12:58 PM

Halliwill: Partnership maps the future in Thrive 2027


Don Halliwill is chief financial officer at Carilion Clinic.


My friend loves maps. He can spend hours reading a Rand McNally Road Atlas. It inspires him to appreciate all that’s out there. Certainly, maps can stimulate the imagination in some. But to most of us, whether on paper or on our phones, they serve to guide us somewhere. That’s why the Roanoke Regional Partnership has created Thrive 2027, a new strategic plan for economic growth. It serves to inspire us to reach the economic potential of the Roanoke Region of Virginia. But, more importantly, it is a guide to how the region can realize growth and prosperity in the years ahead. 

Here’s the starting point. Population growth is fueled by two components – natural increase (births minus deaths) and migration. Fast-growing regions typically benefit from strong levels of newcomers, while shrinking communities often face the twin challenges of out-migration and a natural decline in population. The Roanoke Region falls between these two extremes. During the past decade, deaths have exceeded births. As a result, the region has been entirely dependent on migration to support population growth. On a net basis, for example, approximately 7,000 individuals moved into the Roanoke Region between 2010 and 2019. Despite the new residents, the region’s younger population declined. During the past five years, the only age group in the region to experience growth has been the 65 and older cohort. 

The good news is that between 2014 and 2019, the population is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Diversity is associated with greater levels of entrepreneurship and innovation. Regions that embrace diversity gain significant workforce and leadership advantages and often find it easier to sustain population growth. 

To accelerate economic growth, we need to accelerate population growth. Thrive 2027 maps a four-lane road. The first direction will amplify business recruitment and expansion efforts by adding additional resources to the Partnership’s successful recruitment and retention strategy. Other efforts will boost the region’s reputation as a technology and innovation hub and contribute to the success and retention of entrepreneurial companies. 

Another avenue will expand efforts to attract and retain in-demand talent. The Partnership has played a leadership role in responding to the fact that talent fuels business, and business needs strong talent to run well. Get2KnowNoke is the region’s first effort to focus on talent. Thrive 2027 calls for even more. It means working to leverage relationships with higher education, utilizing the Partnership’s marketing expertise, selling the region’s strong livability message, and promoting career opportunities to out-of-market audiences. The region also will benefit from greater diversity in the workforce and community leadership. 

In business attraction and job creation, available real estate is a top consideration and one of the fastest routes to successful business location decisions. No one knows our region’s real estate profile better than the Roanoke Regional Partnership. We are an authoritative resource on real estate supply, trends, needs, and potential because we work with potential new businesses every day. The Partnership uses this knowledge and data as an advocate for the acceleration of commercial and industrial real estate development and other infrastructure to help move the region forward. The Western Virginia Regional Industrial Facility Authority, conceived by the Partnership, is an example of our efforts and an important vehicle to achieve our regional goals. 

Starting in 2009, the Partnership and its Roanoke Outside brand cleared the way for a new regional identity and competitive advantage as an active outdoor community. But that was only the start of the journey. Thrive 2027 will build on the success of Roanoke Outside with continued brand building and an eye on sustainable funding for our outdoor asset preservation and enhancement. The Partnership remains firmly positioned to continue building the outdoor brand that will attract the people, jobs, investment, and ideas that will help the Roanoke Region arrive at its desired destination – a future of possibilities. 

Please take a moment and examine our “map” and consider where you might fit on it. The Roanoke Regional Partnership is an advocate for our region and a strong partner for the businesses, institutions and municipalities intent on its growth and success.