Group looks to plug region's 'brain drain' as graduates look elsewhere for futures

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June 20, 2019
View story at the Roanoke Times...Two startups were born in the same coworking space near downtown Blacksburg in 2014. They both went on to raise money from venture capitalists, launch products and hire employees — just like economic developers like to see.

But only one did so in Blacksburg.

Today, both the company that stayed, Card Isle, and the one that left, LawnStarter, are happy with their respective decisions.

But the opposing experiences highlight the complex — and often invisible — calculus that new graduates consider when choosing where to put down roots.

More of them should be looking in the Lynchburg, Roanoke and New River Valley area, local leaders said Wednesday following a yearlong assessment of the region’s ability to attract, engage and retain talent.

“Stopping the Brain Drain,” the study sponsored by the GO Virginia initiative, found that 18% of local college students surveyed said they would search for jobs within the region after graduation. The majority, meanwhile, said they either didn’t know (26%) or would look outside Virginia (31%).

That number is too low, leaders from the region’s three largest economic development groups — the Roanoke Regional Partnership, Onward New River Valley and the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance — agreed at a press event Wednesday.

“All too often, we know students come to the region and many of them — the 18% or more — end up leaving not knowing the New River Valley beyond a great place to go to college,” Onward New River Valley Executive Director Charlie Jewell said. “So trying to build those connections, help them get off campus and have good experiences with employers throughout the New River Valley is of huge importance to us.”

.Beth Doughty, executive director of the Regional Partnership, said this is what modern economic development looks like. For years, the job has been about recruiting new companies to town. But now , she said , it’s also their responsibility to attract and retain the people employers need.