Valley Business FRONT Post – Predictions for the Roanoke/New River Valley 2009

From Dan Smith, Editor, Valley Business FRONT:

Because I am part of the business press, people think I am the expert that I am not when it comes to business. I have a pretty good ear and I co-own a business, but, frankly, I don't know more than the people I talk to on a daily basis, so predictions are semi-educated, but wild guesses.

Dan Smith, Editor, Valley Business FRONT, looks ahead to 2009 at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Since I've been asked by Handshake 2.0 to make predictions that have to do with the Roanoke Valley/New River Valley for the coming year, here–in the tradition of dim-bulb, big mouth commentators and pundits everywhere–are mine.

1. This region is heavy with automobile industry suppliers and one major manufacturer, Volvo trucks. These guys are already beginning to suffer and if Congress doesn't help, they're likely done. I don't like the idea of a bailout any more than the next guy, but if we dont' prop up this industry, it is at our own economic peril. Every segment of our delicate economy is interconnected and the auto industry is one of the biggest and most pervasive segments–with long, massive tentacles. If GM goes down, the guy down the street with the three-employee auto window glass replacement business is in trouble, too. (My daughter works for a company that supplies windshield wiper water bottles for the Big Three and it recently laid off half its 240 workers. That, I suspect, will be typical.)

2. Technology-based industries like Luna will find a softer market because of the economic uncertainty. These emerging titans will have to do what the rest of us are doing: figure it out and see what works and what doesn't. They'll have to be lean, inventive, smart and, my suspicion is, they'll have to be creative with financing because many of their investment angels are repairing broken wings these days.

3. Vacations will be closer to home; home-grown entertainment (minor league baseball, theater, concerts and dances, festivals) will not be seriously injured by the economy because people WILL have fun. They just won't be willing to spend as much money as a week at the beach demands. Look for a surge in swim club memberships as the weather warms. Ice skating is already picking up at the area's rinks.

4. The dramatic restructuring at Carilion Health System and the clinic will begin to return some positive results … slowly at first, but steadily. The physicians who don't like Carilion's changes will continue to attack hard.

5. Small, independent banks will become (are becoming) the vehicles of choice for small business. The big banks are too reticent to loan money and are of little use to small business. The strength of the small financial institutions through the recent near-disaster has been obvious. Some of these well-run banks are even growing. When one of the biggies collapsed recently, a board member of one of the smaller downtown banks told me, "We just had $26 million walk across the street and join us."

6. Virginia's budgetary shortfalls will have a negative effect on higher education, hitting hard at Virginia Tech, Radford, Roanoke's Higher Education Center and the several community colleges in this region (three to six, depending on your definition of the region). At our magazine, Valley Business FRONT, we've already heard from marketing people at several of the schools that their advertising budgets are extremely tight and will likely drop. Advertising budgets – unwisely, I'll suggest – are usually the first things to go and they go because they appear to be optional. I'm hearing some dire predictions from educators and, though I think they are a bit overblown, the anxiety is real.

Please don't check back on this in six months or a year. I don't want everybody to fully understand how clueless I am (or how willing to participate in fruitless speculation).

The Valley Business FRONT Post is written by Dan Smith, Editor, Valley Business FRONT, a monthly business magazine featuring the Roanoke Valley and the New River Valley of Virginia.  Dan Smith writes the blog fromtheeditr.

Dan Smith's e-mail signature quotes Kingsley Amis:  "If you can't annoy somebody, why write?'

The opinions Dan Smith expresses are solely his own and are not necessarily shared by Handshake 2.0.

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