Roanoke Valley sees positive impact from new federal designation

ROANOKE (WSLS10)-- Cities and counties in the Roanoke Valley and Alleghany Highlands could see more federal money and grants, thanks to a new designation. In January, the region was named as an economic development district-- a title that surrounding regions, like the New River Valley and Southwide, have held for years.

In basic terms, the designation means that a project in one city or county can boost economic growth in a larger surrounding region. The new designation covers the counties of Alleghany, Botetourt, Craig and Roanoke, as well as the cities of Covington, Roanoke and Salem.

It's been nearly a decade since the U.S. Economic Development Administration named a new development district. Now, the Roanoke Valley and Alleghany region join areas like the New River Valley-- which has been benefiting from the designation since 1994. The Executive Director of the New River Valley Commission, Kevin Boyd, says the federal funding has helped develop both phases of the Corporate Research Center, the New River Valley Commerce Park and multiple water and sewer projects.

Martinsville is another area that has benefitted from its designation through the EDA, using federal grants to buy training equipment for workforce development at the New College Institute.

It's a little extra funding that will now be available to more of southwest Virginia.

"We're very excited," says Wayne Strickland, the Executive Director of the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission. "It provides us the opportunity to not only tap into some of the grant programs, but leverage them against other federal and state programs as we go after grants for economic development purposes."

The Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission has been working to earn this designation for more than ten years, and in less than a month it's already paying off. Just days after the designation, federal funding through the program was awarded to Roanoke for work on the Deschutes Project.

The EDA awarded a $1.5 million to improve access to the Deschutes property.  Every dollar awarded through this federal grant is provided with the expectation of $8 to $9 additional dollars in private funding to be contributed to the overall project.

"They're going to put in $1.5 million," explains Strickland. "But over the next few years, as Deschutes builds out, there will be tens of millions of dollars invested. I don't want to say their money is seed money, but it's an investment that will help other types of investments."

Grants like this are something we can expect to continue in the newly designated region. Strickland says we will likely see that federal funding tie into the GO Virginia Initiative-- as the Commonwealth works to foster private-sector growth and job creation across the state. Federal grants could also be awarded for work on the Woodhaven Road Development, which is still in the early stages but could eventually become an industrial facility in the Roanoke County/Salem area.

While a majority of the funding we've seen so far has been for infrastructure, this kind of federal grant can also be used for business loans and workforce development-- giving it even more potential uses throughout the newly designated region.