By Charlie Jewell
Jewell is executive director of Onward New River Valley.
It is an amazing time to work in the tech sector in the New River Valley (NRV). The Roanoke Times recently covered a report through Valleys Innovation Council that projects 1,250 new jobs in Information Technology (IT) are coming to the New River and Roanoke valleys over the next 18 months. They anticipate 801 of these jobs to be created in the NRV. This presents the NRV with a tangible opportunity to further solidify its growing tech sector as it would increase IT employment by 50 percent.
The NRV is home to 80 diverse tech companies ranging from local startups to satellite offices of major tech companies. More than 1,600 IT professionals are taking advantage of a wide-variety of jobs and challenging career paths in the NRV. These professionals are helping define and advance cutting-edge technologies in blockchain, unmanned systems, cybersecurity, software, networks, and digital creative.
The tech sector in the NRV has been quietly building steam for several years now. From 2013 to 2018, employment through IT companies grew by 29 percent. To put that figure into perspective, total employment in the NRV grew by five percent during the same period. We also know that last year alone there were 859 IT job openings in the NRV. Based on recent trends, we anticipate that number to grow to over 1,000 by the end of this year.
Tech jobs are very important to the economic vitality of the NRV. The average IT professional earns $70k per year in the NRV. This is 60 percent more than the average salary in the NRV which causes a ripple effect through our economy. The 2019 CompTIA Cyberstates report estimates that a single IT job creates 4.8 additional jobs in the service sectors.
All of this information led us to one simple conclusion, we have some very important jobs to fill in the NRV and our region stands ready to capitalize on this opportunity. Earlier this year Onward NRV began executing its first five-year economic development strategy for the region, called Onward 2023. One of the primary goals of the strategy is to support and grow the tech sector in the NRV by building a talent pipeline that local IT companies can draw from.
One of the ways we are working to accomplish this goal is through our “Tech Hub” branding initiative. We want to raise the visibility of the NRV as a nationally recognized tech hub to attract both IT companies and professionals to the region. In collaboration with local tech leaders, we developed a short elevator pitch explaining why the NRV is an emerging tech hub with authentic talking points on the companies, careers, and lifestyle that make our local tech sector unique.
We recently launched a new website, www.TheNRV.org/IT, putting this messaging to good use. The website tells the story of IT in the NRV and is designed to help tech companies attract and retain talent. The website features a “work here” section showcasing local job openings and a short video we produced that looks inside the tech sector in the NRV. In just over two months, the video has been viewed over 5,400 times through an organic digital campaign that local tech companies supported. We are currently producing a series of videos that showcase in-demand tech careers through the testimonials of local professionals working in those jobs.
This is just the beginning of what we have planned. Early next year, we will begin executing marketing campaigns targeting IT professionals using all the resources we’ve developed, and more. This will include digital campaigns targeting Virginia Tech and Radford University alumni who have left the region, pop up events on local college campuses, the launching of a summer internship consortium program designed to expose area college students to local tech companies, and collaborations with the Career & Technical Education programs in the NRV to expose middle and high school students to career paths through our local tech sector.
Onward NRV also recognizes that marketing alone will not ensure the success of our local tech sector. Consequently, we began hosting bi-annual summits with IT leaders earlier this year to engage them in the process of establishing the NRV as a tech hub. The goal of these summits is to work together to identify and address common challenges and opportunities that will propel the tech sector forward
It is an exciting time to work in tech in the NRV. Help us spread the word at www.TheNRV.org/IT.