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From the President: Where It All Started, and Where Do We Go From Here

In the mid-1800s, the French critic, journalist, and novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”   He actually said, "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"—"the more it changes, the more it's the same thing.”

Why is this relevant to us today?

It is 20 years ago, on July 24, 1997, that the mayors of five area cities came together to launch a plan designed to put Hampton Roads on the map.  That plan was a five-year, $10 million effort, developed by the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance (HREDA) and funded by South Hampton Roads cities and businesses. It was designed to aggressively market Hampton Roads to targeted companies nationally and globally.  It was designed to create much-needed jobs and capital investment.

In 1997, Hampton Roads was behind, way behind comparably sized markets in job growth, per capita income, name awareness and, not coincidentally, funding for economic development.  Business and government leaders, alike, decided that it was time to meet the challenge of the day, pull together the financial clout of the entire region, and begin to speak with one powerful voice. 

They began the process by asking the right questions: “What’s in it for our children and us?”  The five-year goal was to create 20,000 better paying new primary industry jobs and bring $1.2 - $1.5 billion in new investment into the region. 

So, 20 years ago, like today, it was all about creating good paying jobs in Hampton Roads.

A lot has happened since that ambitious program was launched 20 years ago.

Initially, five South Hampton Roads cities (Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach) and the business community agreed to fund this new initiative.  In December of 1997, the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors voted to join HREDA as well.  A one dollar per capita funding formula was established to make sure each community paid its fair share. The private sector stepped up to match the public dollars and a competitive budget of over $2 Million per year was approved.

Discussions to combine efforts with the Peninsula Alliance for Economic Development (PAED) began in 2002 and this collaboration evolved into a merged effort in March of 2005.  The Alliance was then comprised of 13 jurisdictions – the cities of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, and the counties of Gloucester, James City, Isle of Wight and York.  Progress continues and in 2006, the county of Southampton and the city of Franklin were added resulting in a 15 jurisdictional region. 

For the first time, the Hampton Roads region presented itself to the world as one economic entity. This cooperative and collaborative effort paid huge dividends, in terms of jobs, payrolls and capital investment. To date, the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance has played a key role in 135 economic development projects creating 22,500 jobs and payroll opportunities for our citizens. However, a funny thing, or actually a not-so-funny-thing, happened on the way to the future.

The region’s over-dependence on military facilities and federal spending presented a serious diversification challenge. The Great Recession compounded our problems and our cities began to lose jobs and primary employers. Sequestration added further injury and created a major drag on economic performance overall. From July of 2007 to mid-2010, Hampton Roads lost 47,800 jobs or over 6% of our total employment.

Public budgets were cut and private support for regional economic development dropped precipitously. This reduction of effort also paid dividends, albeit in a negative way. While other regions in Virginia, the mid-Atlantic and across the U.S. have recovered, it will now be near the end of 2018 before Hampton Roads gains back all the jobs lost since 2007. Any way you look at it, this is not good.

Now, much like in 1997, the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance is taking bold steps to help get the regional economy moving again. In 2016 we pulled together our public and private stakeholders in a day-long workshop to map a path forward. That effort culminated with the Alliance’s Five-Year Higher Wage Job Growth Strategy and Plan. In a dramatic move toward action and accountability, the Alliance leadership endorsed this plan that calls for the creation of 70,000 new jobs over the next five years.

This plan, anchored by the targeted creation of almost 10,000 jobs from new-to-market recruitment and attraction efforts is quickly getting underway in 2017. We’ve added key positions to our sales team and increased our budget for marketing and business attraction by some 45%.

Will this new effort work where others have not? It has to work. We really don’t have a choice.

Progress is not optional. Job creation is not a desire but a mandate. For too long, Hampton Roads has waited for things to get better. For too long, Hampton Roads has waited for someone else to do something. Don’t let anyone tell you that things are ok here. They’re not. There’s hard work to do and we all have to pull together like never before and get it done.

20 years ago the people and leaders of Hampton Roads did it. They pulled together, worked hard and made a huge difference in the lives and economic well-being of the region.  Now it is time to do it again.

Partner with us. Join the Alliance and help us take our message to the world. Hampton Roads is an exceptional place that is rich in human and material resources. But it won’t stay that way if we don’t join forces, make the right investments, tell our story to the world and finally get back on a positive track of economic growth.

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