During his annual State of the City address, delivered at a Roanoke Regional Chamber of Congress event held inside the Taubman Museum in mid-September, Mayor David Bowers first asked for a moment of silence in honor of slain WDBJ-7 journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward.
In the media siege that followed their live, on-air murders at the hands of former colleague Vestor Flanagan, Bowers appeared on CNN to discuss a shocking event that also wounded Smith Mountain Lake Chamber executive director Vickie Gardner. “A terrible tragedy right at our doorstep here in Roanoke,” reflected the mayor.
After that tribute it was on to business. This was the 15th State of the City address for Bowers: “I’ve been so blessed,” he noted the day before his speech. Aside from the WDBJ horror, Bowers called the past year a good one for the city: “Our crime rate is down, the lowest it’s been in 47 years; our [public high school] graduation rate is up to 86 percent – it had been 59 percent just a few years ago.”
There is “concern” about the loss of jobs with the closing of the Norfolk Southern offices downtown and Advance Auto downsizing, for starters. Bowers noted the creation of what he says is more than 600 jobs elsewhere in the city over the past year. “In some aspects it’s a mixed bag,” Bowers conceded on the job front.
At the State of the City he encouraged more local businesses to get involved with a Virginia Economic Development Partnership championed by Governor Terry McAuliffe, one that the mayor said encourages companies to consider more exporting as part of their overall business plan.
“It would be great to bring a big international company into the Roanoke Valley – but it can be even more effective economically and develop even more jobs if our local businesses are reaching out to markets in Canada and Mexico or Asia or Europe.” That also means the Governor might highlight a Roanoke firm when he takes another one of his business recruiting trips abroad.
Bowers also proposed a summer youth employment program, encouraging local companies to hire young people for summer jobs, “so we can help … teenagers and young adults learn about how to present themselves, how to prepare a resume – how important it is to get a job and keep a job.” Bowers says the U.S. Mayors Conference has helped put a program like that in place across the country and he wants to see it in Roanoke by the summer of 2016.
Finally Bowers would like to see another sheet of ice somewhere in Roanoke City – a “second pad ice rink,” he calls it; a dedicated rink for public skating, for youth and adult leagues and for college club-level teams from Virginia Tech and Radford (and other schools) that now play home games at the Berglund Center coliseum.
Because ice time at Berglund is so limited – it’s often taken up for concerts and other events – teams have convoluted home schedules and often must travel to Lynchburg, North Carolina and West Virginia to find practice ice time.
“The ice at [Berglund Center] isn’t down enough … we actually have a ‘hole in the ice’ if you will. I think it’s important for us to talk and plan [for a rink]. It doesn’t have to be fancy but it’s important that we develop something.”
Bowers also says any hope of luring a professional team back to the valley would be greatly enhanced by having a dedicated rink available for practices. “Roanokers have always loved ice hockey,” says the mayor. Now he hopes someone steps forward to help build a rink.