Does the Roanoke region need more retailers selling outdoor gear? Does it have the potential to attract businesses that want to capitalize on the area’s outdoors culture?
This story, published Sunday, explores how the Roanoke Regional Partnership has been branding the area’s outdoor amenities to attract businesses.
Marketing the great outdoors
By Amanda Codispoti
It’s routine for Bonz Hart to slip in a mountain bike ride at Explore Park or a morning row on Smith Mountain Lake before he heads into work at Meridium, the international software company he started in Roanoke 19 years ago.
That’s the appeal of living and working in the region, Hart said, and it’s also a selling point when it comes to recruiting employees.
“Where else can you live on the lake, be a half an hour from downtown, and be able to swing by and get good mountain biking at Explore Park on the way into work?” Hart asked.
Meridium and other businesses have embraced what some call the region’s greatest asset.
But retail, service and manufacturing businesses tied to outdoor activities have been slow to build on those assets, according to a study done last year by the Roanoke Regional Partnership.
The partnership, an economic development driver for the region, is working to change that by marketing the area’s outdoor amenities and putting on events, such as the Blue Ridge Marathon, that they hope will grab the attention of outdoor-related business looking to expand.
“Part of our biggest problem is they’ve never heard of Roanoke,” said Pete Eshelman, the partnership’s director of outdoor branding.
The study, done with the help of the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, compared Roanoke’s amenities and outdoor economy to those in Asheville, N.C.; Greenville, S.C.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Portland, Maine; and Boulder, Colo. The partnership chose the first four cities because they are similar in size and have outdoor amenities. Boulder was added because it is widely considered to be a leader in outdoor activities, Eshelman said.
Roanoke ranked third, behind Portland and Asheville, in the overall outdoor score, which took into account amenities such as the number of bike shops and campgrounds per capita, as well as factors including the number of sunny days and cost of living.
The region’s weakness, the study found, was in outdoor-related businesses. The region ranked fourth out of the six markets.
“Our hope” in doing the study, Eshelman said, “was that we’d be able to identify those opportunities.”
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