Study Finds Strengths and Challenges in Keeping College Grads in Southwest Virginia

Jun 19, 2019

Thousands of students flow into Southwest Virginia for college every year.

A new initiative hopes to stop the "brain drain" as they graduate and leave the area for work.

There are at least 17 colleges and universities in the region that includes the Roanoke and New River Valleys and the Lynchburg area.  But attracting those college students to jobs within the region has long been a challenge.

"All too often we know students come to the region and leave not knowing the New River Valley beyond a great place to go to college," Charlie Jewell admits. Jewell is executive director of Onward New River Valley.

Erin Burcham of the Roanoke Regional Partnership (left), Charlie Jewell of Onward New River Valley (center) and Megan Lucas of the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance (right) discuss the study results.
Credit David Seidel/Radio IQ

Research commissioned by Onward, the Roanoke Regional Partnership and the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance found businesses need those workers.  It also showed quality of life strengths like lower cost of living, outdoor recreation and access to continuing education are attractive to those soon-to-be workers.

But the region lags when it comes to diversity, career opportunities and entertainment amenities.

Megan Lucas, CEO of the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance, says the groups will now use the data to increase marketing and engagement of students, young professionals and even short-term summer interns. "Let’s say they might get an offer that says you can be in Ohio, you can be in Canada, you can be in Lynchburg Virginia.  We want them to say 'I felt great about Lynchburg.  There were some great restaurants. They had a neat scene. I was able to get on the Appalachian Trail.  It meets my needs and I already have a comfort level there.'"

Click here for more on the survey results and plans

In the Lynchburg region, the hope is to keep at least ten percent of each year’s college graduates in the area. 

All three organizations have hired staff to work on connecting colleges and local businesses.  They have also developed engagement programs targeting interns, students and young professionals.