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Roanoke’s Biotech Renaissance and State-Led Housing Solutions

Cities and states are working on novel solutions to old, intractable problems. Governing magazine’s return to print showcases stories of the people who are making them work across the country.

The print edition of Governing magazine is shown over an AI-generated image of a mixed use neighborhood.
The podcast cover image for this The Future in Context (TFIC) episode shows an AI-generated image of a mixed-used neighborhood. The cover of the new issue of Governing magazine is inset. (DALL-E 3)
Listen to this episode on the player below or subscribe for free on YouTube or the podcast app of your choice — Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Audacy and Audible.

The reinvention of a Virginia city built by railway robber barons as a biotech hub defies default strategies of trying to attract new players to do what was done by the companies that left or closed. The story of Roanoke shares the cover of the rebooted print edition of Governing magazine* with a feature on what states are doing to increase the availability and affordability of housing.

Governing Editor Alan Greenblatt discusses the magazine’s return to print after five years of being web-only. Greenblatt emphasizes the value of a physical magazine for high-level government officials, providing in-depth analysis and innovative ideas on pressing issues. The magazine aims to offer a thoughtful and lasting resource that readers can reference on their desks, offering a break from the overwhelming flood of web-based information.

The cover stories feature Roanoke’s successful transition to biotech and the growing concern of housing shortages addressed by state policymakers.

Here are the takeaways from this episode:


Solving the Economic Development Puzzle: Roanoke, Va., faced economic hardship when two Fortune 500 companies closed their headquarters. It was situation familiar to many communities that have lost major employers, leading to prolonged efforts to rebuild. However, Roanoke chose a different path. The city went all in on biotech, leveraging existing resources like Carilion Clinic and a new medical school from Virginia Tech. The shift resulted in a thriving biotech research institute that grew from one to over 500 employees.

Shift in State Involvement in Housing: States are increasingly recognizing the widespread need for affordable and quality housing, leading them to take a more active role previously reserved for local governments.

Zoning Policy Reform: States are reconsidering zoning policies, traditionally a local concern, as a factor contributing to housing cost increases and supply constraints. They are exploring changes to zoning laws to encourage more diverse housing options:

  • West Coast: States like Oregon, Washington and California are permitting multifamily buildings in single-family areas to increase housing density.
  • East Coast: Pennsylvania’s Whole-Home Repairs policy offers grants to homeowners for essential repairs, aiming to preserve existing housing stock. Meanwhile, Rhode Island explores a public developer model, inspired by Montgomery County, Md., to build mixed-income housing.
  • Mountain West: Colorado purposefully introduced multiple housing reform bills with overlapping coalitions to build a broad base of support for legislative change. It has also taken administrative action to reduce turnaround for permitting and eliminate mandatory parking. Colorado took a page from what worked in Montana, which pursued policies that require cities to allow duplexes and accessory dwelling units in single-family areas to address housing affordability and supply issues.

While zoning policy reform may address higher housing costs associated with restrictive zoning, it doesn't necessarily lead to immediate cost reduction.

Importance of Transit Proximity: Progressive lawmakers recognize the benefits of building dense housing near transit hubs to reduce car dependency and improve efficiency in moving people.

The issue also covers the turnover among school superintendents, citizenship for American Indians, city lobbying and the impact of clean energy credits.

Our editors used ChatGPT 4.0 to summarize the episode in bullet form to help create the show notes. The main image for this story was created using DALL-E 3.

*Note: Government Technology and Governing are both part of e.Republic.
Paul W. Taylor is the Senior Editor of e.Republic Editorial and of its flagship titles - Government Technology and Governing.
Ashley Silver is a staff writer for <i>Government Technology. </i>She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Montevallo and a graduate degree in public relations from Kent State University. Silver is also a published author with a wide range of experience in editing, communications and public relations.