“When God closes a door, he opens a window.”
No, that’s not an excuse for breaking and entering, but it’s a wonderful proverb about opportunity. Roanoke, VA just had a big door close this week as Norfolk Southern announced it would be closing its office in downtown Roanoke – taking with it about 500 professional jobs and selling the building. Although NS will still have a presence here with the Roanoke shops as part of their production arm, the loss of 500 (likely well-paid) business, sales, marketing, accounting and information professionals is a bitter pill for the region to swallow.
But let’s look at some opportunity…
NS has offered relocation package to their staff to Atlanta or Norfolk. I’d assume that most would take the package, it’s just a little scary job hunting right now. However, in my estimation, some of them have established roots here and will not relocate. This is where the prime opportunity comes in, but it must be sold by groups as diverse as City Council, the County Boards of Supervisors (for multiple counties in the metropolitan region), Downtown Roanoke Inc., the Chamber of Commerce and others. There is a lot of professional experience which can be tapped if those groups approach these NS employees and if they communicate the opportunity available.
How many of them have thought about starting their own business? This is prime time for our civic leaders and public officials to showcase their resources in helping start-ups to obtain capitol and guidance to make those dreams become reality. The region has its own little take on Shark Tank which is called Star Tank. This year Star Tank will be holding such an event in May. Now is the time to aggressively promote Star Tank to the affected employees. Those with spouses who can provide income in the interim may just stick around long enough to see if they can chase their dreams. Who knows, if we succeed at this as a community Roanoke may start to develop those things which so many people say is missing from the area and adding to the loss of our youngest and brightest.
What about that building? It’s a nice piece of property in a prime location. I see one alternative already. Although I’m not sure the city is in the game to put a bid on the building, if they do acquire it that would be an interesting location for education. I recall many years ago, as Carilion Clinic (the local health conglomerate) and Virginia Tech began breaking ground on the medical school south of downtown, members of council spoke of also getting a business and/or law graduate school here as well. Why not both? And why not in the same building? Maybe some of those employees have advanced degrees and could teach our up-and-coming leaders. Granted, such an operation would take time. I haven’t really been following any developments on that front, but if there’s something in the works the location could accelerate it. No need to build new, and the foot-traffic would be right where you want it to be, downtown.
I’ve said before that there’s a boat load of opportunity for entrepreneurs to add to the brand of Roanoke. All we have to do is foster that spirit, provide them with the tools to chase their dreams, and be vigilant in attacking every setback as a new opportunity. Who knows, maybe I’ll offer marketing communications services free-of-charge to any start-ups, just to do my part to add to the further growth of this fine city. (And build a portfolio!)