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« Not her first choice | Main | Making it to fall »

November 01, 2005


Sean Pecor

I think the business migration you hope for is happening now although it's still under the radar. Take Franklin County for example. Homes are going up at a relatively rapid pace; Of course many are retirees, although there is evidence that plenty of families are also migrating here. The Franklin County YMCA in Rocky Mount is absolutely massive; a large building dedicated to sports and fitness for adults, kids 12 and over, and a brand new large building with fitness and arts geared towards children under 12. Next to the YMCA buildings, one large apparel company is completing it's expansion from California (Jammin'), and across the road, another large building being developed. Lots of good paying manufacturing jobs being created in this county, and Roanoke is in the early stages of another economic period of development and growth. Have you been down route 220 recently? A massive Home Depot is being built across from Lowes, and next to lowes, an enormous commercial development on the hilltop is well underway. And the massive new medical center. And the new Jaguar / Mercedes Benz / Land Rover dealers going up right next to the parkway entrance. Add to that the massive resort being planned at Explore Park, the communities being developed around Smith Mountain Lake and the area is ripe for an economic surge.

In fact, living in this area, I predict that Roanoke will benefit handsomely from the multitude of wealthy families moving to SML. These are families with significant investment capital, who may investing significant seed capital over the coming years. Development and urbanization is creeping down Route 220, creeping east on Route 40 towards the lake and so on. If I were seeking capital I'd be scouting the SML area big time. Over 40 houses on the market for over 1 million on the franklin county side of the lake? That's big time! There haven't been more than 4 houses on the market in the Blacksburg area for > 1 million in the previous 12 months. That should tell you something.

You might guess by now that I pay attention to real estate; it's sort of a hobby of curiousity right now, given that I'm working on helping many extended family units move to this area. One thing I've noticed is that in Roanoke there seem to be a growing number of house flippers; those that are buying old Roanoke City properties, renovating them and flipping them for a profit. There are alot out there; lots of 1920s craftsmans and 1950s cape cods on the market now that have been fully remodeled. They're not lasting long on the market either. That's more evidence of a growing influx of white collar jobs.

Blacksburg's problem is complicated. Tech is an awesome engine for the town and the region, but the town itself needs some more culture and a larger downtown for it to offer enough diversity and excitement to attract the workers that those burgeoning companies at the corporate research center is hungry for. I played dungeons and dragons weekly with a great group of Tech students while I lived in Blacksburg. One was studying astronomy, another business & computer sciences, another software development, another math and statistics, and so on. These were some great minds on course for really interesting careers. None of them planned on staying in Blacksburg. Yes, it's a very family friendly town, but from what I heard these kids are looking for excitement and a generally more progressive urban area. Families are the last thing on their minds right now. They want Starbucks, lots of cultural and entertainment venues, museums, the frenetic pace and so on. If I ran a tech firm in Blacksburg, I'd be going back ten years and headhunting the Hokies who are now around 30 or so, are planning a family and so on, and headhunting them. In fact, it wouldn't be a bad idea for Virginia Tech to create a headhunting outfit to comb Alumnae records and contact prospects who may now be ready to make a move to their old college town. Heaven knows I ran into plenty of those people in the suburb we lived in.

The parents we're getting to know at North Cross expose just such a migration as you describe. One family from Boston, another from Atlanta, another from northern Virginia. In fact not many are "from" Roanoke and most are of course white collar. Many of those are in I.T. and financial services markets.

Just some random thoughts.



Have you seen the new conference center out at Va. Tech. It's built with Hokie stone. My understanding is that they are going to try to do some housing developments with the same stone just to attrack graduates back. I think that is an on going trend at a lot of colleges.

What continues to hurt the area is that the big universities are all a few hours apart. If they were all 30-45 minutes apart like they are in the NC Research Triangle we would probably have a serious boom. Many of the people that we see moving into Roanoke County are retired people, but I know that there are others. It is shame so many of those kids move to hip areas only to find a few years later that they miss the beauty and quality of life that they tried so hard to leave.

On another note, did you see the campaign launched by Ben and Jerry's to save the small Family Farm? I saw one of the TV ads and it featured someone from Vermont who milks 50 dairy cows.

Sean Pecor

Nice, thanks for the link! Homestead Dairy out of Franklin County on Route 122 is just two dairy farmers with 100 head each. Man, that's some good milk, it beats the pants off everything else in this region. It reminds me of my favorite milk in Vermont, Monument Farms. My father in-law boards replacement heifers for a family dairy in Shoreham, VT. They're not small scale though, somewhere around 600 dairy cows. I can't imagine being able to make enough money on 50 cows, you would need some serious subsidies. Even with 600 dairy cows in production, he has trouble making ends meet. The capital investment required is immense; the health regulations significant; and, milk processors have a terrible history of putting the screws to the dairy farmer, reducing their hundredweight value while increasing the price of milk. Only, ask my father in-law, a former ag commissioner for Vermont, how easy it is to get a room full of dairy farmers to agree on anything, much less a co-op! Haha. I understand it's nearly impossible.


Sean Pecor

I checked in on construction progress on the Inn and Skelton Conference center, it was on the way to Tall Oaks Montessori, where my girls attended this previous school year. It's probably a good idea for Tech to spur some housing developments, hopefully they are able to hit price points in the high 200s and low 300s. Right now, anything newly built in town limits is a minimum of $400K or so. Blacksburg has a wierd real estate market. Middle class homes to slightly upper middle class home prices are pressured up significantly due to the demand created by white collar families moving into town. Houses in the middle of the market are pressured up in price while lower and upper end seem low compared to other regions including Roanoke. A mortgage banker in Blacksburg said housing values increased 8% a year for the past 8 years, they expect it to continue for another 10 years, when the population of B'burg is supposed to level out at 55,000 or so. They'll need to build ALOT of Hokie houses to keep up with that demand :)


John Thompson

I was born and raised in this area and I remember Reston ... well before there was a Reston and long before I had gray hair. It has always been heart-tugging to see the growth and the loss of old barns and farms ... but you still have to love Reston Town Center, traffic, crowds and all. It is a great design.

I have a Reston Town Center Links with a few photos to go along with yours.

Now like you, I start to feel better when I get 30-45 miles west of here and the traffic thins out and the barns and farms reappear. Last Sunday I was up at Woodstock Tower so I know what you mean. If you want some good photos ... head up to Woodstock Tower.

John Thompson
Samson Realty

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