Roanoke City Manager Cowell Settles In

Oct 4, 2017

Roanoke City Manager Robert Cowell, who started on the job in September 5.
Credit Jeff Bossert

Roanoke’s new city manager has been on the job for about a month.

Robert Cowell says taking the position was partly about returning to the southeast, but says getting to know local residents sealed the deal for him. 

Cowell is the former Deputy City Manager in Amarillo, Texas - a city with twice the population of Roanoke.

He says he's been asked frequently what kinds of ideas he can bring from Texas to the new position.

"It's not like there's something missing or lacking in Roanoke, but one of things I've pointed out is - there's so much going on in Texas because it's such a booming state," he said.  "There's kind of this sense of urgency, and there's also just this 'can-do we've got to get things because there's so much going on' kind of spirit.  And not that doesn't exist in Roanoke, but where it doesn't exist, I think I can bring that, and where it does exist, hopefully I can kind of accelerate that even more."

Cowell says Roanoke's connection to the outdoors is key, comparing the community a recent visit to Boulder, Colorado in which he saw someone leave their house with a backpack strapped to them, and walk up a mountain.  

The St. Louis native says he doesn't believe Roanoke suffers from a lack of identity, saying its railroad heritage is still celebrated.  He also cites the access to education and technology jobs, especially in the medical field, as playing a large role in the city's future.

"I certainly think all the economic development interests here are definitely focusing on two real issues: How do you continue expand what it is that Virginia Tech and Carilion have been doing? And the other is really to look for creating opportunities and sites for those more office park and light industrial kind of uses."

Cowell is no stranger to living around mountains, holding a degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  His wife Ellen is a native of Charlotte, North Carolina.