Blacksburg and Roanoke, along with their surrounding areas, are among the best places in the country to find work, according to a recent analysis by the job search website Zippia.

Zippia reviewed 386 metro areas and ranked the Blacksburg and Roanoke areas as respectively the sixth and 10th best metro job markets for 2018.

To determine the rankings, the site compared U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures on changes to local wage s and unemployment rates with current unemployment rates to develop an average based on those three indicators. The lower the average, the better the job market.

The site’s analysis included neighboring Christiansburg and Radford with what it defined as the Blacksburg area .

Zippia noted Virginia Tech’s influence on both the Roanoke and Blacksburg job markets.

For Blacksburg, the site linked to another analysis it performed that designated Virginia Tech as the best college in Virginia for employing its graduates .

“Home to Virginia Tech … future Hokie alums need not go far for looking for employment,” according to Zippia’s entry on Blacksburg.

The site noted scenic mountain views and Lane Stadium activities as amenities outside of work for the Blacksburg area.

Zippia stated that Roanoke offers many public sector jobs and is located near Virginia Tech, Roanoke College and Hollins University.

The latest non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the Roanoke and Blacksburg areas are each 2.9 percent, which is the figure Zippia used for its rankings. Those local rates are below the latest national unemployment rate of 3.8 percent.

The latest unemployment rates for the Blacksburg and Roanoke areas were also below their respective 2017 averages of 4.3 percent and 3.8 percent, according to the labor statistics.

The site also looked at average annual wage, which it said is $42,960 for the Blacksburg area and $43,650 for the Roanoke area.

Business leaders in both areas welcomed the rankings and touted their employment markets.

“I was very excited,” Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sharon Scott said. “Anytime we get accolades, it certainly spotlights and highlights our community.”

Scott said the relative abundance of science and high-tech firms makes the Blacksburg area’s job market unique.

As an example, she cited Blacksburg-based TORC Robotics, the autonomous technology research and development company that has gained national attention in recent years for its work with self-driving cars.

Firms such as TORC, based at the Blacksburg Industrial Park, provide not only jobs, but also competitive salaries that can keep Virginia Tech graduates from leaving, Scott said.

“When people are looking, they’re looking at us and going, ‘What is this place?’” she said. “I don’t want kids from Tech graduating and think they have to live in Charlotte or larger cities … We want them to know there are companies here that are just as amazing.”

Scott also touted the presence of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, a 33-building office park in Blacksburg owned by the university’s nonprofit financial arm, the Virginia Tech Foundation.

Once TORC's main base, the CRC houses privately owned small to large-scale science, marketing and high-tech firms, as well as Virginia Tech-affiliated entities. Among their major tenants is an office of cloud-computing company Rackspace.

“It’s huge,” long-time CRC President Joe Meredith said. “If you think about where the growth in the community would be without the CRC, it’s hard to envision.”

Meredith described the 3,100-plus employees who work at the CRC as a great anchor for the community.

Diverse job market

Roanoke-area business people attribute the area’s healthy job market to a diverse employment base and traditionally low unemployment.

“That’s because our labor market is huge,” Roanoke Regional Partnership Executive Director Beth Doughty said, referring to the Roanoke area’s job market definition, which covers a 60-mile radius.

The Roanoke Regional Partnership is a nonprofit organization that markets the region and promotes economic development.

The Partnership’s work has involved boosting outdoor attractions, co-operating with businesses and promotional events, and mining colleges and universities in the region for their talent resources, Doughty said.

As in Blacksburg area, Roanoke business people also noted the presence of science and high-tech firms.

Joyce Waugh, president and CEO of the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, cited the Eldor Corp. high-tech automotive parts factory under construction at Botetourt County’s Greenfield industrial park as an example of regional growth in that sector.

Waugh also touted the partnership between Virginia Tech and Carilion Clinic, the New River and Roanoke valleys’ biggest employers.

That partnership birthed a medical school and health research center in Roanoke, viewed by business and elected leaders as progressive influences on the local economy’s transition away from the railroad industry.

“I do believe anecdotally we’re a very good place to find employment, especially with our extremely low unemployment rate now,” Waugh said. “I know of almost no company that is not looking for somebody. It just depends on which sector you’re looking at.”

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Yann Ranaivo covers local government and politics in the New River Valley, including Christiansburg, Blacksburg, Radford and Montgomery County.

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