Leaders from 20 local governments on Thursday gathered for the first time on the Virginia Tech Carilion campus to learn about the partnership driving regional economic development.
Botetourt County Administrator Gary Larrowe came up with the idea after attending meetings and hearing about the economic impact arising from partnership between Virginia Tech and Carilion Clinic. The partnership to build a medical school and research institute in Roanoke formed about a dozen years ago.
Tech is expanding the research institute that is projected to have a $500 million annual impact on the economy, and Carilion recently announced it will invest $1 billion in capital improvements over the next seven years including an expansion of Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
“I was thinking, hey, in reality, elected officials in the community don’t necessarily know about that, and don’t necessarily understand the impact that is being made around us,” Larrowe said. “So, if we could all come together as one big community of elected and appointed leaders, then there might be the possibility of actually changing even more as well as learning, and becoming advocates for the efforts of Virginia Tech and Carilion.”
Larrowe found support from Mark Lawrence, Carilion’s vice president of government affairs, and John Dooley, CEO of Virginia Tech Foundation, and months of planning led to the forum.
Officials from the Roanoke Valley, New River Valley and Alleghany Highlands heard presentations from Tech President Timothy Sands, Carilion President and CEO Nancy Agee, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC Mike Friedlander and medical school dean Lee Learman.
They talked about the collaborations and connections that have spawned other businesses and connections.
“As the pieces come into play, the opportunity grows exponentially. It doesn’t grow just linear. It will keep growing faster, and faster and faster,” Sands said.
An economist with the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service last year found 828 new jobs will come through expansion of the research institute.
The study did not consider the impact of having hundreds of additional undergraduates in Roanoke nor did it include growth at Carilion Clinic.
Agee said Carilion has since asked Weldon Cooper to look at its and VTC’s impact.
“Frankly, it’s hot off the press,” she said. “I haven’t read it all yet so I won’t tell you what the results are. But we are going to share that with you, and I think you will be astounded by the economic impact. “
They fielded some questions about broadband, transportation, housing, and working with the community colleges and rural communities.
Darlene Burcham, town manager of Clifton Forge, asked about overcoming the development challenges facing communities beyond Roanoke and Blacksburg.
“How do we help you, and how do you help us to become more of an integral part?” she asked.
Sands suggested looking at the way Roanoke built a quality of life around the arts, restaurants, the Taubman and Hotel Roanoke that others then found attractive. It didn’t make the mistake of building an isolated research park.
Burcham, as the former Roanoke city manager, put together the plan to develop the biomedical complex on a brownfield that is now the Riverside campus. She was also part of the movement to spur redevelopment of vacant buildings downtown into apartments and condos.
Following the meeting, she said she is proud of her part in developing Roanoke, but that she wishes others would visit the rural areas to better understand the role they could play.