Shop Small, #drivesmall

The Shop Small movement promotes the importance of spending and keeping money in our communities by patronizing our small, locally owned businesses.  But anyone who has been a mall parking lot full of cars, or creeping traffic on a rush-hour journey home, has seen another area where our local economies are bleeding money.  Along with trying to #shopsmall this holiday season, consider trying to #drivesmall as well.


Passenger Rail, the Long-Distance Commuter and Megaregions



The greater region starting north of Charlottesville and extending to North Carolina and Tennessee is strategically situated between megaregions.

Megaregions are commonly defined as a large network of metropolitan regions that are tied together economically in such a way that they are becoming the new competitive units in the global economy. 


Carpooling and Economic Development – Part 2


In the previous blog concerning economic development, I argued that carpooling plays an “unsung hero” role in economic development by facilitating face-to-face conversation between professionals in the same industry cluster.  This is an internal opportunity to improve information exchange and coordination within our regional economy and industry structure.  This blog extends that argument and asserts that there are also external opportunities, related to reputation and regional brand, for carpooling, vanpooling and transit to further contribute to our economic development.

The Roanoke Regional Partnership, through its site, has made great strides in positioning the region’s spectacular outdoor amenities in its regional economic development marketing mix.  Likewise the Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau touts outdoor adventures as part of its tourism marketing message.  Clearly, the natural environment and outdoor amenities are key to our regional reputation and our regional brand.

There is one cloud on the horizon that could tarnish our external reputation (external brand) and set back our recent progress.  We could become air-quality non-attainment, with regards to federal standards, for ground level Ozone.  It is important to note that our regional air-quality has consistently improved since the late 1990s.  However, the federal standards have gotten progressively stricter over time.  The national standard is up for a new review this year.

The last time that we were in danger of becoming non-attainment, the local governments entered into a voluntary program to reduce emissions that was successful in keeping us in attainment.  This time the private sector can pro-actively join in and voluntarily help reduce vehicle emissions through carpooling, vanpooling or transit.  If we become air-quality non-attainment it will hurt our reputation, brand and regional economy, through increased state level emissions regulation.  Our clear regional strategy is to proactively ensure that our air remains clean enough to meet the new standard.

There are three simple actions that you can do to help us avoid losing our regional brand equity:

  1. Sign up for RIDE Solutions and carpool, bike, walk or take the bus to work at least one time a week, and become eligible for the Guaranteed Ride Home program in case of emergency.
  2. Refer the HR Department at your work to the RIDE Solutions Workplace (free) program.
  3. If you are already a RIDE Solutions Workplace refer one of your suppliers, partners or customers to RIDE Solutions so that we can get that industry cluster based communication benefit that was the subject of the first blog.

It is that simple.  Together we can have clean air and avoid becoming non-attainment.

Can Carpooling help with Economic Development?


From “Cluster Analysis for NewVA Region (2004)”

The concept of industry clusters and cluster based strategy has been a vibrant topic in economic development circles over the past couple of decades.  Specific cluster related studies or profiles that cover the combined New River and Roanoke Valleys, Alleghany Highlands and Region 2000 (Lynchburg) have been completed in the past decade and have been useful in regional economic development initiatives.

The famous Harvard Business School professor Michael E. Porter defines clusters in “On Competition” as:

[A] geographically proximate group of interconnected companies and associated institutions in a particular field, linked by commonalities and complementarities.”

He goes on to say that:

Many of the competitive advantages of clusters depend on the free flow of information, the discovery of value-adding exchanges or transactions, the willingness to align agendas and to work across organizations …networks, and a sense of common interest undergird these circumstances. The social structure of clusters thus takes on central importance.

It is precisely in helping to improve the free flow of information, and to solidify professional relationships that carpooling, vanpooling and transit use can make a surprising, and often overlooked contribution to regional economic development.  In a recent blog it was argued that carpooling and vanpooling help facilitate the person-to-person conversations that generate ideas and facilitate teamwork in organizations.  This same effect can be multiplied when carpool, vanpool or transit commuters are from the same industry clusters, but not necessarily the same companies.  The potential for serendipitous discovery of innovative ideas via face-to-face conversations shouldn’t be underestimated.  Carpooling, vanpooling and transit may provide the only opportunities for in person conversations with certain other professionals in the same cluster that otherwise wouldn’t cross your path during your busy workday.  This networking effect was even observed at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. CNN did a story on the Davos shuttles being the ultimate networking tool at the Forum in some cases even more so than the sessions and events themselves.  If even the world’s business, economic and political elite find value by having face-to-face conversations while sharing a ride, just imagine the hidden potential for regional economic development in our part of Virginia.

Bicycle Infrastructure Better for Jobs and Economic Development

Early construction at the Murray Run Bridge at Fishburn Park

Dave Harrison, chair of the City of Roanoke’s Bicycle Advisory Committee shared this study with me yesterday.  The study shows that bike and ped infrastructure projects create 46% more jobs per dollar spent than highway projects.  From the abstract:

Overall we find that bicycling infrastructure creates the most jobs for a given level of spending: For each $1 million, the cycling projects in this study create a total of 11.4 jobs within the state where the project is located. Pedestrian-only projects create an average of about 10 jobs per $1 million and multi-use trails create nearly as many, at 9.6 jobs per $1 million. Infrastructure that combines road construction with pedestrian and bicycle facilities creates slightly fewer jobs for the same amount of spending, and road-only projects create the least, with a total of 7.8 jobs per $1 million. On average, the 58 projects we studied create about 9 jobs per $1 million within their own states. If we add the spill-over employment that is created in other states through the supply chain, the employment impact rises by an average of 3 additional jobs per $1 million.

This is great news, and further supports the idea that investing in bike/ped infrastructure makes smart economic development sense.  In fact, I’d even quibble with an assertion the study abstract makes in its introduction:

Some of these benefits are economic, such as increased revenues and jobs for local businesses, and some are non-economic benefits such as reduced congestion, better air quality, safer travel routes, and improved health outcomes.

I’d argue that all of these benefits have economic dimensions.  Congestion, poor air quality, unsafe travel routes, and poor public health all have economic impacts that are felt in various areas – lost productivity, healthcare costs to treat lung diseases or the victims of traffic accidents, and lost development opportunity as companies choose to expand or relocate to areas that offer better quality of life to their employees.  The costs may be born indirectly, but they are born by someone.

Speaking of quality of life, it turns out we have an excellent example of how investing in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure spurs economic development right here in Roanoke.  Today’s Roanoke Times has an article about the Wasena neighborhood, which has just undergone a rezoning to allow for mixed use development in an effort to revitalize the area.

Among the reasons cited for the neighborhood’s potential, developer Ed Walker said, “the neighborhood holds a lot of promise because of its location near the greenway and river.”

I can easily see the Wasena neighborhood being very greenway-centric.  It’s one of the few places the greenway really connects directly into a neighborhood – the small section between the new low water bridge and Wasena park is on the same grade as the main street and really only a block away from the Ice House building and the likely center of the neighborhood’s redevelopment.  This is a place where the greenway interacts directly with the neighborhood, and I think we’ll be able to credit a lot (though certainly not all) of what’s going to happen there to the foot- and bike-traffic the greenway will bring to the businesses there.