The Art of Regional Economic Development

From Diane S. Akers, President, The Blacksburg Partnership, for the Building a Region series on Handshake 2.0:

Blacksburg, Virginia at night To your question, "To foster its regional economic development, what are the three most important traits a rural region needs to develop in order to have a chance at attracting a high-tech Global 1000 company – or two or three – to establish headquarters, a division, a product development laboratory, or a research facility in its locale?", here’s my response:
 
Today, economic development is more than attracting industries or luring retailers. Economic development includes leveraging our natural resources, sports and even the arts to benefit our community.
 
At The Blacksburg Partnership, a non-profit, independent economic development organization formed by the Town, business and university communities to enhance the long-term vitality of Blacksburg, Virginia, we’re looking at new ways to generate economic activity in the Town. And that includes the arts.

The Blacksburg Partnership has created the Blacksburg Partnership Collaborative for the Arts. We envision Blacksburg as a year-round arts and cultural destination, implementing a strategy that uses the Virginia Tech Center for the Arts and regional arts projects as catalysts for economic and community development. This includes:

  • Development of local arts-related retail space, including an artist’s market with studio and sales space.
  • Creation of an arts destination – to have our region, with Blacksburg as the hub, be recognized as a top arts destination.
  • Creation of a downtown square to generate an opportunity for the display, sales and performance of all the different genres of arts. This space can be a place of public gathering and an economic generator for downtown businesses.
  • Facilitating access to high-speed Internet, particularly targeting the area defined as the Blacksburg Arts District to increase the attractiveness of downtown locations for technology-based companies.

We all know the arts can enhance quality of life. We're thinking about what the arts can do to spur economic development.

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Related Handshake 2.0 posts that may be of interest:

Blacksburg Makes the List – Lots of Them by Z. Kelly Queijo

Gotta Have It – Brand New Map of the New River Valley of Virginia from the NRVEDA

If You Want My Time and Treasure

Rural regions abound with the enterprising. I have a personal reason for exploring the problems of rural regional economic development as we’re doing in the Building a Region series on Handshake 2.0.

I have been operating my company not just with an attempt to serve the greater good, but with particular attention to serving the local good.

I concur profoundly with Morrie Schwartz – written about by Mitch Albom in Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson - who, upon being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, began making highly conscious decisions about how he would spend his last days.

He chose what mattered.

Based on genetics and health factors – I have a twenty-five year-old daisy wheel dot matrix printout from a health service reporting  I’ll live to be 83.3 years old – I anticipate 25 more years of full-tilt, passionate work life.

To what cause, enterprise, or undertaking shall I give those years?

Currently, regional economic development has the best effort of my heart, mind, time, and treasure.  I see the growth of my company and the growth of the local economy as interrelated and interdependent.

And yet. 

If rural regional economic development initiatives want the time and treasure of this local company founder, what regional economic development is, how it will be achieved, and how we'll know when we've gotten there all need to be very clear.

If not, regional economic development will ultimately receive my best wishes, but not my time and treasure.  I won’t give my last days to amorphous rhetoric, however well-intentioned.

I want to give my days to what matters.

Photo credit:  Jennifer Greger

Regional Economy, Developed

On Handshake 2.0? Let's see... One of the reasons I started Handshake Media, Incorporated, a digital public relations agency and the parent company of Handshake 2.0, was to participate in regional and global economic development.  A company’s unknown products or services are less likely to sell than their known ones.  My company’s efforts on behalf of a company gain it publicity.  The company gets noticed and known online. 

My premise remains that the greatest inhibitor to doing business is risk, that trust decreases risk, and that trust is increased by knowing the people with whom we do business.  Shaking hands in-person - Handshake 1.0s – with over 6 billion on the planet is impossible.  Hence Handshake 2.0 and its focus on people, companies, and how to know and be known online.  Hence “It’s still who you know.” 

“I’m thinking of doing business with that company.  Let’s see if it's on Handshake 2.0.”

Knowing and being known on Handshake 2.0 increases trust, which decreases risk, which increases the likelihood of handshakes on deals.

Thus, businesses get more deals, more revenue, create jobs, hire people, pay wages.  Those wages are spent in the local and global economy.

Regional economy, developed.

That is my hope and, to that hope, I am giving my very best effort.

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In Handshake 2.0's Building a Region series on rural regional economic development, are we asking the right questions?  What are better questions?  What are the answers to those better questions?  We welcome guests posts and comments.  With a guest post or an idea for one, please email us at [email protected].

Connecting People in the RNR – Three Initiatives to Enhance Tech-Based Regional Economic Development

Handshake 2.0 brings you edition #40 of Connecting People in the RNR with Stuart Mease.

Stuart Mease mentions the unserviced work force and other themes he has shared in his Connecting People in the RNR series. 

"RNR" refers to the Roanoke and New River Valleys of Virginia.

Connecting People in the RNR
a video show by Stuart Mease for Handshake 2.0


The opinions expressed by Stuart Mease or by those he interviews are solely their own.  They are not necessarily shared by Handshake 2.0 or its clients, sponsors, or advertisers, or by Stuart Mease's employer.

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Stuart Mease is Recruiting Manager for Rackspace Email and Apps which sponsors the Rackspace Tech Showcase on Handshake 2.0.

Stuart writes the blog Connecting People.  You can connect with Stuart in myriad ways both off-line and online, including on Twitter @stuartmease.  Stuart Mease is an organizer of the Roanoke Creative Communities Leadership Project (CCLP) in Virginia.  You can follow the program on Twitter @roanokecreative. Stuart Mease was a finalist for the NCTC NewVa Leadership Award 2009.  

We consider Stuart Mease a thought leader and are honored he shares his views with Handshake 2.0.

Regional Economic Development – More People Better Off Today Than Yesterday

For its series on regional economic development, Building a Region, Handshake 2.0 asked:

"To foster its regional economic development, what are the three most important traits a rural region needs to develop in order to have a chance at attracting a high-tech Global 1000 company – or two or three – to establish headquarters, a division, a product development laboratory, or a research facility in its locale?"

Joe W. Meredith, Ph.D., President of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, Inc. Joe W. Meredith, Ph.D., President of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, Inc. in Blacksburg, Virginia replied:

  1. A sufficient talent pool to meet the needs of a large company,
  2. a lower total cost of business than where they currently are,
  3. facilities that enable them to be more productive at a lower cost.

Regional economic development means simply that more people are better off today than yesterday.

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Are we asking the right questions?  What are better questions?  What are answers to those better questions?  We welcome guests posts and comments.  With a guest post or an idea for one, please email us at [email protected].

A Cartoonist Weighs in on Regional Economic Development

WebComic

Cartoon for Handshake 2.0 by Daniel Yowell.  You're invited to view more of his work at DanielYowell.com.

One Regional Economic Development Strategy – Relocation

Cobham Sensor Systems to relocate its manufacturing, research and development operations to Blacksburg, Virginia.

From Aric H. Bopp, Executive Director,  New River Valley Economic Development Alliance, on the announcement that Cobham Sensor Systems will relocate its manufacturing, research and development operations from Roanoke, Virginia to the Technology Manufacturing Building in the Blacksburg Industrial Park, Blacksburg, Virginia:

"As stated in the press release, 'This expansion in the Greater Roanoke and New River Valley Regions will enable Cobham to retain all of their operations in the region and allow opportunities for future growth.'  Both the Roanoke and New River Valleys will continue to 'win' if we are able to work together to meet the needs of the dynamic, next-generation companies growing, expanding, forming, launching, and moving to the region."

Jeff Sturgeon covered the Cobham story in the Roanoke Times, High-tech firm moving to Blacksburg.

Another recent regional relocation includes Planet Care, Inc. (Eco-Pure), a manufacturer in the onsite/decentralized wastewater industry which is relocating its manufacturing facility from Fort Myers, Florida to Pulaski County, Virginia.  (Press release – .pdf)

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Handshake 2.0 was delighted to create a Facebook page for the New River Valley Economic Development Alliance, NRVEDA.  A gorgeous map of the New River Valley of Virginia is available from the NRVEDA and this video of the New River Valley was funded by NRVEDA:


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In our Building a Region series on regional economic development, are we asking the right questions?  What are better questions?  What are the answers to those better questions?  We welcome guests posts and comments.  With a guest post or an idea for one, please email us at [email protected].

Creating Peer Groups for Technology Industry Specialties

Greatly appreciating the conversation I was having with Ryan Hagan, Software Development Manager, Email & Apps, Rackspace Hosting, that began with The Really Interesting Conversations in the Technology Sector, I followed up with an email containing this question (edited for clarity):

I welcome help with deepening my understanding of your point point that "The really interesting conversations in the technology sector just aren't being had here, because there aren't more than one or two people who are interested in the latest and greatest, up and coming trends."
 
What are topics that participants in "interesting conversations in the technology sector" might have all read or have in common?
 
And if "one or two" isn't enough, how many conversationalists does it take to screw in a technology sector conversation light bulb – and make light?

With permission to quote him, Ryan Hagan replied:

I can give you one specific example that is a problem for me right now.  I've got one guy that is passionate about large-scale data storage and data retrieval.  A growing trend in this space is that people are moving away from SQL-based solutions and exploring schema-less or "nosql" based solutions.  My guy is very  involved in this movement, but there is hardly anyone else in this area (that we're aware of) that shares his knowledge and passion for the nosql movement.  In order for him to really be involved in this movement, he has to travel to NYC, San Fran, Austin, or some other far away locale.

It's these specialized communities that are hard to get started or get involved in around here.  Broad subjects are a little easier.  For instance, I co-run the NewVa Corridor Technology Council, NCTC Software Developer Peer Group Forum with Michele Wright at NetVentures.  We generally get anywhere between 10 – 30 developers, certainly a good turnout.  However, software development is an extremely broad topic, and it would be nice to narrow that down a little into specialties.  Nosql, language and compiler design, concurrency, software engineering, agile process management, etc. – these are all topics that fall within the realm of software development, but for which no specific groups exist here.

How do we define a group?  We first need people in the industry that share particular interests.  Then we need people who are willing to lead a group and create that spark that gets people involved.  Then we have to have enough people to keep the fire going.  The software developer peer group has a core of about 5 or 6 people that show up to every meeting, and also tend to be the ones that contribute the most.  Could we run that group with just those 5 or 6?  Yeah, probably, but when you look at the potential pool (every software developer in the New River and Roanoke Valleys), 5 or 6 isn't a great percentage.

On the other hand, if we could keep adding more software developers to the area, maybe we could reach a point where more and more (higher percentages) start joining these peer groups.  Kind of a critical mass type of reaction, where we tip the scales and let the momentum alone carry these communities.

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Rackspace is a client of Handshake 2.0 and sponsors the Rackspace Tech Showcase.

The Really Interesting Conversations in the Technology Sector is part of Handshake 2.0's series on regional economic development, Building a Region.

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In our Building a Region series, are we asking the right questions?  What are better questions?  What are the answers to those better questions?  We welcome guests posts and comments.  With a guest post or an idea for one, please email us at [email protected].

The Really Interesting Conversations in the Technology Sector

Having met Ryan Hagan, Software Development Manager, Email & Apps, Rackspace Hosting, at a NewVa Corridor Technology Council, NCTC meeting, I emailed him this question:

Why would an IT professional or "knowledge worker" move to Roanoke, Virginia or Blacksburg, Virginia to live and work?
 
The context is that I'm very interested in regional economic development, we have a burgeoning technology economy, and we don't have enough qualified people to fill the positions.  We've got a "knowledge worker" shortage.
 
Since most people spend most of their time at work, the "where" seems to be less important than the work.  Amenities and incentives – bars, restaurants, culture, outdoor rec – most places have something or enough to do.  Roanoke does and Blacksburg does.
 
What, then, does a “knowledge worker” – someone in IT, engineering, biotech, physics – want from work?
 
I understand that one concern is multiple opportunities, i.e. if the gig at this place doesn't work out, I can move to another local gig, and not have to uproot myself and my family to move elsewhere.
 
The fundamental principle of sales is "Find the pain."  So if part of the question – and pain – is not, "What would make them come?"but "What would make them fear coming?", what conditions could exist or be created in a region to ease that fear?

With permission to quote him, Ryan Hagan replied:

Our recruiting efforts fall into two categories.  Sometimes we need students from Virginia Tech or other top notch Computer Science programs, and sometimes we need candidates with more real-world work experience.  The younger people usually want to know what there is to do in Blacksburg.  The more experienced people want to know what the local job market is like in case they lose their job with us for some reason.

We have a super hard time bringing the really experienced people here because of the lack of other options.  Honestly, though, we've gotten some great people lately with some good experience because they had spouses that were coming to work for Virginia Tech or had other family in the area.  Unfortunately, we can't rely on that for all the people we want / need.

Actually, our biggest problem right now is one of attrition.  We've got quite a few of our developers, some of the best in the company, that are wanting to leave Blacksburg.  This actually might be related to the lack of other, large technology companies in the area. 

It's the lack of community that comes with a large collection of technologists that people are missing here.  The really interesting conversations in the technology sector just aren't being had here, because there aren't more than one or two people who are interested in the latest and greatest, up and coming trends.  As someone who has run several different user groups in this area, I can attest to how hard it is to keep a group running with so few potential members.

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Rackspace is a client of Handshake 2.0 and sponsors the Rackspace Tech Showcase.

"The Really Interesting Conversations in the Technology Sector" is part of Handshake 2.0's series on regional economic development, Building a Region.

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In our Building a Region series, are we asking the right questions?  What are better questions?  What are the answers to those better questions?  We welcome guests posts and comments.  With a guest post or an idea for one, please email us at [email protected].

Envisioning Regional Economic Development – A View from Premier Transfer and Storage

For its series on regional economic development, Building a Region, Handshake 2.0 asked:

"In seeking to define the what and how of a regional social media initiative and best practices for the use of social media for regional economic development…to foster its regional economic development, what [does]…a rural region need in order to have a chance at attracting a high-tech Global 1000 company – or two or three – to establish headquarters, a division, a product development laboratory, or a research facility in its locale?"

Jaime Clark, Premier Transfer and Storage, envisions regional economic development.

Jaime Clark, Marketing Director of Premier Transfer and Storage, replied:

Imagine a Global 1000 company considering the Roanoke and New River Valleys of Virginia – the RNR - as a location to establish a division, headquarters, etc. (or perhaps a company that we are trying to woo into coming here).  The word spreads in the community. 

A healthy portion of the community is involved in social  media and understands the importance of economic development in our area and why it matters to them.  The chatter begins online with tweets, blog posts, etc., encouraging and excitedly expressing the hope that this company will come to the RNR.  If this Global 1000 company monitors these types of communications (which I expect they would) this could definitely have an impact on the company’s decision as it would truly feel that the entire community was behind them and ready to support them.

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In our Building a Region series, are we asking the right questions?  What are better questions?  What are the answers to those better questions?  We welcome guests posts and comments.  With a guest post or an idea for one, please email us at [email protected].