Roanoke Valley sees robust, diverse economic growth
When 19th-century movers and shakers picked sleepy Roanoke as the site of the crossroads linking the Shenandoah Valley and Norfolk & Western railroads, the town grew with such force and speed that it earned the now-obscure nickname “Magic City.”
Over the decades that followed, thousands of Roanokers toiled for the N&W one way or another. Between 1884 and 1953, workers at Roanoke’s Locomotive Shop built a whopping 447 locomotives, according to local historian and former Norfolk Southern Railway employee Wayne McKinney.
Sadly, though, every party winds down sometime.
Norfolk Southern was created by the 1982 merger of Norfolk & Western and Southern Railway, and the new company shifted its headquarters from Roanoke to Norfolk. By 2000, a writer for The Washington Post described Roanoke as a “gritty former railroad town” (an insult that rankles Roanoke loyalists to this day).
“Clearly, it was obvious — and we probably even came to the realization a little late —that we shouldn’t have our eggs all in that basket,” says Beth Doughty, executive director of the Roanoke Regional Partnership.
These days, the Roanoke Valley — which includes the cities of Roanoke and Salem as well as Botetourt, Franklin and Roanoke counties — boasts an economy built on a wide range of industries, including robust sectors in health care, transportation manufacturing, technology and advanced manufacturing.
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