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Aug 25

COVID-19 and Roanoke Innovates

Posted on August 25, 2020 at 8:39 AM by Melinda Mayo

Roanoke is blessed to be a center of health care and biomedical research.  The Innovation Corridor, Roanoke Innovates, offers not only access to world-class medical care but, to some degree, a slight inoculation from the economic impact COVID has brought to our community.  Last week I posted about the impact COVID has had on the arts and culture aspect of our community, what that may mean and what is being done to address it.  This week I will focus on the second of three key aspects of our local community and economy—health care and biomedical research—which will be followed by a look at small businesses.

The Health Benefits

Health care and biomedical research offer a bit of good news in a time filled with so much negativity.  First, of course, the benefit is that we in this community have access to great healthcare.  As I prepare this blog, there are 21 individuals in our local hospitals being cared for as they deal with the impacts of COVID-19.  Nearly all of those individuals came from outside our local community to seek this care.  Second, the presence of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC is providing access to rapid and reliable virus testing, something missing in many communities throughout the Nation.  Working in concert with our local health department, the researchers at the Institute perform the lab work necessary for COVID tests performed by the Department of Health, providing answers in as little as 48 hours, which greatly increases the effectiveness of the Health Department’s efforts at managing the spread of the virus.  

The Economic Benefits

In addition to the medical benefits provided to our area, Roanoke Innovates keeps a segment of our local economy somewhat isolated from the impacts felt in other sectors.  While there certainly have been impacts, especially those associated with the delay or cancellation of elective medical procedures, Carilion Clinic continues to employ thousands and has an expansion project valued at half a billion dollars underway. The VTC School of Medicine just welcomed its largest class ever.  Radford University Carilion similarly welcomed its newest healthcare students.  The newest building at the Research Institute is complete and labs are being equipped and dozens of researchers recruited.  The Regional Accelerator and Mentoring program has welcomed its latest cohort of science and technology entrepreneurs—six in all.  

Roanoke Innovates was a concept originated over a decade ago, prior to the last recession, as a way to capitalize on the health care assets present in our community, diversify our local economy, and build greater resiliency against economic shocks such as that currently being experienced.  These decisions and investments are proving their worth in these ever-changing and challenging times.

Key to the Future

Just as the concept of establishing the Innovation Corridor was key to our community’s shift from reliance on declining heavy industry for its economic well-being to one attached to expanding opportunities associated with health care and biomedicine, Roanoke Innovates is key to our community’s economic future.  The importance of health care and biomedical research is, as noted, related to access to quality clinical care and economic expansion, and also to addressing inequities present in our community.  Carilion Clinic has played a vital role in increasing access to health care and also in addressing the social determinants impacting health outcomes.  Support of community health clinics, LEAP’s Mobile Market, the Roanoke Financial Empowerment Center, and many other health and wellness initiatives are but a few examples.  Additionally, linking students in our community, along with those reskilling, to the jobs available in this high-growth sector represents a path to economic prosperity.  

COVID-19 has greatly impacted our Nation and local community with no other sector than health care playing a greater role.  We are fortunate to have the assets we have and should rightfully be proud of the role they are playing in the fight against the virus.  We are similarly fortunate to have such a great foundation to continue to build upon for economic prosperity and opportunity, as we proceed into the post-COVID economy.  

-- Bob Cowell

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