by Su Clauson-Wicker
Jill Barr Loope’s first job after graduating from Radford University in 1988 was in hotel sales and tourism. After 25 years in economic development in three Virginia communities, Loope still loves selling, negotiating and closing a deal. And she’s great at it, as her leadership in accomplishing Roanoke County’s largest single economic development coup –luring in packaging manufacturer Ardagh Group’s new $93.5-million plant in 2014– attests.
“Economic development is a complex form of selling,” Loope says. “You have to determine whether the deal is an effective use of community resources and how it can benefit both parties. You must juggle a lot of information in mind as you negotiate.”
In fact, Loope says selling and problem solving are her favorite parts of her position as director of Roanoke County Economic Development. In addition to marketing and recruiting companies for Roanoke County, Loope and her staff work hard to retain and help to expand local businesses.
“It’s important to know a little about a lot of things,” she says. “You need to know where to get information and how to fit the pieces together. It’s a matter of understanding the community, the politics, and businesses, and constantly balancing their needs.”
This fall Loope has been especially busy. In September, Roanoke County joined with Roanoke City and Salem to acquire 106 acres along Interstate 81 to make the area competitive for industries seeking larger sites for development. This first project of the Western Virginia Regional Industrial Facility Authority will likely close in December, Loope says.
Other key county projects include implementing the outdoor recreation-oriented master plan for Explore Park, working with the developer who recently purchased Tanglewood Mall on a town center mixed-use concept, and implementing a study of Route 419 corridor redevelopment possibilities.
“We’ve had remarkable community participation in the process so far,” Loope says. “The consultants will create a vision statement and then a new look for the area, something that is more pedestrian-friendly and feels like a town center.”
Loope has worked on economic development in Roanoke County for almost 16 years, over 11 as assistant director and the past five and half as director. She’s collaborated with Anderson & Associates since her days as economic development director of the City of Radford. “Anderson is an outstanding resource for economic development across the state,” she says. “I like their team approach.”
Loope lives and breathes economic development a large part of each day; she de-stresses by hitting the gym, playing golf, and traveling. She and her husband recently celebrated her 50th birthday with a trip to Italy.