Roanoke’s generational change (Blue Ridge Outdoors)

The May 2016 election marked the end of an era in Roanoke politics, and the start of something new.

I wrote about the election for Blue Ridge Outdoors within the context of Roanoke’s transformation over the last couple of decades, from a deteriorating industrial center into the next great outdoors city.

Read “Roanoke Reinvented” in Blue Ridge Outdoors.

How the Grateful Dead and a hula-hoop dancer helped Roanoke land Deschutes Brewery (All About Beer)

Bend, Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery was searching for site for its East Coast production facility when something unusual happened: News of the search leaked out.

The leak generated an aggressive grassroots campaign in Roanoke to win Deschutes, which was considered more likely to locate a few hours south in Asheville, N.C., the multi-time Beer City U.S.A. A social media campaign was just one element of the Star City’s attempt to woo Deschutes.

For All About Beer, I wrote about the behind-the-scenes operation to win Deschutes, not just with infrastructure and a public push, but with intangibles like an illuminated dancer and the historic concerts of a historic jam band.

Read the story at All About Beer.

The coal depression’s downstream effects (Roanoke Business)

The combination of competition from cheap natural gas, a decline in overseas construction and enforcement of federal clean air regulations have sent the U.S. coal industry into a tailspin.

It’s not just miners who are suffering, however, but also the various downstream businesses that support the coal industry. For Roanoke Business, I wrote about how railroads, equipment manufacturers and other support businesses are dealing with the slump.

Read the story in the April issue of Roanoke Business.

The vibrant Syrian-Lebanese cuisine of Roanoke, whose mayor wants no refugees (Munchies)

Last fall Roanoke Mayor David Bowers went viral when he cited Japanese internment camps during World War II as a reason why the city shouldn’t accept Syrian refugees.

The discordant statement not only flew in the face of Roanoke’s status as a destination for refugees, but it also disregarded the contributions of the many Syrians who migrated to the city in the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th.

In those days, “Syrian” meant something far different than it does today. Before World War I, the Ottoman Empire incorporated not just Syria as we know it today, but the bulk of the Middle East, North Africa and southeast Europe. Between 1880 and 1920, about 150,000 people left the Ottoman Empire—and many landed in Roanoke.

I and photographer Suzie Kelly explored Roanoke’s rich (and tasty!) history of Syrian and Lebanese cuisine from the early 1900s to today in this story for Munchies.

Making the short list: What’s most important when it comes to economic development? (Roanoke Business)

What does it take to land a big corporate relocation or expansion in 2016?

It’s a tough, complicated question, and one asked constantly as the needs of business evolve. The answers vary by sector and even by company, yet it’s also possible to find some constants on corporate relocation wish lists—good location, abundant access to utilities and the Internet, and available talent.

What else might distinguish the Roanoke and New River valleys? Do quality of life, a sense of self-confidence or social media campaigns make a difference? Based on its strengths and competitive advantages, what industries can it expect to grow?

Read my cover story in the January 2016 issue of Roanoke Business, available online and on stands now.

Developing downtown: As downtown Roanoke’s character has changed, its boundaries have expanded and its population has grown (Roanoke Business)

Nearly a decade after the beginning of a renovation renaissance in downtown Roanoke, the city core has reached a new tipping point. With nearly 2,000 downtown residents and a healthy stock of rehabilitated warehouse apartments, developers are now taking the next step and investing in new construction.

A South Carolina developer is building a Hampton Inn and Suites on top of a city parking garage at the corner of Market Street and Church Avenue. The $17 million, 127-room motel is scheduled to open in January, joining the historic Hotel Roanoke as an option for travelers to stay in downtown Roanoke. Meanwhile, Roanoke-based developer Lucas Thornton is investing $10 million into a new development. Located at a former surface parking lot at Williamson Road and Tazewell Avenue, the project includes 85 residential apartments and nearly 7,000 square feet of commercial space.

This investment in new construction marks a threshold moment in the modern history of downtown Roanoke. For the first time in decades, new buildings are rising up—and more may follow. The decision to build, says Thornton, comes because of steady stream of rehabilitation projects and their demonstration of an apparently insatiable demand for downtown living.

Read the rest of my story about downtown Roanoke in the December issue of Roanoke Business, online or in stands outside regional grocery stores.

How Hip-Hop and Country Music Helped Aung San Suu Kyi Win Myanmar’s Historic Democratic Election (Noisey)

Feeding goats one night, I heard a reporter on a Foreign Policy podcast describe campaign trucks in Burma with boomboxes, dueling up and down roads.

Christian Caryl described the differing approaches between Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) when it came to campaign songs.”All of the parties here have these big trucks with boomboxes mounted on them in bright colors, and they ride back and forth up and down the street and they blast music,” Caryl said. “Sometimes you get these duels of the boomboxes. It’s very funny because the NLD —Aung San Suu Kyi’s party—has rap music. They have these very rollicking Nashville country tunes that celebrates Aung San Suu Kyi, too .”

That launched me down a wormhole of Youtube videos & stories about Burma/Myanmar’s historic elections.

I put what I brought back from that exploration into this story at Noisey.

Gays in Roanoke used to hide who they were — until a deadly bar shooting changed everything (Washington Post)

The yellow mums appeared at Backstreet Cafe’s door well before people began arriving for the vigil. John Goodhart Sr. sent the flowers, as he did every year on this day, with a note: “Never forget. Never again. NEVER.”

It was his way of paying tribute to his Verizon co-worker Danny Overstreet, who was killed 15 years ago at a gathering spot for gay people in a closeted city.

Backstreet was a gay bar at a time when the sexual orientation of its customers remained hidden — a haven for an underground culture. Its role in Roanoke was exposed Sept. 22, 2000, when Ronald Edward Gay, a former Marine who had been taunted for his name and hated it, walked in, ordered a beer, spotted two men embracing — and opened fire. He killed Overstreet, 43, and wounded six others, including Joel Tucker, who had to deal with more than just the bullet wound in his back.

“When it happened, I was not out to my family,” said Tucker, who was then 40 and worked, as he still does, for United Parcel Service. “I was not out to my job. I wasn’t out to anybody except my very close friends.”

Back then, few could have predicted the seismic changes that were coming to the country, to Virginia and to Roanoke — on same-sex marriage, on gays serving in the military, on the emergence of openly gay athletes, chief executives and celebrities.

Backstreet’s identity has shifted, too. It is managed by Deanna Marcin, who was a married man named John Marcin before divorcing and becoming a transgender woman. The bar still caters to outsiders in this city of nearly 100,000 in southwest Virginia, but they are mostly punk rockers and metalheads, rather than gay men and lesbians.

Read more about the transformation of individuals, a bar, a street, a city and the country in my story for the Washington Post.

Foreign companies invest in western Virginia, & a new regulation affects wood stoves (Roanoke Business)

The October 2015 issue of Roanoke Business features a pair of my stories:

– The cover leader looks at international investment in the Roanoke and New River valleys. Volvo, Korona Candles, Red Sun Farms — why are these companies locating here, and what does it mean for the region?

– I also examined the impact of a new EPA regulation on a Floyd County wood stove dealer.

Read more, either online or in the print edition, which is available free this month on racks in Roanoke & NRV grocery stores.