We admit it: we’re a bit spoiled living and working in Staunton, Virginia. We like Staunton’s walkable downtown and easy access to bigger cities and wilderness alike. Given these benefits it is amazing that the Blue Ridge—and especially the Interstate 81 corridor—doesn’t get more attention. (Maybe, as some counter, that’s a good thing.)
Consider this list from New Geography of the best cities in the U.S. for job growth.
Search for Virginia and notice how strongly the Interstate-81 corridor does:
- Winchester #66 (who knew?!?)
- Blacksburg 116
- Charlottesville 162
- Richmond 177
- Harrisonburg 206
- Roanoke 308
It’s not fracking that’s fueling jobs here (thank goodness), but schools! I left out the two DC/Northern Virginia locations on the list, but those are also driven in part by higher education opportunities. It indicates the jobs of the future are jobs that require higher education. And the best (highest?) education can be found along the Appalachian Corridor in Virginia.
In our short stretch of I-81 we are bordered at the north by James Madison University (Harrisonburg), by Washington and Lee University (Lexington) and further south by Virginia Tech (Blacksburg). In between are several other higher education institutions, from Blue Ridge Community College to Mary Baldwin College locally. We are awash in higher education. What we need is to retain our graduates and encourage more of them to start businesses here.
What happens to all those STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates? For a long time, many headed to bigger, more competitive job markets. Many still do.
Yet, there is room for optimism. Today, more are choosing to remain here now that opportunities to work remotely continues to gain traction and more start-ups are bubbling up locally. That’s great news because it allows for the development of local “scenes”—small, but vital for the exchange of ideas. For example, there are a growing number of STEM-related start-ups in nearby Charlottesville via the University of Virginia. While Charlottesville is geographically considered “Central Virginia,” the close proximity of activity is a good thing for our region.
Locally, we’re fortunate to have an economic development emphasis that favors entrepreneurship. We have one of just a handful of micro-lender organizations (the Staunton Creative Community Fund) offering technical assistance, classes, and lending. Similarly, from April 24-26, Staunton will host “InnovateLIVE (Local Innovators, Visionaries, and Entrepreneurs),” a discussion of overlapping roles of technology, entrepreneurship, and community development. (I’ll be at InnovateLIVE, along with photographer Pat Jarrett, to discuss start-ups and working remotely.) Even as a small town we even enjoy a makerspace offering 3-D printing and other experimentation, too.
It is exciting to watch the tech developments nationally. It is revealing to see how that plays out regionally and locally, too. At orobora we are well-versed with contemporary working arrangements that favor a geographically diverse team serving clients near and far. That’s the intersection of local and global, and, reveals the jobs (and job makers) of tomorrow.