Steven Critchfield founded a company that serves hundreds of local governments across the nation. So when he learned such governments will struggle to fill management positions vacated by retiring baby boomers, he wanted to help address the problem.
He reached out to his contacts in local government, in business, and at his alma mater, Virginia Tech. Critchfield urged companies to contribute start up money so that Virginia Tech could begin an innovative, master's level certificate program in local government management. Thanks largely to him, that program is entering its second year.
Critchfield says he feels compelled to give back to local governments because they are his customers, the root of his business success. As an alumnus who has done well professionally, he feels a similar responsibility to help Virginia Tech.
That is one reason Critchfield donates to the university and volunteers on the Roanoke Valley Regional Committee within the $1 billion Campaign for Virginia Tech: Invent the Future. But it's not the only reason.
Critchfield lives in Blacksburg. His business is headquartered there. He knows that improving a university that plays such a major role in the region pays huge dividends to people who live, work, and invest in Southwest Virginia.
"We need this to be a desirable place, and that's why people need to be involved [in the campaign]," Critchfield says. "If they help the university, the university is going to help the community, so it's a win-win situation."
Critchfield founded his company Tele-Works more than 20 years ago. Today it provides eGovernment and interactive voice response solutions to local governments in more than 32 states, including the county of Los Angeles, home to nearly 10 million people, according to the latest U.S. Census estimate.
As Tele-Works has grown, Critchfield has found Virginia Tech to be a valuable source of talent. He estimates that two-thirds of his employees are Hokies.
"If you get involved with the university, you're going to meet students, and you're going to meet graduates, and you're going to get involved in job fairs," he says.
Critchfield adds, "If you are a CEO or a businessperson, even in Roanoke, and you aren't helping the university, then you're kind of shooting yourself in the foot."
Critchfield grew up in the greater Washington D.C. area. He jokes that he had no choice but to enroll at Virginia Tech because his grandmother, Ester Critchfield, was extremely close friends with Edith Latham, whose son William Latham graduated in 1955 and served on the board of visitors. (William and his wife, Elizabeth Latham are extremely generous donors and a College of Agriculture and Life Sciences research laboratory building was named in their honor in 2006.)
"They pretty much decided where I was going to go," Critchfield quips.
In truth, he was also considering attending other schools, including the University of Virginia and Yale University, when a visit to the Drillfield helped convince him that his grandmother and the Lathams were right.
"When we stopped in front of the War Memorial it was like, 'This looks like a college,'" Critchfield recalls.
He earned his bachelor's in agricultural and applied economics in 1980 and held several jobs before founding his company. As an entrepreneur, he was able to locate his firm, and live, in a region whose natural beauty he appreciates.
Critchfield says that many Hokies from his generation probably feel the same way he does about Southwest Virginia but have left to take jobs elsewhere. He predicts many of them will consider Blacksburg when deciding where to retire, and says now is a great time for those people to support the university.
"Why wait 10 or 15 years from now?" he asks. "Be involved now so that you can have an impact on where you're going to move. That's the bottom line."