Not every trending Twitter conversation is worth jumping in the middle of – but Monday evening’s dig at the Star City by a New Yorker journalist set off a fiery exchange as residents and local businesses jumped to the defense of the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge. And I’m all about it.
As a kid growing up in nearby Shawsville, I always thought of Roanoke as the big city. That is, until I grew up and left for VCU to pursue a communication arts degree and got my first taste of big-city life. Spending my early adult years working in Richmond, and later Washington, D.C., I truly loved every second of the busy days, bustling nightlife, and seemingly endless opportunities.
When I returned to Roanoke in the early 1990s for family reasons, I believed it was a short stop on my way to somewhere better. It wasn’t long before I came to realize how great this city was already. I didn’t need to go somewhere better; I was already there.
Roanoke is the city where I met my wife, grew my family, and launched my business – Access – a success story out of the small business incubator. Owning an advertising agency in this market for 25 years has given me a front-row seat to the innovation, passion, and progress that is propelling us forward in remarkable ways and perhaps most importantly, spawning a sea change about how those of us who live here feel about our hometown.
When Access was selected by Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge (VVBR) to help launch the area’s first ever regional tourism effort in 2011, an unspoken but not unappreciated concern was that Roanokers had a long-standing history of self-deprecation, quick to offer apologies for the city’s perceived faults and rarely coming to its defense. How amazing it was to wake up Tuesday morning to see thousands of people not only defending Roanoke but praising its many assets.
The great work of the team at VVBR, along with efforts by people like Pete Eshelman with the Roanoke Regional Partnership to innovate this area’s outdoor advantages and market them well have had far-reaching impacts on Roanoke’s economic attractiveness and quality of life. Especially during the pandemic as the advantages of the outdoors and open space now hold new gravitas, Roanoke is incredibly well-positioned to welcome folks no longer convinced that big cities are the only places with anything to offer.
Having spent a great deal of time over the last year working for other economic development authorities in smaller corners of the Commonwealth, I understand and respect even more now the intrinsic value of a city of our size, location, and mindset. Roanoke is the place smaller towns want to emulate, and larger cities envy. Seeing the local lift that resulted from companies like Meridium, Inc. (now part of GE Digital) and 1901 Group choosing to be in this region because of the talent and quality of life many have worked hard to nurture has been one of the more exciting and rewarding changes to witness in the last two decades. Clearly, we are on to something as the intellectual capacity in our market is soaring.
We’re not done yet. Prior to the pandemic, 2019 saw some exciting indicators of more growth to come. Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport was seeing its highest traffic levels in decades and adding new destinations, work that enabled our city to weather the pandemic travel declines better than many other cities our size. And as the airport completes its 20-year Master Plan, we can all expect that momentum to return as we prepare for the next two decades of growth.
Twitter is a powerful platform. We have all seen brands get destroyed over a single tweet – typically when there are surreptitious cracks in the foundation. Thankfully, Roanoke has a strong brand as evident by the quick, powerful, and proud response of its people. The Star City is shining bright this week indeed.
Pearman is President & CEO, Access Advertising & Public Relations.