J.Oyce Waugh retired at the end of the year as president and chief executive officer of the Roanoke Area Chamber of Commerce, a position he had held since 2008. For decades spanning a century, Waugh has been deeply involved in the economic development of the Roanoke Valley and his advocacy of business. in the midst of great change.
Last month, she discussed her tenure with Roanoke Times business editor Robert Fleiss.
We are very pleased that the region is enjoying a strong business environment. This is not always apparent in all communities. But it supports business success and small business growth.
We have seen extraordinary and beneficial changes, especially in the areas of healthcare and higher education. It has transformed our region.
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It’s not about politics. Urban environments lean mostly to the left, while suburban and rural communities lean mostly to the right. But how can we work together? And how to get things done, whether it’s an individual team or an organization.
We do it collaboratively, through people. Figure out what that shared vision and goals are. For us, it’s about promoting, inspiring and improving our business.
If you do, you can get weird companions because there are issues people can disagree with or agree with. and over all lines. But the challenge is to find common ground and where things work so that we can extend them.
We have excellent medical care and an abundance of excellent higher education. It includes public institutions such as Virginia Western, Virginia Tech, and Radford (universities), as well as the private Roanoke College, Ferrum (universities), and Hollins College. These are the incredible resources we have, and they are definitely helping the workforce and brainpower in this region.
External amenities occupy an entire dimension. Because of that, we as a community are much more known and branded. we can help each other. . It’s not about who gets credit, it’s about getting something done.
I think what helped us was the desire to achieve more.
And what do you know? We are a big little town. So people on the[Roanoke]Chamber board, a lot of them are on other boards… I think that led to more collaboration.
And part of it is like a greenway. For example, air and water do not distinguish where the boundary is. . . when you’re looking at some of these larger projects for flood mitigation, the rivers don’t know, they don’t care.
Life downtown has an exciting vibrancy. It has increased so much. All credit goes to Downtown Roanoke Incorporated.
After a bit of volunteering during the parade (Roanoke’s December 9th Christmas Parade), I was just walking around after my duty was done. I am always amazed at how many people there are. But I can tell you . . how important it is to get people downtown.
And for them to feel safe and to know that there is a place for them and their families, that they can get food and what they need to get what they want. And I know people have been here, couldn’t be happier, anywhere.
The same thing happened when the Center in the Square was about to open (1983), but people were still afraid to come downtown. We started these events because Center in the Square wouldn’t work if people were afraid to come downtown.
Parades, special sidewalk sales on Saturdays and the like, bouncy homes, all of that, and over time, the convenience of living downtown and being close to all these different amenities has created a buzz.
Public and private efforts, and the synergistic effect, will change the face of downtown. ..the people who live here, especially the restaurants, and the retail stores, these are what make it so important.
In the old days, merchants lived above the shops. Things like that are starting to happen again in the market[in Roanoke City]. There are people who own the building below or a retail store or restaurant and live upstairs. Everything old becomes new again.
Why is it so important? Because this area is shitamachi at heart and spreads outside. You know many communities prefer a vibrant downtown.
COVID may have done us a favor because I have met many adults, adult children, and been home for a while instead of being in New York. we’re back Some of them decided to find their place here.
This is a wonderful place to live. Many people leave their homes and realize what a great place to live. No rush hour. There are minutes of rush hour, but no rush hour. So there is really good livability here.
I see change as just a way of life. One of my favorite quotes from him is from Ben Franklin. “Once you’re done changing clothes, it’s over.”