Partnership Builds On Outdoor Assets

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Carilion CEO Nancy Agee
Carilion CEO Nancy Agee

by Aaron Layman

Gathering at the Vinton War Memorial this past Monday, the Roanoke Regional Partnership celebrated success stories in economic development, particularly in the area of outdoor branding, and set out a vision for its next five-year plan at a kickoff fundraising event.

The thread of outdoor asset development ran throughout the evening. When campaign leader Ab Boxley checked off recent initiatives by members of the partnership, outdoor-oriented programs such as last fall’s Roanoke Outdoor Circus, the RoanokeOutside.com website and the Blue Ridge Marathon dominated the list. The aim is to boost outdoor assets, to strengthen “quality of place” and make the region attractive to new talent.

“It’s put Roanoke on the state and national map,” said partnership Executive Director Beth Doughty. The organization estimated the 2010-2011 economic impact of the marathon alone in particular to be over $685,000.

Alongside its outdoor initiatives, the partnership also created roanokeentrepreneur.com to provide information to businesses, and to help brand the region as entrepreneur-friendly.

In total, the partnership reported that its 2007-2011 Partnerships Investing for Prosperity program resulted in 1,508 new jobs, $88 million in partnership-assisted investment and an overall economic impact of over $642 million.

Carilion CEO and fundraising Campaign Co-chair Nancy Agee said that the partnership’s strength comes from self-examination. “We have taken a hard look at ourselves and asked ‘what values do we hold dear? What makes us special?’” she said.

The partnership will build on the success of its outdoor branding initiatives in the new five-year plan by growing outdoor-themed events such as a spinoff of the Banff Radical Reels Festival, this fall’s GoFest (formerly the Outdoor Circus) and the Blue Ridge Marathon, along with creating at least two new events to strengthen the regional outdoor brand.

Doughty stressed the need to attract businesses that are associated with the outdoors such as natural foods producers and outdoor gear manufacturers, and to support entrepreneurs in this sector.

Media recruitment is also key to the outdoor initiative. “We have to attract media production such as film and TV in order to strengthen our message and monetize our outdoor assets,” she said. The partnership was also an early adopter of social media. Plans include more aggressive marketing of the region. Part of its strategy is targeting jobs by sectors including food, transportation equipment and life sciences.

Community engagement is also a focal point of the plan and will be accomplished by expanding the partnership’s Get2KnowNoke website, so that it may serve as a comprehensive community calendar for local events.

Fundraising for these plans officially kicked off at the Monday gathering but the partnership has already received commitments from 50 investors that will contribute over $2.2 million toward the $3 million goal. Local governments in Alleghany County, Botetourt, Franklin County, and Roanoke County; the cities of Roanoke and Salem and the town of Vinton that are part of the regionl partnership will match the private funds.

Campaign co-chair John Williamson of RGC Resources finished off the night with a call to the gathered crowd to consider investing if they hadn’t done so yet: “We need everyone to be a player here.”

For more information on the Roanoke Regional Partnership, visit www.roanoke.org