Role of the Business Community in Economic Development
Economic Development is the implementation of a very well-defined plan by a community, region or state to attract new businesses and help existing ones grow. Success depends on an awareness of the importance of growth, and sincere cooperation among regional governments, the business community and the general public. For Western Virginia, it may be the difference between being competitive and being left behind.
The business of economic development should not be reserved only to our local governments. It is the responsibility of the business leaders in the Roanoke and New River Valleys and the Alleghany Highlands to assume a major role in the discussions about how to enhance economic prosperity in the NewVa region.
We have most of what it takes to successfully compete with other communities and states for companies that create new jobs and improve our economy: land available for development; a skilled workforce and the means to retrain them; reasonable taxes and low electricity costs; accessibility by road, rail and air; good public schools; a vibrant urban center; close proximity to local colleges and a major research university; a growing spirit of entrepreneurship that embraces technology, research and development; significant arts and cultural amenities; beautiful surroundings with boundless recreational activities; a wonderful quality of life; and local governments in the Roanoke Valley that continue to increase the level of cooperation among themselves, as evidenced by the creation of the Western Virginia Water Authority between Roanoke City and Roanoke County, and the new regional jail that will serve Roanoke County, Roanoke City, Salem and Montgomery County. Importantly, Expansion Magazine has recognized the Roanoke region as one of the best places to locate a company for the last five years. This is confirmed by the fact that Koyo Steering Systems of USA, Dynax America, Virginia Forge, Integrity Windows & Doors, Cardinal Glass, Trinity Packaging, Tecton and others have located plants here, and Novozymes Biologicals, MW Windows and ITT Night Vision and others have expanded, resulting in more than 6,000 announced new jobs and more than $770 million in announced new investment.
What is lacking is a level of awareness of the benefit of promoting ourselves as a greater region; state and regional elected officials who consistently make decisions that are pro-business, pro-economic development, and pro-regionalism; adequate funding to compete with other states that offer incentive packages far in excess of what Virginia can do; and most important, a clear, cohesive, collaborative regional economic strategy supported by all constituents.
What is needed is an unwavering commitment to improve communications among all stakeholders to eliminate suspicion and break down the barriers that hold us back, and acceptance of the results of the Regional Economic Strategy developed by the Fifth Planning District Regional Alliance in 2002. The strategy identified six objectives and the tactics necessary to satisfy them: Regional Visibility, Connectivity, Quality of Life Amenities, Knowledge Workforce, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Economic Transformation (www.rvarc.org/alliance). Most of the tactics under each objective have been completed or are in process. One that remains is the adoption and full use of NewVa, the new regional brand identity, by all those who live and work in the communities that comprise the NewVa region. What matters is not whether everyone likes the new name or logo, but what it will do, which is to cause others to identify us as a greater region, and us to realize that we are only as good as the sum of our collective parts. The business community needs to get behind an effort to update the Regional Economic Strategy, identify new objectives that will greatly enhance our competitiveness as a region, and have the will to take the steps necessary to successfully implement that plan.
This is a rallying cry to every business person who reads the Blue Ridge Business Journal. Take the time to become knowledgeable of the good work being done by the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Roanoke Valley Economic Development Partnership, the New River Valley Economic Development Partnership, the New River Valley Alliance, the Roanoke Valley Business Council, the NewVa Corridor Technology Council, the Center for Innovative Strategies, and other organizations involved in economic development. Get actively involved, talk about these issues openly, and encourage dialog and understanding. Make it a part of your company’s business plan to support these efforts financially and with your time and talent. Our futures depend on it.