RISE 2024: Igniting Collective Action for a Thriving Roanoke Region

Experience Conference 2024 Event Recap

Over 200 attendees, speakers, and panelists gathered for the highly anticipated relaunch of the 2024 Experience Conference, held on May 2-3 at venues throughout downtown Roanoke. Showcasing the vibrancy of the region’s urban core, the conference spanned iconic locations such as the Taubman Museum of Art, Six and Sky Rooftop Bar, the new EYE planetarium, Hotel Roanoke, and the City Market Building.

Attendees hailing from 19 towns, cities, and localities across the Commonwealth converged at the event to delve into cutting-edge technology, engage with non-profit organizations, explore new avenues for community involvement, network with peers, and glean insights into the power of individual and collective action.

“Experience Conference never disappoints. Rishi Jaitly’s captivating talk on being a ‘Full Stack Human’, and his call to self-reflection to reengage with the humanities and liberal arts to add meaning and context to technology deeply resonated with me,” said John Park, co-owner of JPG Agency and a Get2KnowNoke ambassador. “As someone mid-career, I also gained a surprising amount of useful insights from the professional networking and communication session. I left feeling inspired and energized, with a renewed sense of what’s possible.”

Virginia State Delegate Sam Rasoul kicked off the conference with an impromptu speech that recognized local influencers in the room and highlighted the diverse, melting pot that now represents the city.

While the theme of this year’s conference was RISE, with the intention to RISE together as one, the recurring topic among many of the speakers and panels was transformation. From the Riverdale Project in SE Roanoke to the Melrose Plaza Project in NW Roanoke, to the innovation corridor investments and the introduction of their incubator on Jefferson Ave., to transformational tech like AI, and even in The Rookie Restaurateur live podcast session, they spoke to the energy of the region’s burgeoning culinary scene.

“There are so many transformational projects happening right now in the Roanoke Region which have brought us to this tipping point, said Julia Boas, event organizer and director of talent strategies at the Roanoke Regional Partnership. “It’s an exciting time to be working and living in the Roanoke Region, and together we can support these projects and community efforts in a variety of ways.”

A session inside the Taubman Museum of Art theater with a great crowd, ready for thought-leading discussion.

The 2024 Experience Conference tasked attendees to think deeply about how we can lift each other up within the community, and attract new talent to the region. How can we support non-profits, the arts, transformational developments, talent attraction efforts, higher education, small businesses, and infrastructure improvements? These unique elements are critical in making the Roanoke Region an ideal place to live and work.

Attendees were informed of the many exciting things happening around the region, leaving all feeling invigorated, inspired, and ready to support through collective action, information sharing, fundraising, volunteering, and more!

We were also reminded of the boundless potential in Virginia’s Blue Ridge and the power we all have to implement positive change. Change isn’t an abstract concept or beyond our reach; it’s something we’ve witnessed time and again in this beautiful place.

Live dance, music, and art permeated the conference adding vibrancy and beauty between sessions. Special thanks to the Roanoke Cultural Endowment and Local Colors for organizing.

Think about the landmarks we cherish today—the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Appalachian Trail, Explore Park, Elmwood Amphitheater, Daleville Town Center, Main Street Salem, Rocky Mount, or Vinton (just to name a few)— all of these projects started with a spark of inspiration and grew through collective action. From large-scale projects to our favorite local small businesses, each required the support of passionate individuals, supportive governments, and private-sector involvement. That spark is what Experience is meant to ignite.

As we move forward from Experience 2024, let’s carry forward this guiding premise. Change isn’t just possible; it’s inevitable and can be immensely positive when driven by informed individuals (like you). Let’s continue to dream, innovate, and make a difference because together, we have the power to shape the future of the Roanoke Region into something truly extraordinary.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to all the attendees, speakers, partners, and sponsors who supported the conference and contributed to its success. Your enthusiasm and dedication inspire us to continue building upon this momentum for future years.

We invite you to join us in shaping the future of the Experience Conference, to participate in the committee, and to help us amplify its impact on our community. Shoot us an email if you’d like to host a program or join the Experience planning committee. Together we can make a difference!

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Revolutionizing the Workplace: Navigating Industry 4.0 for Employers

Harnessing the Technology of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Each time transformational technology has been added to the landscape of business and manufacturing, there has been an industrial revolution (think gas-powered machines, electronics, nuclear power, and the internet). The fourth industrial revolution is here (some might argue the fifth is upon us), and industries across the world are harnessing the power of cutting-edge technologies such as additive manufacturing, Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence, autonomy, automation, and more.

Changing your entire company structure to marry new technologies with old systems can feel overwhelming and requires cooperation from the C-suite down to trainees. Thanks to a project led by GO Virginia and Virginia Tech College of Engineering, the Roanoke Region of Virginia now has access to free Industry 4.0 curriculum, training, and implementation-plan development. Get your entire company thinking with future tech in mind.

Contact the program coordinator to learn more about the training and curriculum, or join one of the upcoming information sessions or workshops.

Benefits of Implementing Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 technologies extend their influence across various sectors, including manufacturing, transportation, retail, agriculture, healthcare, banking, emergency response, and education. To thrive in the rapidly evolving digital economy, introducing your workforce to the knowledge of Industry 4.0 becomes imperative. Industry 4.0 planning and training can affect your company’s bottom line in a variety of ways, but below are a few positive outcomes Industry 4.0 practitioners can point to:

  • Increasing labor productivity, production capacity, and reducing material losses
  • Improving customer service, delivery lead times, and supply chain efficiency
  • Leveraging digitized operational data for business decision making
  • Facilitating more effective human-computer-robot production environments
  • Achieving higher employee satisfaction from being part of the transformation process
  • Capitalizing on existing talent and improving skill sets to elevate the intrinsic value of your workforce
  • Reducing environmental impact through waste reduction, water consumption, and energy efficiency

Source: McKinsey & Company

The recent pandemic underscored the need for resilient manufacturing capabilities. The increased demand for growth and the constraints of traditional workforce development put manufacturers in a bind. Industry 4.0 presents an opportunity for manufacturers, especially small ones, to adopt advanced technologies, enhance productivity, and provide upskilling opportunities for sustainable growth.

Dean Young, Vice President, Business Transformation, GENEDGE Alliance

Deloitte University video on exploring the world of connected enterprises. Industry 4.0

Prioritizing Industry 4.0 in the C-Suite

If you’re serious about your Industry 4.0 future, it must be initiated in the C-suite first. Without that level of engagement, real change is next to impossible, and you could find yourself outpaced by competitors.

To build your Industry 4.0 plan for success, identify a leader with the experience to:

  • Analyze and solve gaps in your digitalization strategy.
  • Identify areas where your investment will have the greatest impact on overall safety, efficiency, agility, and operational control.
  • Drive cultural change and empower your workforce to embrace innovation and advocate for digitally driven solutions.

Source: Forbes.com

What Does Industry 4.0 Training Entail?

Luckily for employers in the Roanoke Region, the GO Virginia and Virginia Tech Industry 4.0 Curriculum breaks down the content into modules relevant to different experiences and education levels.

Module 1: Overview of Industry 4.0 and the Foundation Skills Required (This could be relevant for CTE students in high school and learners being introduced to Industry 4.0 concepts by employers.)
Module 2: Soft Skills Required in Industry 4.0 Organizations (Focuses on self-awareness and critical thinking; machinery communications and the basics of network structures, protocols, procedures, etc.)
Module 3: Industry 4.0 Professional Education (Continued education for professionals already working within Industry 4.0. Includes advice/support developing business plans and new products.)

“Given the recent demographic trend of baby-boomers exiting the workforce and the challenges of recruiting Millennials and GenZ into the manufacturing sector, these ‘connected solutions’ are now becoming far more valuable in terms of creating a work culture where our next generation of leaders will thrive.  Wealth creation from these technologies is also opening more pathways to the middle class for a broader segment of our communities.  It is an exciting time to be involved in Industry 4.0!”

– Jay Foster, CEO and Founder of Flex-Metrics

Create Higher Paying Jobs and ACE Employers

Automated-Connected-Electrified (ACE) employers will be global leaders in next-generation manufacturing and automation, and we’re here to make sure that Roanoke Region employers are those leaders. With demographic shifts in the workforce, these technologies create a work culture conducive to the growth of the next generation of leaders, fostering wealth creation and broadening pathways to the middle class. You won’t need 1000 employees to run a high-volume, productive plant anymore – you need 200 Industry 4.0 savvy employees.

Industry 4.0 is not just a technological revolution; it’s a strategic imperative for employers. Embracing these transformative technologies and investing in workforce education can position your organization at the forefront of the evolving industrial landscape. As Industry 4.0 unfolds, be the catalyst for change, unlocking the true potential of your workforce and ensuring sustained success in the digital age.

CNBC Explains: What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Roanoke Career Event Aimed at Students and Graduates Hopes to Strengthen Talent Pipeline

October 4 Talent Expo to be held at the Taubman Museum in Downtown Roanoke

Roanoke, VA (September 26, 2023)– Get2KnowNoke (G2KN) and the Virginia Talent + Opportunity Partnership (V-TOP) are hosting the Fall Intern and Early Career Expo to connect Roanoke Region employers with potential talent educated in the region. On October 4, college students, recent graduates, and early career professionals are invited to meet with regional employers about career and intern opportunities.

From 4:30-7:30 p.m. at the Taubman Museum of Art in downtown Roanoke, nearly 50 local employers will be on-site to discuss both paid internship programs and early career positions with talent looking to gain valuable experience and on-the-job training. Attendees can still register online to learn about regional companies, internship opportunities, entry-level positions, the Roanoke Region, and its professional ecosystem.

Entry to the expo is free for attendees, and higher education institutions will provide transportation to and from the event. Enrolled students and alumni must register by September 27 for transportation.

Along with G2KN and V-TOP, all the region’s top colleges and universities have collaborated in the planning of this event to maximize the value to students and employers. Hollins University, Ferrum College, Virginia Tech, Radford University, Roanoke College, and Virginia Western Community College career service department are all engaged in this effort.

Continue reading “Roanoke Career Event Aimed at Students and Graduates Hopes to Strengthen Talent Pipeline”

One Of Virginia’s Largest Construction Companies Talks Talent Attraction

Branch is one of the largest construction companies in Virginia, and their 58,000+ sq. foot corporate headquarters can be found on Peters Creek Rd. in the city of Roanoke. The employee-owned company has expanded its presence across the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States, with a large portion of its 1,100 employees living and working in the Roanoke Region (as well as Virginia and North Carolina). You can learn more about the history of Branch here.

We spoke with a great group of folks who manage talent attraction and human relations across all their business units, which include Branch Civil, Branch Builds, and Hopkins|Lacy – and got some great insight into why their company is leading the way for the Roanoke Region.

State-of-the-Art STEM Building at Virginia Western – Built by Branch Group

Branch Group’s Recruitment Strategy

Branch is not unique when facing challenges in the labor market. In addition to the unprecedented, historically high number of job openings exacerbated by COVID-19, the construction industry is battling an increased shortage of skilled workers. Closing the gap between the large number of experienced workers retiring from the industry and the small number of those entering will be a challenge for the next decade. As an employee-owned company, it’s critical that we are always striving to attract and keep the best employees we can since our success hinges on their talents.

One of the foundational elements of our strategy is consistent communication and workforce planning with our business unit leaders (Branch has three separate entities). This allows us to understand current and future staffing needs.

These needs can change suddenly due to project schedules, and we often have to recruit high numbers quickly. By having regular meetings, tracking current and predicted job openings, and sharing intel, we can be proactive instead of reactive.

It’s proved crucial to stay on top of technology trends and incorporate new platforms efficiently for both recruiters and hiring managers. In 2022, we introduced a new employee referral program and the number of referrals has increased dramatically. The addition of a text messaging system, integrated with our recruiting software, improved our ability to communicate with candidates who work in the field and are on the go. We also improved our reporting and added analytical data to help identify gaps in our pipeline, the jobs, and regions that are most popular or have the largest candidates drop off and inform us about the candidate’s journey from awareness to hire.

2023 Branch Group Intern Cohort

Talent also has a strong partnership with the internal marketing department. Sharing this data with marketing allows them to create better campaigns, strategically buy media, and pivot quickly when needed. They can effectively communicate our company’s employee value proposition (EVP) in creative ways to break through the noise of our competitors — by focusing on the culture that employee ownership creates, the accountability and opportunities that exist because of it, and the rewards it reaps, we’re able to attract the best talent.

Construction is a traditionally male profession, but Branch works hard to break those social norms.

Tapping Into Diverse or Unexpected Talent Pools

Comprising members of Human Resources and stakeholders within the business units, our Workforce Development committee has successfully identified the best-untapped talent pools and groups that have diverse candidates with transferrable skills. Through these programs and partnerships with various agencies, we are seeing more candidates and a positive impact on our diversity numbers. It’s critical that HR works on identifying these groups with employees within the organization since they will know where their peers are. As an organization, you cannot always depend on your leaders to know where to look.

What Could the Roanoke Region Be Doing to Attract More Young Talent?

To attract young talent, it is imperative that the region offer affordable housing options to new graduates (especially those saddled with student loans) and young adults just moving out on their own. This may call for fewer restrictions to building apartments or incentivizing the building of smaller, single-family homes.

The region does a great job of highlighting our amazing outdoor lifestyle and vibrant downtown, both of which are attractive to young adults. We’ve also noticed neighboring regions introducing “non-alcoholic bars” which is a trend that our region is lacking.

Businesses and organizations need to build stronger relationships with the many colleges and universities in the region. We want recent graduates to stay here, instead of transplanting to larger, more expensive cities or moving back to their hometowns. They may not even consider us an option if we don’t show them what we offer.

Campus recruitment & K-12 engagement are essential elements of Branch’s long-term recruitment strategy.

Branch Collaborations with Regional Educational Institutions

Building relationships is one of Branch’s core values, so collaboration with local educational institutions is a top priority. We consistently evaluate our success with students in their various programs to optimize the relationship for both parties. Sponsoring and attending hiring events, speaking at colleges and classes, mentoring students, offering internships and career exploration opportunities, and working with their career centers are just a few ways that we engage.

It should be noted that we have found the most success in partnering with our local high schools. Interest in STEM careers like construction and engineering starts way before college! We love to interact with the students at local vocational and high schools.

Branch Builds and Hopkins|Lacy are both involved in the mega-project for Carilion’s newest tower.

We provide interviewing coaching, soft-skill training, career exploration days, and career fairs. We have a reputable 25-year-old mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP) student apprenticeship programs and newer heavy equipment and carpentry apprenticeships that successfully recruit students.

Alongside Roanoke City schools, we’ve created an externship for a mechanical engineering student who will shadow our Building Information Management (BIM) team and explore real-world applications. In July, we offered our first Career Exploration Day, which allowed students ages 16-18 to job shadow each department at Branch, including non-construction-related careers. These experiences will help students get an idea of the career paths they can explore upon graduation.

Successful Mentorship and Internship Programs Nurture Young Talent and Prepare Them for Employment

Branch has hosted summer interns for decades. During the nine-week internships, we offer three career pathways in three-week rotations. This format provides hands-on experiences to help young talent determine their area of focus upon graduation. To aid development off the job site, we created intern-specific webinars about employee benefits, how retirement accounts work, resume tips, and interview skills (just to name a few).

Our employees host social events for the interns at Top Golf or to go axe-throwing! The opportunity to network with seasoned professionals and fellow interns helps build culture and relationships. To become their employer-of-choice upon graduation, we invite those who are eligible back for another summer or offer them a full-time position. If you’re interested in an internship at Branch Group for 2024, meet with them at the October 4 Intern & Early Career Expo at the Taubman Museum in downtown Roanoke.

What Workforce and Talent Attraction Tools in the Roanoke Region Would You Recommend to Another Employer?

Your business doesn’t have to solve every challenge on its own. Use your workforce development agencies! They offer funding for training, career counselors who integrate candidates into places of employment, and potential financial incentives for companies who hire from disenfranchised populations. Overcome barriers to employment by working with agencies that provide wrap-around services; for example, ride-sharing for employees who don’t have reliable transportation, or financial benefits for employees to maintain reliable childcare. Talk to your vendors, clients, and even competitors to see how they are solving their workforce challenges – you may discover new resources or find a partner.

Economic development agencies, such as the Roanoke Regional Partnership, are invested in retaining talent after graduation from local colleges and universities and encouraging those who grew up here, but settled elsewhere after graduation, to return to the region. Employers can do this as well by highlighting the quality of life that the region offers while extending an offer for employment. Use the marketing materials they provide to persuade your candidates that Roanoke is the place to be.

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Blacks in Technology Foundation’s Newest Chapter Kicks Off in Roanoke

The first official event for the new Blacks in Technology (BIT) Roanoke-Blacksburg chapter kicked off last week on March 9 at The Collective co-working space. The networking mixer had 66 attendees who rubbed elbows with other tech professionals interested in advancing the cause of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Roanoke-Blacksburg communities.

“The tech world didn’t represent the community,” said Harvey Brookins, VERGE board member, on why they formed the new BIT chapter. “We wanted to do something very deliberate, so we brought together all the stakeholders to figure out the best ways to connect and showcase the Black community members. Then we reached out to BIT national.”

Second from the left is Harvey Brookins, Board Member at VERGE and RAMP mentor, who helped form the new chapter.

Get2KnowNoke also spoke with Angela Dickerson who volunteered as the first chapter president. She explained that the Roanoke-Blacksburg chapter leadership determined three areas of focus:

  1. Educate K-12 students about the opportunities that STEM can afford them.
  2. Increase engagement among those that work in tech and tech-adjacent fields.
  3. Provide opportunities for certification, networking, and mentoring.

So who can join BIT, and what does membership entail?

Membership is 100% free. Members just need to identify as Black and be interested in growing their knowledge in the tech space. Members receive benefits such as free or deeply discounted certifications.

As far as engagement and events are concerned anyone, regardless of race, can come and learn how to grow their tech careers.

**Currently membership is with BIT Virginia Chapter.

The next event is in Blacksburg on April 14 with special guest Dennis Shultz, the executive director of Blacks in Technology, who also happens to be a Hokie.

“Since BIT is an international organization, Dennis meets with people all over the world on Zoom,” said Angela Dickerson, BIT Roanoke-Blacksburg chapter president. “On all his international calls, he [Shultz] proudly hangs his Hokie flag directly behind him in his office.”

The kick-off event was held at The Collective on 11th Ave. in Roanoke, VA. The Collective has co-working spaces, event space, a podcast and media studio, retail pop-up studio, etc.

Dickerson, Brookins, and the rest of the newly formed BIT Roanoke-Blacksburg board have high hopes for the future of the club. They plan to identify opportunities for grants and funding to start getting the community the training and support needed to be successful. They also are looking for sponsors interested in helping to create programming and bring inspiring speakers.

If you are interested in sponsoring or learning more about membership, please email Angela Pope Dickerson.

To receive updates for the April 14 event and all future opportunities related to the BIT Roanoke-Blacksburg chapter, sign up for the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council e-newsletter.

Get2KnowNoke’s Talent Ambassador Program: An Insider’s Look at Living and Working in the Roanoke Region

Diverse group of young to mid-career professionals in an urban setting,posed and smiling for the camera.

One of the best ways to tell the story of the Roanoke Region is from within.  Thrive 2027, the Roanoke Regional Partnership’s five-year plan, calls for the attraction and retention of in-demand talent and, specifically, for strategies to foster greater diversity in the region’s workforce and leadership.

Through our selected, influential group of talent ambassadors, we intend to build and expand our talent pool to establish a community that represents the wide variety of backgrounds, careers, and lifestyles in our area. The goal of this network is to be as inclusive as possible to all professionals who seek to make our region home. Our talent ambassadors are a representation of our community in the region and will help individuals who are evaluating our market to connect locally with diverse professionals who can relate to their needs. Our talent ambassadors bridge the gap in information and aid in community building and leadership development.


“I agreed to be a talent ambassador because I love living in Roanoke. Second, I love working here. Third, I want others to consider visiting, then moving here. Our region gets better as we grow and diversify.” Bonnie Chavez, Talent Ambassador

For the year ahead, talent ambassadors will be involved and engaged with the Roanoke Regional Partnership’s plans for Get2KnowNoke and messaging surrounding talent attraction. We know these individuals will be strong crusaders for attracting and keeping the finest talent here in our region based on their innovative ideas, community following, and excitement surrounding the growing region. Our ambassadors are already involved in community engagement, outreach, and attraction through a variety of outlets.

“The talent ambassador network is a unique group of individuals that all bring different experiences, interests, and goals to our community. In order for our region to continue to grow, we must network with a purpose, including business-to-business relationships and investing in personal growth opportunities.” Mary Katherine Stahl, Talent Ambassador

Talent ambassadors are key outlets for sharing and advertising Get2KnowNoke’s events and initiatives. This advertising will continue, as all talent ambassadors are expected to influence participation in events including the Experience Conference, Roanoke Regional Professionals Network, the Summer Internship Program, and other opportunities for talent engagement in the region. Ambassador attendance has been strong at all events this calendar year and shows the excitement and willingness of the community to support the Partnership’s talent-growth strategy.

“I feel my strong suit is making connections and helping others make connections. I feel that when you want to keep people around you must connect with them. Jobs and amenities can be replicated, but relationships are hard to replicate.” – John Park, Talent Ambassador

One of the group’s priorities has been to engage the remote community. There are opportunities being developed to create more spaces for the remote community to grow and engage, but we hope to do more.  One priority of Thrive 2027 is to advocate for remote work here in the region but also to integrate those professionals into our community. With several remote-working talent ambassadors, we now have influential professionals to help advocate for the best resources for remote workers.

“I became a talent ambassador because I wanted to meet people I may not have crossed paths with otherwise. I also wanted to make sure work-from-home professionals were well represented and that we continue to attract remote workers to the region.” Courtney Proffitt, Talent Ambassador

To learn more about the program and the talent ambassadors themselves, please check out our website. And if you have a story to share, we want to hear from you! Are you proud and excited about our region? Do you want to encourage others to move here for all we have to offer? Please email Julia Boas at julia@roanoke.org

Careers and Culture – Chris Runyon

Chris Runyon is a public relations and communications manager with the Better Business Bureau serving Western Virginia. He is a graduate of Patrick Henry High School and James Madison University. Chris resides in Roanoke City with his wife and new puppy.  We asked Chris some questions about what brought him back to the Roanoke Region, and a few of his favorite things about living here.

Where were you before you returned to the Roanoke Region? What was the catalyst for your return? 

For six years, I lived at 10,000 feet in a small town outside Breckenridge, Colorado. Most Colorado transplants speak ill of their hometowns; that was never my story. I’ve always liked where I grew up. But it wasn’t until I was at the annual GO Fest event during one of my visits home I began to experience a strong sense of community and excitement that Roanoke was on the cusp of something special. I wanted in early and ultimately moved back to be closer to my family, who still lives nearby. 

How do you think the Roanoke Region has shifted or transitioned in the last 10 years? 

Roanoke was built around the railroad, with Norfolk Southern playing a significant role in the surrounding area. It’s been neat to see Roanoke transition from “trains to brains” with the healthcare industry and strategic partnerships with local universities adding opportunities for our community. With more students and young professionals increasing the demand, small businesses answered by filling leases of long-term vacancies in downtown Roanoke. The revitalization of downtown Roanoke truly brought life back into this city. 

What do you think makes this region attractive from a livability perspective? 

The cost of living and access to outdoor recreation are two things that make this region incredibly attractive. I came to terms quickly that where I lived in Colorado wasn’t feasible to start a family and live comfortably. Colorado residents frequently say they’re richer in different ways. I’d say why choose? You can have both right here in the Greater Roanoke area.

Currently, what is your favorite food and beverage establishment in the region you think people should try? 

I support businesses that are investing in their backyard. Go check out Bloom Restaurant & Wine Bar and RND Coffee Lounge. Not only are they putting out some fantastic food and drinks, but they’re the change we want to see in our community. 

Any words of wisdom, advice, or encouragement to other “boomerangs” considering a move back to the region? 

Don’t wait. The secret is out. 

What do you think about the real estate market here and current revitalization projects in our communities? 

I love the way neighborhoods are becoming more micro-communities. Wasena’s main street revitalization project has trickled over to Old Southwest which is also squeezed by downtown’s revival. Just look at Day Avenue; every house is getting flipped. Downtown Vinton proper has seen incredible growth. Of course, any neighborhoods close to Roanoke Memorial or access to Greenways and Blueways will be the next opportunity for real estate investment.