As first published by Sam Wall for The Roanoke Times. 

Salem’s new economic development director is working with city business leaders and other community stakeholders to better understand how to best serve the city.

Tommy Miller, who started his new position with the city in April, sat down with roughly three dozen members from the community Thursday morning at the Civic Center as part of a city Salem-Roanoke County Chamber of Commerce event to pick their brains on what the city needs to do to grow economically.

Ideas from improving the interstate exits in Salem to the always popular “we need a Trader Joe’s,” were suggested when those in attendance broke out into three groups.

Also mentioned more than a few times was filling vacant industrial sites like the old Valleydale factory and the huge former General Electric facility, which once employed hundreds of people before announcing its closure in 2018.

One suggestion for the plant now owned by Phoenix Investors was to use part of the facility for biochemistry research or wet labs, which has been a growing trend in Roanoke and the New River Valley.

Miller said after the meeting he still sees the former plant as a future destination for some sort of manufacturing company.

“It’s going to be really hard to fill it with something like what GE did,” he said.

But he did say the facility remains in good shape, and the city will work with Phoenix to try to find a new company to invest there.

“They [Phoenix] have a history of acquiring industrial assets and as opposed to using the facilities as warehouses or storage, they have a history of investing in their buildings, and that’s what they are doing now…We are working closely with them to make sure they get a good industrial user.”

Miller said his office is also interested in helping businesses already located in Salem continue to succeed.

“We want to showcase what makes Salem unique,” he said. “We have to set ourselves apart.”

Other suggestions from stakeholders included suggestions often heard at these types of meetings: getting college students to remain in the area after graduation, promoting career and technical education jobs, recruiting more affordable childcare options, and looking at ways to promote outdoor assets.

Read the full article here.