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Virginia Tech Celebrates Record Gift, Project That Could Transform Roanoke

David Seidel/Radio IQ

Virginia Tech announced its largest ever gift Thursday.  But it won’t be going to Blacksburg.  Instead, it will be used to transform medical research in Roanoke.

The $50 million donation from the Fralin family will support research and recruit talent to what will now be known as the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.

More importantly, says Heywood Fralin, it will change the future of Roanoke. "I don’t think the community realizes just how much of an impact it’s going to have," Fralin said after a ceremony Thursday.  "The population is going to increase significantly and the income levels are going to increase significantly."

Carilion CEO Nancy Howell Agee echoed the theme, what some have called a "trains to brains" transformation. "What together we are doing is creating a region that is more healthy, that’s focused on research and entrepreneurism, that’s creating a future for us with higher wages and job opportunities."

It's not an accident. They're that good.

Researchers have been working at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute for years-- conducting neuroscience, brain and behavioral research as well as studying cancers and cardiovascular disease.   Fifteen years ago, the site along Jefferson Street and Reserve Avenue was a declining industrial area. Now, Fralin’s donation and an expansion that’s already well underway are bringing national and worldwide attention.  "Just the signal to our colleagues around the country and around the world is a differentiator," said Institute executive director Michael Friedlander. "It will help us bring more people here, the kind of people we want. It will help us garner more resources."

In a speech announcing the gift, Heywood Fralin praised the researchers, noting their success  at obtaining research grants from the National Institutes of Health.  “It’s not an accident.  They’re that good,” he told the gathering.

But, Fralin said, community involvement and support will ultimately determine its success. "Everybody’s mission should be to leave things better than you find them. That’s what we should all be doing and hopefully that’s what we’re doing," Fralin said.

This is the second major announcement for Virginia Tech in less than a month.  In November, the university announced plans for an Innovation Campus in Northern Virginia.  The move has been cited as a key incentive that successfully lured part of Amazon's new headquarters to Arlington. 

Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands noted potential connections for the projects.  "Think about the intersections of healthcare and data and security and autonomy.  Those are all interconnected and we’re going to be in a strong position to leverage that," Sands noted.

Radio IQ is a service of Virginia Tech.

David Seidel is Radio IQ's News Director.