity stays local in the form of payroll and profits.  With a national retail chain, only the front line and supervisory payroll stays in the community.  The upper management payroll and all profits stream out of the community.  Furthermore, the purchasing power and predatory business practices of large retail chains has proven to be devastating for local economies and often fatal to small local businesses. Therefore, it is imperative for economic development to focus efforts toward spurring a renaissance of unique local businesses.

Action Items:

  • Provide special outreach and education for local business owners about resources including incentives, façade grants, partnership opportunities, etc.
  • Create a guidebook or website for small business owners with clear, simple explanations of how to navigate permitting, licensing, and regulatory processes, with relevant contact information
  • Favor local growth over recruitment efforts and incentives aimed toward drawing national or large-region chains
  • Work with strategic partners to create and enhance business networking programs, including regular roundtables for local businesses
  • Implement a robust business visitation program, complete with strategic goals and objectives, roles, responsibilities and performance metrics, for the specific purpose of encouraging local business growth
  • Support a strong year round local shopping campaign that encourages residents to shop in the City, particularly downtown, and highlights the opportunities, choices, and value of shopping locally
  • Encourage businesses to expand operations for import substitution efforts, manufacturing a vital resource locally, when possible, instead of importing

Action Items:

  • Prioritize or provide additional points for local businesses when contracting City purchasing agreements
  • Encourage purchases from both minority and women owned businesses in local government contracts

Action Items:

  • Provide details on available resources for business recovery and strive to provide the information in multiple languages
  • Use lessons learned to prepare for sudden disruptions due to a variety of causes

Priority Five: Align Economic Development with Workforce Development Systems

Better alignment between economic development and workforce development systems is critical to the future of our local economy. The economic development system is designed to encourage business and job growth, while the workforce development system works to ensure individuals have the education, skills, and training needed to obtain jobs. When the two systems are aligned, job seekers receive training and skill development that employers demand—resulting in higher wages and career advancement—and employers have access to a skilled workforce that enables growth and increased productivity. Beyond benefiting employees and employers, a functional and aligned system has economic benefits to the broader community.

Research indicates that regional economic growth is dependent upon human capital (development and attraction) and innovation. Some observers argue that the focus should be on policies aimed at the attraction and retention of educated workers, while others emphasize increased alignment of economic development and workforce development systems as a way to encourage the skilling up of local populations and the inclusion of populations left out of the traditional economy. The two are not mutually exclusive, nor is the call for greater alignment a new phenomenon. Below are some of the ways that the City can continue progressing toward the alignment of economic development and the local workforce development system.

Action Items:

  • Use cluster analysis to identify strengths and weaknesses within the region’s workforce
  • Use innovative strategies to develop and connect qualified talent with the specialized needs of employers
  • Work with the Roanoke Regional Partnership to connect young professionals and interns with emerging businesses to enhance recruitment efforts, skills, and knowledge in the City
  • Create “Centers of Excellence” where businesses and industry experts can collaborate with educators to become teachers and workforce training leaders
  • Facilitate cross-organizational projects to provide best practices for workforce training
  • Support training for those who have lost jobs due to automation, outsourcing, and other measures

Priority Six: Support Local Community Development

It is vital that the City continue to support community partners that provide programs and outreach to the community, especially to low-income neighborhoods. These programs exist to help support financial literacy, help fund affordable housing, and develop healthy food initiatives. These initiatives help to provide stability to low-income communities, which in turn, allows for greater economic mobility. In principle, if constituents are less occupied by where their next meal may come from, it could allow them the time and resources to open a new business or go back to school for a better paying job.

Action Items:

  • Provide funding to organizations as partners in providing critical community services
  • Expand business resources and partnerships with community organization to maximize the benefit of public funding
  • Support financial empowerment centers and other community financial education centers in the City

Introduction

A key measure of prosperity is opportunity; Roanoke’s residents should have opportunities for meaningful careers at all skill levels and for good wages. Roanoke’s economy is driven primarily through private enterprise but the City has a role in creating an environment for growth. While private employers make decisions for location and growth within our region, there are ways the City can positively influence these decision makers. This theme provides a set of priorities, policies, and actions that stakeholders, including the City, can implement to achieve positive economic growth that benefits all citizens.

Background

Roanoke is an ideal place to live, work, play, and do business. As the Southwestern Virginia Region’s economic hub, Roanoke draws many advantages from its economic, cultural, and social gravity. As businesses discover Roanoke’s unique combination of scenic outdoors, low cost of living, outstanding amenities, and a business friendly environment, there are actions that need to be taken in order to ensure a strong economic future.

As technological advancements accelerate, economies around the world compete to keep pace and so must Roanoke. In a rapidly changing world, we can no longer rely on the same models that got us here. In the few years leading up to this planning process, Norfolk and Southern, which employed hundreds of people from across our region, announced that it would move high-paying jobs from our area. Advance Auto Parts, a home grown company that was a major local employer, expanded operations into other markets. Public and private institutions across Virginia are experiencing the effects of the state fiscal issues. In addition, formerly reliable sources of local tax revenue, including the sales tax, appear to be in decline (in the case of the sales tax, due to seismic shifts happening in the retail sector as more sales are conducted online). As our need for proactive economic development grows, the landscape of economic development is shifting. With the ability to conduct business anywhere, through technological advances in remote working and virtual meetings, today’s economic development requires more than traditional development incentives like tax breaks and rebates. Quality of place is at the forefront of both businesses’ and workers’ minds as they decide where to locate.

In recognition of these challenges, this plan recommends policies organized among six key priorities to encourage an economy that supports all members of our community. In addition to traditional approaches like diversification, regional cooperation, and workforce development, this plan calls for work in the areas where economic development and community development goals intersect. This means redirecting support into small scale and local entrepreneurship and guiding new business development into existing commercial and industrial areas. The ideal is a model of economic diversity and innovation, where the benefits of local value-creation are realized locally, where jobs and goods and services are in, or near, our neighborhoods where they can use the infrastructure already in place.

Priority One: Promote Broad Diversity in the Economy

Diversity means resiliency to downturns in the global economy or disruptions in specific industries. Diversification means that if one business fails, the effect on the overall economy within the region is minimized; economic changes can have severe consequences for localities that “put too many eggs into one basket.”

During the 20th century, we saw neighboring localities experience the harsh realities of relying heavily on specific sectors of their economies (textiles, furniture, manufacturing, etc.). Roanoke was heavily reliant on the railroad, and the manufacturing sector employed half of all workers. Fortunately, the decline in manufacturing we experienced was more gradual, enabling some absorption of the impact. Manufacturing was progressively replaced by a strong service industry of professionals including healthcare, law offices, architecture firms, engineers, bankers, and insurance agencies. More recently, Roanoke has become a hub for innovation and technology, most specifically in the field of healthcare research through a partnership between Carillion Clinic and Virginia Tech. It is said that Roanoke has moved from trains to brains as a driver of the economy.

In addition to providing resilience, diversification helps support more varied business sectors. Large office buildings need office supplies, construction companies need lumberyards, and wholesalers, grocery stores need agricultural production and other home goods suppliers, etc. A diversified economy creates a sustainable cycle of economic activity where businesses continually feed off one another and grow as the entire economy grows.

The intent of the policies and actions below is to ensure success in recruiting and promoting business across many industry sectors.

Action Items:

  • Analyze the industry segmented location quotients of Roanoke and compare them to other economic centers of relative size
  • Create a Comprehensive Economic Development Plan that will work with regional partners to identify target industries and businesses, identify current best practices for recruitment, retention, and outline a strategy for their implementation
  • Explore new business location technologies, such as multimedia or map-based web services, that can easily provide information to the business and development community on available sites and developable areas
  • Designate a lead agency to coordinate programs, resources, and planning for development of technology businesses
  • Create a web site that promotes Roanoke to technology companies including information about available space, communication infrastructure, and links to other technology resources

Action Items:

  • Promote and market Roanoke’s cultural, historic, recreational, educational, transportation and environmental assets

Action Items:

  • Support co-locating facilities and incubator spaces that enable sharing of space and facilities to stimulate local business and entrepreneurship
  • Promote and Sponsor events or award competitions that encourage development of new technology, governance and engagement methods
  • Engage businesses to understand the support resources needed in order to expand operations and employment

Action Items:

  • Ensure transportation infrastructure is maintained to provide a high level of mobility to support business activity, such as efficient movement of both products and employees into and out of our region
  • Support the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport master plan
  • Develop competitive fiber-optic networks in the Region
  • Provide entrepreneurial support for small businesses
  • Support a business networking community

Action Items:

  • Allow for and encourage experimentation and innovation – including potential changes to City policies and practices – consistent with City goals and priorities of the Innovation Corridor, including development, sustainability, job creation, entrepreneurship,  and equity
  • Support innovative approaches to energy efficiency, parking, transportation, construction, and redevelopment
  • Support new development and redevelopment opportunities that align with and enhance the Innovation Corridor’s initiatives, including, housing, sustainable infrastructure, creation or preservation of green space, and job creation initiatives
  • Support Innovation Corridor approaches to energy, storm water management, parking management, and waste management

Priority Two: Establish Stronger Economic Ties to Our Regional Partners

Roanoke Region Map

Economic development is inherently a regional enterprise. The City of Roanoke is one of many active participants in the Roanoke Regional Partnership and an active member of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP). The Roanoke Region of the VEDP is in the midst of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains and serves as the transportation hub of the area, with an integrated interstate highway, rail, and air transportation network. The Roanoke metropolitan area serves as the medical center for the region and Southwest Virginia. Anchored by Carilion Clinic, one of the largest health care companies in Virginia and the region’s largest employer. The life science sector is one of Roanoke’s strongest clusters, and residents have access to leading-edge medical care.

Roanoke is also the cultural and recreational hub, boasting the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and museums like the renowned Taubman Museum of Art, Center in the Square in the midst of the open-air farmers’ market downtown, and the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

Map of Roanoke Region

More than 100,000 undergraduate and graduate students are educated each year from 25 higher education institutions located within an hour’s drive, including Virginia Tech, Roanoke College, and Virginia Western Community College. These education centers are important for the region as it looks to build up its workforce for the skills and technical expertise of tomorrow.

As a true recreation destination, Roanoke’s burgeoning outdoor industry thrives from assets such as the nearby Appalachian Trail, James River, Blue Ridge Parkway – the most visited national park in the U.S. – and Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia’s largest lake.

While the City is the main economic engine driving the region’s economy, regional benefits are derived through regional cooperation among the Valley’s local governments. In order for the Region to build on its economic successes, policies and actions have been recommended below in order to bolster the work that has already been done.

Action Items:

  • Support the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy framework of roles and responsibilities
  • Implement a customer relationship management tool to ensure development and maintenance of relationships with regional developers, brokers, site selectors and state and regional organizations
  • Host forums with developers, brokers and other target audiences in order to promote the region and discuss regional development strategy

Action Items:

  • Form stronger collaborative economic development partnerships involving leaders from both the public and private sectors that encourage companies, colleges, and secondary schools to work together
  • Support the informal regional and institutional networks, such as university alumni associations, to aid in facilitating knowledge transfer and networking opportunities

Action Items:

  • Identify areas for tourism, such as the Downtown Roanoke Tourism Zone, to provide incentives that attract investments and private companies in these areas
  • Support Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge’s efforts to attract additional conferences to the City
  • Work with Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge to support and promote local businesses in marketing efforts
  • Encourage development of Downtown lodging and construction of new hotels in order to support the growth of events, conferences, and tourism
    • Promote community events as economic opportunities and aspects of community identity

Priority Three: Conversion of Underperforming Commercial and Industrial Areas

As commercial and industrial developments around the City age and become obsolete, the City needs to be proactive in the redevelopment of the properties left behind. Market forces have not served the City well in some areas. As commercial and industrial enterprises fail or relocate, buildings are left unused or underused for years or decades. Disuse and abandonment, even for short periods of time, affect surrounding property values and drive other businesses away, creating entire neighborhoods of blight.

One issue to acknowledge is that Roanoke has a gross excess of commercial and industrial property. The fear of missing out on economic activity led many localities to zone too much land for commercial and industrial uses, and Roanoke was no exception. The oversupply manifests in land values that are so low that owners are not compelled to generate much, if any, income from the use of the property. Moreover, the way we tax real estate means that taxes are so low that carrying costs are negligible. The result is property that is occupied by passive uses like used car lots, junk yards, storage lots, bulk landscaping wholesalers, towing yards, wrecker yards, etc. These uses are often characterized by expanses of pavement or gravel with no runoff management, resulting in intense pressure on public storm water systems. These uses tend to be unsightly, generate little revenue or economic activity, and further devalue adjacent properties. Many even have the potential for environmental damage. Once in this cycle, these areas never seem to improve without intervention.

Neighborhood centers have not emerged despite identifying locations in neighborhood plans and establishing the zoning patterns to encourage them. The excess of commercial land inhibits development in the places we want to see growth.

Passive strategies–waiting and hoping for the market to generate renewal–simply have not worked. Some corridors and industrial centers have not improved appreciably over the past 50 years. This plan calls for a transition to a proactive program of policies that work together to create a more rational, successful, and sustainable business environment for Roanoke. This plan recommends a multi-dimensional approach of acquisition and renewal, restructuring our real estate tax rates, and thoughtful management of where and how we support business development.

Action Items:

  • Create partnerships with private redevelopment entities to plan and implement redevelopment strategies
  • Support development of a land bank and land trust to acquire and convert property to productive uses
  • Identify and approach landowners in underperforming commercial areas and pursue partnerships to facilitate redevelopment
  • Create an inventory of areas warranting acquisition and redevelopment during the neighborhood/area planning process
  • Use brownfields grants and other resources to clean up these sites if needed
  • Prioritize support for businesses identified as potential regional industry clusters
  • Implement an Opportunity Zone Strategy Plan and Prospectus

Action Items:

  • Explore real estate tax models that use land value or a combination of land and building values to promote smart growth tactics, prevent land speculation, discourage derelict properties, and encourage rehabilitation and redevelopment

Action Items:

  • Continue to encourage revitalization of commercial corridors through major streetscape improvements, landscaping, formal open spaces, and transportation network connectivity
  • Continue to accelerate redevelopment activity along commercial corridors through performance-based incentives such as, Job Creation Incentives, Rehabilitation Incentives, Demolition Assistance Program, Beautification Grants, ground breaking/grand opening ceremonies, and public announcements that allow our citizens to recognize the economic growth within the City
  • Emphasize Corridor Planning as part of the neighborhood planning process
  • Conduct regular reassessments of local enterprise zone designations and the package of incentives provided to maximize geographic impact and economic benefit
  • Locate trade schools, workforce  training centers, and other employment services within and adjacent to neighborhoods where they are needed
  • Create a toolkit for incentivizing redevelopment of failed commercial properties ripe for redevelopment

Action Items:

  • Remove the ability to request land consumptive, passive uses from the City’s commercial areas, particularly along commercial corridors
  • Encourage more neighborhood commercial zoning around targeted “village centers” that is compatible with the City of Roanoke’s character and vision
  • Examine parking requirements attached with zoning use classifications in order to reduce the amount of unused parking

Action Items:

  • Avoid adding to the oversupply of general commercial and industrial land and closely scrutinize land use requests that add to the supply of such zones
  • Revisit the individual purpose statements of the multiple-purpose Districts in the Zoning Ordinance

Priority Four: Local Business Development

When it comes to local economic benefit, not all business activity is created equal. Locally-owned and managed businesses have more community benefit because of how money cycles through the local economy due to multiplier effects. Nearly all of a local retailer’s economic activity stays local in the form of payroll and profits.  With a national retail chain, only the front line and supervisory payroll stays in the community.  The upper management payroll and all profits stream out of the community.  Furthermore, the purchasing power and predatory business practices of large retail chains has proven to be devastating for local economies and often fatal to small local businesses. Therefore, it is imperative for economic development to focus efforts toward spurring a renaissance of unique local businesses.

Action Items:

  • Provide special outreach and education for local business owners about resources including incentives, façade grants, partnership opportunities, etc.
  • Create a guidebook or website for small business owners with clear, simple explanations of how to navigate permitting, licensing, and regulatory processes, with relevant contact information
  • Favor local growth over recruitment efforts and incentives aimed toward drawing national or large-region chains
  • Work with strategic partners to create and enhance business networking programs, including regular roundtables for local businesses
  • Implement a robust business visitation program, complete with strategic goals and objectives, roles, responsibilities and performance metrics, for the specific purpose of encouraging local business growth
  • Support a strong year round local shopping campaign that encourages residents to shop in the City, particularly downtown, and highlights the opportunities, choices, and value of shopping locally
  • Encourage businesses to expand operations for import substitution efforts, manufacturing a vital resource locally, when possible, instead of importing

Action Items:

  • Prioritize or provide additional points for local businesses when contracting City purchasing agreements
  • Encourage purchases from both minority and women owned businesses in local government contracts

Action Items:

  • Provide details on available resources for business recovery and strive to provide the information in multiple languages
  • Use lessons learned to prepare for sudden disruptions due to a variety of causes

Priority Five: Align Economic Development with Workforce Development Systems

Better alignment between economic development and workforce development systems is critical to the future of our local economy. The economic development system is designed to encourage business and job growth, while the workforce development system works to ensure individuals have the education, skills, and training needed to obtain jobs. When the two systems are aligned, job seekers receive training and skill development that employers demand—resulting in higher wages and career advancement—and employers have access to a skilled workforce that enables growth and increased productivity. Beyond benefiting employees and employers, a functional and aligned system has economic benefits to the broader community.

Research indicates that regional economic growth is dependent upon human capital (development and attraction) and innovation. Some observers argue that the focus should be on policies aimed at the attraction and retention of educated workers, while others emphasize increased alignment of economic development and workforce development systems as a way to encourage the skilling up of local populations and the inclusion of populations left out of the traditional economy. The two are not mutually exclusive, nor is the call for greater alignment a new phenomenon. Below are some of the ways that the City can continue progressing toward the alignment of economic development and the local workforce development system.

Action Items:

  • Use cluster analysis to identify strengths and weaknesses within the region’s workforce
  • Use innovative strategies to develop and connect qualified talent with the specialized needs of employers
  • Work with the Roanoke Regional Partnership to connect young professionals and interns with emerging businesses to enhance recruitment efforts, skills, and knowledge in the City
  • Create “Centers of Excellence” where businesses and industry experts can collaborate with educators to become teachers and workforce training leaders
  • Facilitate cross-organizational projects to provide best practices for workforce training
  • Support training for those who have lost jobs due to automation, outsourcing, and other measures

Priority Six: Support Local Community Development

It is vital that the City continue to support community partners that provide programs and outreach to the community, especially to low-income neighborhoods. These programs exist to help support financial literacy, help fund affordable housing, and develop healthy food initiatives. These initiatives help to provide stability to low-income communities, which in turn, allows for greater economic mobility. In principle, if constituents are less occupied by where their next meal may come from, it could allow them the time and resources to open a new business or go back to school for a better paying job.

Action Items:

  • Provide funding to organizations as partners in providing critical community services
  • Expand business resources and partnerships with community organization to maximize the benefit of public funding
  • Support financial empowerment centers and other community financial education centers in the City

Be engaged in your community

If you’d like, we will send you an email when new projects and opportunities to get involved in your community come up.

Sign Me Up!