This job brought me to town. I remember the process of circulating my resume three years ago, starting in early spring, a good time for changes, and winding up in an hour-long phone conversation with Frank Dubec, C-VILLE’s publisher at the time. It’s a six-hour drive from North Carolina’s Tuckasegee River valley to Charlottesville and worlds away. The high mountains were just greening up in early April, but the Shenandoah Valley was already dotted white with newborn lambs.
I forgot my bag on the way out the door, so I had to stop at a J.C. Penney in Roanoke to buy an interview outfit, which must have looked pretty funny on me as I came in the office on the Downtown Mall. A skinny, tired fellow in department store clothes, still sporting the crushable felt fedora and long ponytail that signified years of living in the individualistic, quixotic, and hardly workable rural landscapes of the Great Smoky Mountains and the Northwoods, I was looking for a break.
Some people come to Charlottesville because they hear about the lifestyle from friends, or even catch a rumor on the wind that it’s a good place to retire, start over, or settle down. Others come because they’ve known it as students, or think they’ve known it, and figure they can run a seamless transition between a happy college experience and a satisfying professional life with a family down the line.
Some people are born here, and after they go away to experience the big, wide world, it dawns on them that they miss their little town tucked in the green hills of Ole Virginny, with its irresistibly mellow spring and fall and better than average brains. A few never leave, but even they run up against the same essential dynamic: It’s hard to find well paid jobs in nice places.
This week’s feature illustrates how businesses in different sectors are innovating to build a new kind of city. Traditionally, university towns have been one-and-a-half job markets that bank on professional couples from cities willing to make career sacrifices in exchange for lifestyle improvements. The limitation is starting to feel self-imposed.