Pete Eshelman: Economic Development Systems of the 21st Century

Pete Eshelman is the Director of Outdoor Branding for the Roanoke Regional Partnership, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization trying to find ways to sustainably grow Roanoke’s economy. Their solution? A plan to embrace the outdoors with Pete at the helm of the wheel. I sat down with him in his brief moments of free-time to inquire about this 21st century approach to economic development, and this is what he had to say:

Brad Lane: How does a position such as Director of Outdoor Branding come to be?
Pete Eshelman: 6 or 7 years ago the Roanoke Regional Partnership was formed as an economic development system. Their bottom-line was measured on how many new jobs they brought to Roanoke and surrounding areas. They stepped back and re-evaluated what Roanoke had to offer for new business, and quickly realized how valuable their outdoor amenities were. With 600 miles of biking and hiking trails, 24 miles of urban greenway, and both the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway, it was an easy but forward thinking idea to use all of this for sustainable economic development. And when they needed someone to start building this image and city lifestyle, the position was created.

B.L.: What are some of the benefits of incorporating outdoor appreciation within a city image?
P.E.: The benefits are across the board. Economically speaking it directly brings businesses such as guide shops  and outdoor retailers, and indirectly brings business that use some sort of outdoor branding such as a “green” corporate structure or quality of life to attract talent. It has brought 138,000+  jobs to the area and over $12 billion in consumer spending. Even beyond that though, the healthy lifestyle an outdoor orientated city provides makes for a healthy, active community of ambassadors, who in return will strengthen and take pride in their respective economies.

I try and be a connector for all the puzzle pieces spread out in the outdoor community.


B.L.: What does your job duties as Director of Outdoor Branding include?
P.E.: It’s a full-time job for sure. I try and be a connector for all the puzzle pieces spread out in the outdoor community. I want to give every organization or outdoor idea a voice so they can make a change. A lot of the job is educating. Whether it is small business workshops or introducing new ideas to the community, the goal is to create an outdoor image and a lifestyle to back that up. Flagship events are another big part of the job,  including the World’s Toughest Marathon (Blue Ridge Marathon, $1.06 million economic impact), or the three day outdoors “Go Fest“.

B.L.: How can your average community member become involved?
P.E.: It’s as simple as showing up. Contribute your time to any outdoor organization you enjoy (trail restoration, mountain bike meet-ups, birdwatchers, etc.) Go have fun and be healthy. Pay it forward sometime and lend your voice to your county’s board members or as an organizer yourself for any outdoor outing.

The Roanoke Regional Partnership is a flagship organization and are one of the first organizations to utilize the outdoors in a preservation manner for sustainable economic growth. Bend, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; Asheville, North Carolina; and other have instituted similar programs since the success of Roanoke’s. It’s a 21st century approach for making Roanoke a better place to live and play, and their’s little to no cap on how far programs like these can grow. For more information on Roanoke Outside, check out their website: .