Anyone who lives in Richmond knows the city has its own unique, wonderful charm. A certain, je ne sais quoi, if you will. However, some people have misconceptions about the city, believing it lacks real opportunities for career growth.
That’s where Allison Pollock and Andrew Knight of RVA NOW come in. RVA NOW is a ChamberRVA program that promotes Richmond to college students and young professionals as a desirable place to live, work and play and provides them access to resources that will drive their success.
Richmond natives themselves, Pollock and Knight were drawn back to the city after college and have dedicated their efforts to improving their hometown.
We sat down with them to discuss all the ways RVA NOW serves the Richmond community.
RVA NOW is a relatively new organization. What was the driving force behind wanting to create this organization?
Allison: RVA NOW was created by ChamberRVA to serve as an economic development and acceleration program, focusing on college students. It hinges on keeping people local and helping employers fill these high-paying jobs that are available. We have such a wealth of talent graduating every year from regional and statewide programs. As we were developing the program, we heard students had a perception that there weren’t jobs available in Richmond.
At the Chamber, we already do a lot of leadership development, so our mission at RVA NOW really fit in well. Before RVA NOW, we had a great young professionals networking group and a K-12 workforce development initiative, but we still had a gap when connecting with college students. We know that students feel like they are in a bubble on their campuses. There was this need to pop that bubble and engage students throughout the year, not just from a professional perspective, but to get them involved in the region and the community.
Andrew: When creating the program, surveys showed that there are a lot of misperceptions about Richmond. A lot of young people that were in college, or young professionals did not think Richmond was a safe place, a place that had jobs, a place with a good quality of life and place that was affordable. So, we saw this disconnect. In reality, we have so many jobs available and a great quality of life here. There was a need to really dedicate energy and space in the business community to focus on bridging this gap. Richmond has access to so many higher education institutions and employers. It was a natural fit that the chamber would take on this initiative and help connect our region’s students with job opportunities.
What is RVA NOW’s core mission, and why is it important?
Allison: Our mission is to build the talent pipeline in Richmond. It’s a great way to foster investment in the region and help people put down roots and find high quality of life. We want to make sure that students have access to the resources they need. We promote Richmond as a place full of opportunities, a place where young professionals can thrive and help young people feel secure in their decision to move or stay here after college. That’s what I enjoy about it too, showing students that Richmond is this really great place that is ready to welcome you, as both a resident, a worker and just a person in our community. Our work is important because it’s personal, it’s helping students find a home and the resources they need to be successful.
Andrew: Regardless of the job opportunities, the fun activities, the cool neighborhoods, there’s an enriching life here for you, whatever route you choose to take. There’s something for everyone in Richmond. We know that there’s so much Richmond has to offer that we want students to just get out and see and experience it themselves. If you’re walking around the streets you are going to find an opportunity to work, a good place to live, a great place to eat and a fulfilling place to volunteer, and we want to help them get out and do that. Because at the end of the day, we want them to really feel like this is their home.
How did the pandemic affect the work that RVA NOW does?
Allison: The month that we launched, the pandemic hit, and our mission changed completely. That’s when our work connecting students directly to employers became even more important, because it was a lot harder to do during that time. It was difficult for students to get out and experience the city and make career connections or network. So the vision for RVA NOW shifted. Students’ priorities shifted as well. After a period of upheaval, I’ve seen their need to be involved and connected to the community increase. Gen Z craves authenticity, and we need to be honest and open about what Richmond is all about and what it can offer. We obviously think Richmond is special and we need to prove it to this generation.
We had to meet students where they were – virtually. Social media was obviously already an important tool for reaching “the kids,” but it became our main line of communication and connection, along with virtual events. On the bright side, it allowed us to be creative and reach students beyond our local campuses, but we’re definitely having a blast being able to finally meet and connect with them in person.
Andrew: The pandemic also provided us with a unique opportunity to help students learn how to engage with the community and the workforce again. After being inside and isolated for such a long period of time, we knew students needed an extra boost to help figure out their career path and learn about all the wonderful opportunities and events going on in our region. Getting to be an organization that helps students come out of the pandemic with fresh ideas of places to explore and ways to connect with our region is special. We are fortunate to get to be leading the charge!
What do you believe makes Richmond unique from other cities?
Allison: The cost of living is better here compared to some other major cities nearby and it’s getting more and more accessible from a transportation perspective. You can drive, bike, take the bus or walk so easily. I always say you can get from one end of the city to the other in 20 minutes from wherever you are, which is often untrue in other places. There’s something for everyone on each end of the city. We’ve got the James River, we’ve got a really great culture, excellent restaurants and a solid music scene. It’s all easier to afford, easier to get to and very welcoming. You can fit so many activities into one day or a weekend, because of the accessibility. From a business community standpoint, there’s so much support for young professionals, and that’s why this program works so well here. So many people in the business community just want others to succeed as much as they want to succeed themselves, because when one person succeeds, we all do. We’re all invested in the success of the region. Everyone is really passionate about the region, and it’s evident in everyday interactions, as well as in bigger projects, in a way that feels very cohesive.
Andrew: There’s a niche part of Richmond for everybody. In Richmond, you can be outdoors on the river, go for a bike ride, eat some of the best food in the country, all within minutes. Not to mention, the hip neighborhoods and friendly people. It’s easy to stand out and get noticed here. It’s a great place to begin and grow your career, with the support of the community. I like to call it a “big small town” because the culture is so tight-knit, and that is really unique for a city. We also have a ton of history in Richmond, like the Edgar Allan Poe house that’s been preserved and turned into a museum. We’ve done a good job of keeping 100-year-old neighborhoods and things that are staples of our city preserved in a way that makes us authentic.
How can the community get involved with RVA NOW?
Andrew: First and foremost, just coming to our events and learning about the jobs we have here and finding opportunities to grow. A lot of businesses in our community want to mentor students, so we host events to help make those connections. From an employer standpoint, we consistently hear that everyone’s struggling to find experienced people. We need employers and organizations to come to us and tell us what their needs are so we can help them. We’re their tool, their resource to bridge the gap between students and employers. It helps everyone when we all work together on this issue.
What are your goals for this organization five years from now?
Allison: I would like to see the number of quality, paid internships in the region dramatically increase. We have continuously advocated for that because it is a tool to help keep students local, improve their quality of life and prepare them to enter the workforce. We want to help employers develop programs and sustain them as well. I would also like to see awareness of our organization increase by continuing to be a fun resource and make connections with students. We want to be the place people come to when they are wondering what opportunities there are in Richmond or even if they are wondering what to do here on the weekend. We want them to visit our Instagram or our website and sign up for the newsletter. We want people to think of RVA NOW as the organization that is going to find you a job, show you what fun things are happening around town, introduce you to volunteer opportunities and teach you about Richmond.
Andrew: We also want to be the organization for employers to go to when they need assistance or are thinking about expanding their offices to the city. We want them to know there’s a program that is helping promote our region outside of their day-to-day jobs. It’s really important that businesses know that we’re here to support them. We have the statistics on what the retention rates are for each university in the region, and we’d like to see those numbers increase. Five years from now, if those numbers have gone up and people are staying here after they’ve graduated, then that benefits the entire region.
If you are interested in getting involved with RVA NOW or signing up for its newsletter, please visit its website, or check it out on Facebook and Instagram.