June 2020
Brent Robertson Named Assistant City Manager for Community Development
W. Brent Robertson has been named Assistant City Manager for Community Development, replacing Brian Townsend upon his retirement at the end of June 2020.

A national search was conducted and Robertson was one of more than 100 applicants who applied for the position.

Since October 2019, Robertson has been serving as Accounting and Systems Manager in the City’s Department of Finance. Before working for the City, he served as Franklin County’s Administrator from June 2015 to March 2019, managing 350 employees and a budget of $148 million. Prior to his time in Franklin County, he was the Director of Management and Budget for Roanoke County from November 1990 to June 2015. 

Robertson earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Radford University and a Master of Public Administration degree from James Madison University. He is a Certified Public Accountant and holds a Certificate in Local Government Management from Virginia Tech. He has also completed the Batten Leadership Institute at Hollins University. 

“As a life-long Virginia resident with more than 20 years of local government experience, Brent’s expertise will be a valuable asset to advance the City of Roanoke’s objectives and priorities,” said City Manager Bob Cowell. “We are pleased to have someone of Brent’s caliber join our city administration team.”
City of Roanoke Continues Partnership with Roanoke Economic Development Authority and Total Action for Progress/Business Seed Capital, Inc. to Offer Loans to Benefit Roanoke Small Businesses
COVID19 Relief Loan Fund offers loans up to $3,000 with deferred payment
The City of Roanoke continues to assist City-based small businesses facing challenges as a result of the COVID19 pandemic through a partnership with the Roanoke Economic Development Authority and Total Action for Progress. Loans up to $3,000 are available through Business Seed Capital, Inc. to offset costs associated with employees, rent, leases, and utilities.  Terms of the BSCI loans will be 0% interest with a 12-month maturity and a 90-day deferred payment.

Five of these micro-loans from been approved through the partnership as of June 1, 2020.

Eligibility criteria for funding is as follows: 

1.     Funds are to be used for Roanoke City-based employees, rent, lease, or utilities associated with a Roanoke City location, 
2.     The applicant’s primary business location must be within the City of Roanoke, although the owner may reside elsewhere,
3.     The business must be:
·         At least two years old
·         Have less than 25 full-time employees
·         Hold a current Roanoke City Business License and be current on all fees, permits, and taxes as of February 29, 2020,
4.     Applicant must own at least 50% of the business and provide a personal guarantee of repayment in the form of the Note,
5.     Applicant must submit eight weeks of past payroll expenses, two years of financial statements and tax returns, and two years of personal tax returns.
To learn more about the COVID19 Relief Fund and to apply, contact Curtis Thompson, TAP at 540-589-6483 or by email at  CurtisThompson@tapintohope.org . You may also contact Sean Adkins in the City of Roanoke Department of Economic Development at 540-853-5405 or by email at Sean.Adkins@roanokeva.gov .
Spotlight on Business
The Virginia Varsity Companies

Virginia Varsity has been serving the Roanoke Valley and beyond with moving and storage services since 1988. The company operates a local and long-distance moving company and soon-to-be five storage facilities in the region. Virginia Varsity has received many awards and widespread recognition for its customer service, ethical business practices, and service to the community. The company’s latest project is the culmination of decades of experience in both moving and storage industries and is a testament to the company’s dedication to excellence and customer-centric business practices. 
The Franklin Road/Downtown corridor has long been a major market for the Virginia Varsity companies. With a broad customer base and the dynamic and growing Virginia Tech/Carilion campus,   Virginia Varsity has targeted this area for storage development for several years.   In 2018, Virginia Varsity identified the Graves Humphreys Building as an optimal opportunity. The site was appealing for a number of reasons: an unbelievable location, industrial zoning, and a vacant, 90-space parking lot that could serve as the ideal building site for a next generation storage facility.
The Virginia Varsity development team brainstormed about the exciting and unique possibilities of this property. With such a strong location, neighboring the River’s Edge Sports Complex and Roanoke Greenway, the project had the opportunity to be a highly successful storage project, but also something much more dynamic. Something truly special for the Roanoke Valley.
As a single 2.2 acre parcel, it became clear there would be two distinctly different uses for the property. The iconic Graves Humphreys building became a key piece of the overall vision as the building was home to a varied group of businesses that used the building in different ways, from showroom to logistics to traditional office space. The development team determined that the Graves Humphreys Building, would be reimagined, rebranded and reintroduced. Now called the  Varsity Park Business Center , renovation of this important building is currently underway.
Developing a premier storage property has always been the central priority. The development team faced a number of challenges, chief among them was a site sitting in the flood plain. Making the grades functional between the existing Graves Humphreys building, the planned new parking lot, and the elevated storage site required creativity. Ultimately, they determined the storage site needed to be raised approximately 8’ to be safely above the flood plain.
The grade challenges were eventually solved in a way that provided a variety of loading options for storage customers and a highly functional, central parking lot for the complex’s varied customers and employees. The design team meticulously engineered the interior of the storage building with the same collaborative creativity to optimize customer service and functionality. 
Virginia Varsity’s extensive market data from its moving and storage businesses provided invaluable guidance in creating a broad, ideal unit mix with over 500 storage units. The design process actually continued during construction and the building evolved. The design team added innovative customer features and spaces to elevate the customer experience. These include,
·       Virginia Varsity’s “Space Sizer” – A large storage unit with an adjustable wall, this innovative feature helps customers identify the perfect size space for their storage needs. 
·       Multiple Loading and Access Options – A rarity for a storage facility, a dedicated business loading area featuring a full sized, tractor-trailer accessible loading dock will make this facility ideally suited for commercial/business use. A covered loading area accessible from various dock heights will protect customers from the weather while loading or unloading their belongings.
·        The Bullpen  – The building’s “living room,” this comfortable customer lounge will serve new or ongoing customers whether they are waiting for movers or touching base with a client for a brief meeting.
·        WorkCenter  – A private, quiet business room for customers to catch up on emails or get a little work done.
With the building’s postcard views and location near the Roanoke Valley’s outdoor sporting epicenter, uses beyond traditional storage have been added to enhance our customers’ lifestyle, business and community. 
·        Centre Court at Varsity Park  – A creative, flexible space, this meeting room is ideal for small group collaboration. With a full glass exterior directly overlooking the Riverside South tennis courts and the latest in technology, this is the perfect place for ideas to flourish.
·        The SkyBoxes at   Varsity Park  – These quiet, personal spaces will provide the perfect getaway for those seeking a quiet place to read, reflect or reconnect with one’s passions. Offering stunning views of Mill Mountain and the Riverside community, these spaces are a blank canvas to personalize and transform into a private, Zen retreat. 
·        The Field House – A private event space with unparalleled views and amenities, the Field House will be as versatile as it is special. This 1,000 sf space will be ideal for watching March Madness, hosting a rehearsal dinner or having an intimate private party.  
Virginia Varsity is excited to bring this special project to its customers and the community. “We have a long-term vision and are deeply invested and interested in contributing to our community’s quality of life,” says company President John Lugar. Construction is in the final stages and the storage building is expected to open soon with opening events, previews, and reveals.  Read more about the story and the progress at  www.VarsityParkFranklin.com .  
Live Here, Work Anywhere, Play Everywhere
Amid all this craziness, has there been a better time to reevaluate where you live? The Roanoke Regional Partnership is sending that message out in a campaign to attract people who can work from anywhere. 

The campaign, “The View from Your Office,” is running in major cities on the East and West Coasts. It touts the benefits of the outdoor lifestyle, housing costs, savings, and convenience. With major companies such as Facebook and Google making the decision to let almost any employee work remotely, this campaign is the right message at the right time.

Experts predict an exodus from major cities and the coronavirus. While no region in the country is immune from the virus, the ability to naturally social distance is an advantage for the Roanoke Region that enhances its lifestyle.

If you have children, friends, or relatives who are thinking about this exact choice, direct them  here . Get2KnowNoke.com is a comprehensive resource for living, working, and enjoying the Roanoke Region.
Grass Roots and More: Caring Neighbors Responding to COVID-19

We couldn’t miss it.  COVID-19 was bringing out the best in people.  In conversations with Old Southwest, Inc. board members, on Facebook, and on Next Door, the message was clear: neighbors wanted to help.  They were, and are, helping out with the kind of grass roots caring and compassion that comes from crisis.  Old Southwest, Inc.’s Board stepped in to give neighborhood grass roots efforts a boost.

We are fortunate to have a non-profit in Old Southwest that exists solely to support our neighbors by building community, preserving our history, and focusing on neighborhood safety.  Neighbors banded together to establish Old Southwest, Inc. more than forty years ago, as a vehicle for historic revitalization of our diverse neighborhood near downtown Roanoke.  

Given our mission, on March 20 our Board formed the Old Southwest Coronavirus Support Network to assist homebound neighbors.  We publicized our Network on Facebook and Next Door.  We started small and slowly, with 10 members joining in the first week – mostly current and former Board members.  Through repeated messaging, we now have 40 Old Southwest neighbors in our Network.  

On April 11, 16 Network members wearing masks and gloves, and keeping an appropriate social distance, put 1,600 door hangers on 907 residential multi and single-family homes across Old Southwest.  We wanted to be inclusive and go beyond social media.  Our outreach insured our homebound neighbors are aware a Network exists to pick up pre-paid items and check on them as needed.  

Our blog explains what we can and can’t do in our Network:  https://www.oldsouthwest.org/blog/covid-19-response-in-old-southwest .  For example, we can’t pay for items our homebound neighbors need or involve ourselves in their finances in any way– we can only pick up items they buy.  We instead refer our neighbors to community resources because we have no financial support to provide.

How about your neighborhood, or even your street?  You don’t need an association and you don’t need to hang something on every door!  It helps to have a core group with roots in a neighborhood to build on – PTA, faith-based group, runners, walkers, or whatever.  You need someone to take the lead in organizing, serve as point of contact for inquiries, and match people in need with volunteers.  Finally, you need persistence on social media to get the word out. 

Our health care workers, emergency service personnel, grocery, pharmacy, and essential workers are the true heroes in getting us through these challenging times.  Caring neighbors, with the will and organizational skill to help someone next door or an entire neighborhood, are simply doing their part to make a difference.

For more information, contact Hal Irvin, President, Old Southwest Inc. at halirvin@yahoo.com.
Preparing to Reopen
Mask-Friendly Businesses

Planning the reopening of your business soon? If so, you may wish to download one of the graphics to the left provided by the Roanoke Regional Small Business Development Center (SBDC)...feel free to print the graphics and hang them in your storefront window!
The SBDC also recently held a presentation regarding safely reopening businesses while adhering to social distancing and other health and safety guidelines . View this presentation below.

Experience Leadership Institute Begins for Recent College Grads

As we all adapt and adjust to our unique situations, the Roanoke Regional Partnership is shifting their summer leadership program to be hosted virtually and will be offered widely to all students and recent graduates.  

The Partnership is committed to ensuring that our regional college students and recent college graduates gain professional experience and have an opportunity to network with regional leaders and young professionals during this uncertain time.  

The new program, the  Experience Leadership Institute  will provide eight weeks of programming that aligns with the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) competencies. The program is designed to help students successfully transition from college to the workplace. It will also offer additional sessions to connect students to regional leaders and young professionals allowing opportunities for career exploration and mentorship.

Students will be able to use this opportunity to develop and grow, as well as meet a cohort of people their age that are also interested in living and working in the Roanoke Region. The Institute will be a great addition to full-time jobs for recent grads or interns. 

For more information, contact Erin Burcham, Director of Talent Solutions at erin@roanoke.org or 540-343-1550, extension 111.
Important Surveys...
we need your input, please!
Proposed Route 460 Investments
The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization urgently needs public input on committing $5 million in regional funds anticipated in 2027 for five projects on Route 460. This commitment could bring up to $20 million into the region in additional funds.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) completed the Route 460 Operational Improvement Study with extensive public input, and developed key projects that will improve traffic flow and safety on this critical corridor. VDOT will be providing more information and seeking public comment on these key projects, but the RVTPO urgently needs public input NOW on committing $5 million in regional funds to these projects in order to bring up to $20 million additional funds to the region.

After you take the survey by clicking below, you may be interested in TWO public hearings during the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization Policy Board meeting – one on the Route 460 projects and the other on the Transportation Improvement Program (you took the survey for that a few weeks ago). These will both be held online on Thursday, June 25, 2020 at 1:00 pm. Check the  agenda when it is posted  the week before the meeting for instructions on how to participate.

For questions, contact Rachel Ruhlen, Transportation Planner II at 540-343-4417 or by email at rruhlen@rvarc.org.
You've most likely been asked to complete a variety of surveys during this unsettling time. This survey is the only one designed specifically for all companies in the Roanoke Region and implemented only from the Alleghany Highlands to Roanoke Valley to Franklin County. Please take just a few minutes to complete because the information collected will help design and implement assistance for our region.
 A new computed tomography (CT) scanner was delivered to the Health Sciences and Technology campus in Roanoke on May 12, 2020.
Sophisticated new scanner to aid cancer research, treatment for pets and people
Cancer research and treatment for the region’s pets and people got a boost when a new computed tomography (CT) scanner was delivered to the Health Sciences and Technology campus in Roanoke.

The Somatom Confidence RT Pro scanner uses a combination of two-dimensional X-rays and advanced computation to produce three-dimensional images of organs, bones, and other tissues. 

If cancer is present, the scanner will allow veterinarians and researchers at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and the new Virginia Tech Animal Cancer Care and Research Center to visualize tumors from many angles, meaning improved diagnosis and staging for treatment planning, better understanding of the biology of cancers, and development of potential new therapies.

“This state of the art CT equipment will support patient health care and multiple aspects of biomedical research at Virginia Tech to address important questions about normal function, disease processes, and for the improving delivery of precision-guided therapies,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and vice president for Health Sciences and Technology at Virginia Tech. “Not only will the instrumentation facilitate translational research for future benefits, it will also provide immediate access to precise image registration for potentially life-saving radiation treatments of companion animals with cancer.” 

According to Gregory Daniel, interim dean of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, “The scanner is an especially critical instrument at the new cancer center, because in addition to diagnosing cancer, it can be used alongside our linear accelerator to precisely define the areas targeted for radiation treatments.”

This technology will be available to researchers at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and across the Virginia Tech campus, providing a unique opportunity for advancing understanding of cancer in pets and in people.

2019 Progress Report Highlights - Why Travel Matters

A Special Message from
Landon Howard, Visit VBR President

At Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge (VBR), we take our job of place marketing VBR very seriously and have an incredible passion for what we do! We acknowledge the many successes we have had as an organization has only been possible with the support of you and the governments we represent. For this, we are most grateful!

The  2019 Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge Progress Report  highlights what we have achieved TOGETHER as an industry and community. TOGETHER, we have achieved so much! Even though COVID-19 is impacting our industry in a huge way in 2020, we do look to the future with confidence that Virginia’s Blue Ridge will experience better times in the future and we will achieve much higher goals in 2021, 2022, and 2023. We believe in Virginia's Blue Ridge!

It is a privilege to represent 1,500 plus business partners, who are part of Virginia’s Blue Ridge. We know it is tough right now, and we are especially grateful to Spencer Roberts with Forged Film Company, who created, produced and put together a video for the region at no cost to the partners involved. Spencer worked with several local trailsetters to showcase their business and their dedication to the region through the “Better Days Ahead" video .  We are grateful for his talents and this beautiful production.

We encourage everyone to share Spencer’s video on your own social media networks if you’d like, and certainly tag Forged Film Co. when doing so. "Better Days Ahead" can be found on both of the outlets below.

Tourism fosters community pride and more than ever, our citizens are proud to live in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.

Thank you for your continued support!
COVID-19 Resources for Businesses and Employees

COVID-19 means it isn’t business as usual in the Roanoke Region. The Featured BizLink above can connect you with the resources available to businesses and employees. Never has it been more important to coordinate the efforts of our local governments and other key agencies to assist our businesses, owners, and citizens.

Please use this resource to learn more about the availability of Business Resources (national resources and programs), Regional Resources and Employee Resources.

4 Tips for Reopening following COVID19

We’re all in such an uncharted time right now. Reopening businesses is a positive for the economy, but how does a business proceed with modifications to service while preserving their customer relations? Here are four tips for reopening – in whatever phase you’re allowed - from a few small business owners who are navigating these new waters.

Follow the guidelines for your safety – and the safety of others
Fitness businesses were allowed to open with limitations in Phase 1 – only outdoor classes of 10 people or less, maintaining six-feet apart at all times. Some fitness business owners have adapted by changing their classes to accommodate the new requirements. 

“Going forward, remember that our health is important and companies such as mine are essential,” said Roanoke Yoga owner Erica Austin. “We can move forward knowing the recommendations and safety guidelines.”

Familiarize yourself with restrictions of the reopening phase and embrace what you can do during this time within your industry. Molding your business to the new conditions of operation, you’ll be able to operate both safely and within requirements.
Be innovative
Many businesses have found new or expanded spaces in the online realm. Distribution via services like GrubHub and DoorDash has expanded. Curbside pick-up is a new catchphrase for everything from groceries to beer. Classes have moved online and many office meetings are now conducted virtually with Zoom. 

If you have services you can begin to offer online – or continue to offer online during our transition phases – know consumers are willing and happy to meet you there! Learning and using the technology can only be a benefit to you in the future, whether your business adds the online option as a constant or decides it is not a fit.

“Members have been great!” said Rebecca Dameron, owner of The Noke Training, LLC. 

Upon announcement of social distancing, The Noke began taking sign-ups for members to use the open gym, ten at a time – a new way of doing things, that members embraced. When full closure happened, they were able to rent equipment to members – a new approach to keeping the business thriving.

“Our members are very supportive of the gym as a small business and a community,” Dameron said. “When we are allowed to reopen, we will continue with the sign-ups.”
Give space – and a little grace
We’re all in different stages of life – some have been working from home, some have continued their jobs (with safety provisions they are not used to) and some have been unable to work for a variety of reasons. When you are opening your business, remember that people need extra space – physically and mentally. Extend a little extra grace to those who seem to bristle at new rules, but don’t compromise standards.
Embrace the new normal
There’s a certain amount of trauma experienced by everyone and our new normal is going to look a little different. The way your business fits into people’s lives may change – maybe your services transition online, maybe your employees can work remotely, maybe your hours shift. This is a time to test things and find where you have the most potential to grow. Embrace the change as an opportunity to reinvent in places you may not have been able to before.

“If one thing is certain, it’s that everything changes and this is just testing our resiliency and passion to our small businesses,” Austin said. “Small business owners love what they do and feel like they make a difference to the community. Nothing can stop that.”

Business Bits is brought to you by Leigh Anne Stover ( lstover@vt.edu ), Virginia Tech Marketing & Program Coordinator, Virginia Tech Roanoke Center - (540) 767-6101

Zagster Bikeshare to End Operations in Roanoke Valley
The service, operated by the RIDE Solutions commuter assistance program, will cease operations by June 12 th  as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an email to its community partners on May 28, Zagster announced it would end bikeshare service in Roanoke because of financial strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The effects of COVID-19 on our communities has been tragic,” the statement read. “Sadly, the pandemic has also impacted Zagster’s business, and it is with heavy hearts that we must inform you that Zagster will no longer be providing bike share services in your community. This was a difficult decision but a necessary one, for which we are truly sorry.”
The removal of bicycles and stations will begin immediately, with all equipment to be removed by June 12 th . Bikeshare service has been suspended since March 26 th  out of concern for the health and safety of users and service technicians at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Says RIDE Solutions Director Jeremy Holmes, “With the deleterious economic impact of COVID-19 both locally and nationally, we are saddened but not surprised at the news that Zagster’s business has also suffered and will result in the end, for the time being, of bikeshare in Roanoke. However, we know that bikeshare has been a success in the Roanoke Valley, and we also know that the micromobility market will adapt to the post-pandemic economic situation. We’re confident that new mobility solutions will arrive that will allow us to revisit bikeshare – or perhaps something more exciting! – in the next few years.”
Zagster bikeshare started in Roanoke in May of 2017 with most of the funding coming from private sponsorships. The system, which launched with 50 bikes and 10 stations, quickly expanded to almost double that number, including additional stations in Salem and Vinton.
“With the help of our sponsors and community partners,” says Holmes, “we funded and launched a bikeshare program in record time, in a market that only a few years previous seemed an unlikely candidate for a successful program, and created a valued transportation and recreation service for our citizens. That is a testament to the strength and creativity of Roanoke’s business and civic community, and I know that we will be able to tap into that again sooner rather than later for new and better amenities.”
RIDE Solutions is a commuter services program operated by the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission in cooperation with the New River Valley Planning District Commission, the Central Virginia Planning District Commission, and the West Piedmont Planning District Commission. It provides multimodal trip planning services for citizens and employers throughout Central and Southwest Virginia.

Don't forget...BizRoanoke is on RVTV Channel 3!

 BizRoanoke is a monthly television program highlighting economic activity and programs within the City of Roanoke.

Tune into RVTV Channel 3 to learn more, access it on our website at 
www.BizRoanoke.com  or follow this link to our most recent show: 

The City of Roanoke Department of Economic Development is on Facebook and Instagram ! Please "like" or "follow" us today!
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City Owned Available Property
The City of Roanoke has a variety of properties available for acquisition, including existing buildings (as available) and buildable sites. Proposals for these properties must be approved by Council and must be submitted to the City of Roanoke Department of Economic Development. 

For more information on available properties and the proposal process, please visit the links below:

Upcoming Training and Events

Business Smart Start 2020 - Online
Tuesday, June 23 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Business Smart Start is an introduction to owning your own business. Topics covered include deciding on a legal entity structure, basic accounting and tax issues, steps you need to take for permits and licensing, steps to writing a business plan and basics of marketing and market research. The nine steps to market research will be covered to determine if your business idea makes sense. Class is for individuals in business, thinking of starting a business even if it might be years in the future. The class is 3.0 hours long so these topics will only be briefly covered. Upon completing the class you will have the opportunity to schedule a one-on-one appointment with one of the professional business advisors in the SBDC office.

For questions please email Tom Tanner at ttanner@roanokesmallbusiness.org.