After Two Years Online, Experience Conference Returns In-Person to Great Fanfare

Experience Conference attendees and speakers pose for a selfie with Talent Ambassador John Park.

On Monday, June 13, professionals from all over the Roanoke Region could be found listening to speakers, talking with peers, and engaging with other professionals. This was Get2KnowNoke’s 2022 Experience Conference, the region’s annual professional development conference for students, professionals, and job seekers. For the first time in two years, attendees were grateful to finally meet face to face and connect with one another while soaking up all the conference had to offer. “I couldn’t be more thankful to those that made this year’s conference a success,” Taylor Johnson, director of Talent Attraction said. “From the speakers to our volunteers, I felt the day was a great representation of what the future holds for Get2KnowNoke”.

Held at the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center, over 140 people registered for a day of thought-provoking speakers, networking, and professional development. Delegate Sam Rasoul kicked off the day with a rock-paper-scissors tournament. This set the tone for what would be an energetic and engaging conference. Speakers shared expertise from a variety of topics like pivoting during challenging times, attracting and retaining Gen Z employees, and the importance of a strong small-business community. However, what was probably the most impactful presentation came from the keynote speaker, Archie Messersmith-Bunting.

White man with blue blazer stands on stage to give presentation
Archie Messersmith-Bunting

Archie, AKA the Feelings Guy, gave an impassioned and topical speech about the importance of mental health awareness. He explained the pitfalls of ignoring our feelings, discussed recognizing and talking about our feelings, and gave us practical and easy-to-implement habits for getting ourselves into a healthier state of mind. These little changes can have large impacts in both our personal and professional lives. Mental health is a topic rarely talked about in professional settings, but it clearly resonated with this audience. One attendee said, “When I sign up for a conference, I want to walk away inspired and motivated to imbed new techniques into my work. Archie’s presentation was that inspirational message for the day.”

New this year was the Thrive Market, an exclusive outdoor shopping experience featuring local small businesses. The idea came from the conference’s “pivot” theme. The small business community faced several challenges over the past few years, and they were able to adapt and pivot, resulting in continued success. “I believe entrepreneurship is part of the fabric that makes our region so special,” Johnson said. “Because of their tenacious spirit, I felt it was important to showcase the small business community at the conference.” Despite hot temperatures, attendees enjoyed patronizing these small businesses while sipping on a Deb’s Frozen Lemonade, courtesy of Get2KnowNoke. Of the market, one attendee noted, “I love supporting small business! I have shopped with almost all of these folks and will continue to support!”

Thanks to attendee feedback, steps are already in motion for Experience 2023. We’re already discussing themes, venues, speakers, and increasing capacity. If you haven’t had a chance, please fill out our survey by clicking here. We’re grateful to all who helped make this conference possible, and we can’t wait to do it again next year. In the meantime, stay tuned for other Get2KnowNoke events coming up, including our quarterly Roanoke Regional Professionals Network socials and the summer internship program. You can learn more by following us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or by registering for our monthly emails by clicking here.

Get2KnowNoke’s Summer Internship Program is Back

hike mcafee knob roanoke

Get2KnowNoke continues to build tools for regional employers and the community to use to help attract and retain top-tier talent. One of those tools is our Summer Internship Program. As businesses in the region welcome summer interns, this program provides a unique opportunity for both the students and the organizations: students can gain industry knowledge and training to prepare them for the workforce, while businesses now have a pool of job-ready talent to draw from after graduation.  The summer internship program’s goal is to make the participants want to come back to the region after graduation by creating connections to people and the community through curated experiences.

Activities this summer include:

  • Food and Beverage Tours of Roanoke
  • Biking & Blue Cow
  • Hiking Trail Passport
  • Biking and Brews
  • Floatopia on the Roanoke River
  • Salem Red Sox Game
  • Running Club
  • Bi-weekly Happy Hours
  • Treetop Quest Twilight Zip at Explore Park
  • And more!

While obviously fun, this program is designed for participants to make connections with other people in the region and to experience the livability and placemaking aspects it has to offer. Studies show that social offerings, aesthetics, and openness within a community create attachment. If we’re able to show these interns that the Roanoke Region has those three things, we believe there’s a greater chance they’ll return to the region post-graduation.

For those who have signed up, we look forward to getting to know you. If you have interns that you’d like to participate, please fill out the form below. Questions? You can email Taylor Johnson, director of Talent Attraction, at

Summer Internship Program

Two New Talent Ambassadors Announced

Our Talent Ambassador Network is up and running with some of our region’s finest professionals. We are excited to have these individuals represent some of the great stories in Alleghany Highlands, Botetourt County, City of Covington, City of Salem, Franklin County, Roanoke City, Roanoke County, and the Town of Vinton.  

We have two more dynamic people to add to our talent ambassador team: Austin Larrowe and Quincy Randolph!

Austin Larrowe is the founder and CEO of Doppio Data Solutions, a business strategy, business intelligence, & automation focused consulting firm. Austin grew up in Southwest Virginia, and he and his wife moved from the Washington, D.C., area to Southwest Roanoke in 2019 to be closer to family and enjoy the less chaotic life and natural beauty that the Roanoke region has to offer. Austin is a proud Hokie Alumnus and enjoys talking about big ideas and learning from others.  – Linkedin  

Quincy Randolph is the chef and owner of RND (Roaster Next Door) in Wasena and Vinton, which he opened with his brother Steffon in 2019 and 2022 respectively. The brothers drew inspiration from their parents who operated a small coffee shop for a few years when they were young. Since relocating from Richmond, Quincy has established himself in the community and is a 2021 Roanoker “40 under 40” recipient.  – Linkedin

Stay tuned for more information about what these folks will be doing to further Get2KnowNoke’s talent attraction story and for ways to get involved. Do you have a story? Are you proud and excited about your region? We want to hear from you. Email today!

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. 

Home for the Holidays – Part 1: Thanksgiving Edition

Home for the Holidays- Part 1: Thanksgiving Edition

Below is your guide to the “Best of the Roanoke Region” over the Thanksgiving holiday. Share this with your college students, adult children, or anyone coming to visit this season – and show off everything your community has to offer.

Get2KnowNoke has hand-selected the trendiest cocktail lounges, the best outdoor adventures, the tastiest eats, breweries you may not have tried, cool new shops that just opened, and so much more. We tried to highlight everything new that your friends and family may not have tried, as well as all the old favorites.

Nov. 24

Plan your Friendsgiving at one of the region’s top restaurants or grab a craft cocktail to celebrate.

Nov. 25

Move your feet so others can eat! The Drumstick Dash is a Roanoke Turkey Day tradition.

Nov. 26

#OptOutside this Black Friday and take advantage of our 1000s of miles of trail and greenways.

Saturday, Nov. 27

Snag great deals and local gifts on Small Business Saturday.
Not in the mood to shop? We’ve gotcha covered with our brewery crawl.

“Now that you can remotely work from anywhere in the world – why would you not choose a place with beautiful mountains, great dining, arts and culture, breweries for days, a huge outdoor community; where your commute is non-existent and adventure is endless.”

-Taylor Johnson, Director of Talent Attraction

Wednesday, November 24 (Thanksgiving Eve)

Plan Your Friendsgiving: Grab dinner with hometown friends at one of the region’s trendy new spots and Star City favorites.  

Thanksgiving Eve Downtown Roanoke: One of the biggest social nights of the year! See old and new friends at any of Downtown Roanoke’s bars. Our list of favorites will be pouring late so you can catch up with old and new friends.

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Thursday, November 25 (Thanksgiving Day)

Get your dash on and earn your turkey by running or walking in this annual Roanoke tradition.

The Atlantic Union Bank Annual Drumstick Dash 5K: It’s not too late to sign up for Roanoke’s annual pre-meal run/walk. Move your feet so others can eat this holiday season! Sign up online or in-person on Thanksgiving morning.  

There are several restaurants open for brunch or lunch options after the race, if you’re not too busy cooking yourself. Check out the VisitVBR “Where to Eat on Thanksgiving” list to learn where you can go.

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Friday, November 26 (Black Friday)

#OptOutside on Black Friday: The movement started by outdoor retail company REI in 2015 is celebrated here in the Roanoke Valley, an outdoor wonderland. Instead of spending your day stressed out in crowded stores, enjoy a beautiful outing in the Blue Ridge Mountains .

PRO TIP: Bring a bag on your adventure to collect litter and keep our region beautiful.

  • Blue Ridge Parkway: Explore the beauty of the most visited park in the US at any of these local stops.  
    • Peaks of Otter: Take a leisurely stroll around Abbott Lake and enjoy the views from the base or challenge yourself to a hike up Sharp Top Mountain to 360 mountain views. 
    • Explore Park: Explore Park features hundreds of acres of trails, riverside views, and outdoor fun. Whether you want to get in a game of Disc Golf or take a bike through the 14 miles of trails, you are sure to get in some serious outdoor adventure. Finish the day at Twin Creeks brew pub.
    • Mill Mountain: Haven’t taken a visit to the city’s iconic star in a while? Take a trip up the Mill Mountain Greenway with a picnic at the star. With miles of hiking, mountain biking and running trails, the zoo and the botanical gardens – there is plenty to do for all ages.
  • Carvins Cove Natural Reserve: With 60 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, you are sure to find beautiful fall foliage at this outdoor hidden gem.  
  • Roanoke’s Regional Greenways: The greenways that lie within the City of Roanoke’s limits include Roanoke River Greenway, Garden City Greenway, Mill Mountain Greenway, Murray Run Greenway, Lick Run Greenway, and Tinker Creek Greenway.  
  • Jackson River Scenic Trail: Virginia’s newest and extremley scenic rails-to-trails project is just outside of downtown Covington. Easy access makes it popular for residents and visitors to walk, bike, or jog along the Jackson River in the beautiful Alleghany Highlands.

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Saturday, November 27 (Small Business Saturday)

Small Business Saturday #SBS: Shop ‘til you drop (or until you need a beer). Be a part of recognizing and contributing to our region’s entrepreneurs and small business owners. 

Support some of the area’s newest spots on this national holiday.  

  • Mast General Store: Offers a variety of goods, tasty treats, apparel and outdoor gear.   
  • The French Farmhouse: Modern farmhouse home décor, lighting, furniture, and holiday spirit.  
  • Gatewood Rose: Plant lovers rejoice! A market for plants, accessories and education to keep them alive!  
  • Roanoke Farmers Market Vendors: Connect and buy from the people growing locally sourced food and creating handmade pieces you can’t buy anywhere else! 
  • Crafteria: Find small batch food and handmade goods from 60+ craftspeople. Find anything from records, holistics, coffee, candles and more!   

Other regional favorites:

Star City Beer Tour: The Roanoke Region has 16 craft breweries to choose from but one cool little nook of town has three all within a few blocks. Head to the trendy West End to check out of Roanoke’s neighborhoods on the rise.

IPAs, Stouts, and Pale Ales – Oh My! Try them all at these West End Breweries

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Stay tuned! Our Home for the Holidays Part 2 will have a full calendar covering 21 days of planned events throughout December.

YP Q&A: Hannah Bernath

Hannah Bernath

What is it like to live, work, and play in the Roanoke Region of Virginia? See it through the eyes of some of the region’s young professionals in their own words.

Hannah Bernath works in the IT department at Delta Dental of Virginia. “I’ve been fortunate to have a variety of roles here which have allowed me to expand my skill set and grow my career,” she said of her job.

While Hannah grew up in the Roanoke Region, she left for a while for college and a few years post-graduation but moved back home in 2011.

Continue reading “YP Q&A: Hannah Bernath”

YP Q&A: Sydni Chernault

What is it like to live, work, and play in the Roanoke Region of Virginia? See it through the eyes of some of the region’s young professionals in their own words.

Sydni Chernault was born and raised in Fussa, Japan. She made the move to Virginia for college and after graduation, “the mountains kept me.” She recently bought her first home in the region and plans to stay long term.

She works as the production lead at Eddy Alexander, an advertising agency in downtown Roanoke. “I love that I’m able to use my creative mind for different projects every week at work,” she said of her job. “It really keeps me on my toes.”

Continue reading “YP Q&A: Sydni Chernault”

YP Q&A: Ubadah Sabbagh

Ubadah Sabbagh

What is it like to live, work, and play in the Roanoke Region of Virginia? See it through the eyes of some of the region’s young professionals in their own words.

Ubadah Sabbagh came to Roanoke four years ago from Syria as a Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech. His job is “essentially figuring out how we make sense of the visual world around us. As a neuroscientist, I study the connections between the eye and the brain to figure out how those two pieces of the visual system are wired up.”

He loves that aspect of his work, as well as being able to share it with the community through STEM outreach and giving talks around town.

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YP Q&A: Frank Boxley

What is it like to live, work, and play in the Roanoke Region of Virginia? See it through the eyes of some of the region’s young professionals in their own words.

Frank Boxley has lived in Roanoke – off and on – for his whole life and currently resides at the foot of Mill Mountain. He works in sales for Steel Dynamics, the third largest steel producer in the United States.

Did you know that Steel Dynamics, Roanoke Bar Division is an Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) steel mill, meaning it derives 98.2% of its finished product from recycled steel scrap? Plus, most of the scrap material (92%) used in the manufacturing process is sourced within a 200-mile radius of Roanoke, Virginia.

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YP Q&A: Jeff and Bethany Todd

jeff todd

What is it like to live, work, and play in the Roanoke Region of Virginia? See it through the eyes of some of the region’s young professionals in their own words.

Jeff and Bethany Todd recently bought Roanoke Mountain Adventures, which offers gear rentals and has an outdoor gear consignment shop. The full-service outfitter has guided and self-guided outdoor adventures for mountain biking, road cycling, paddleboarding (SUP), kayaking, tubing, and other activities.

Jeff and Bethany have been living and working in the Roanoke Region for a while.

Jeff is a lawyer turned baseball writer who works from home, so he likes to get off the computer and on his feet as soon as possible. He is the vice president of the Wasena Neighborhood Forum and recently joined the Mill Mountain Advisory Board.

Bethany is an educator by training and is doing coursework toward eventually becoming a school administrator while serving a second term as Wasena Elementary PTA president.

Continue reading “YP Q&A: Jeff and Bethany Todd”