Time for Hampton Roads to stop studying and start doing, leader says

Contact Reportertbozick@dailypress.com

The new Reinvent Hampton Roads aims to change the region's economic development culture, a project leader told the new Hampton Roads Regional Council on Feb. 13.

"I was right there with everybody else saying, 'Here we go again. Is this going to work?'" said Bob Boyd, the representative from the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance to the council. "In my 20 years, this is the most excited I've ever been for the opportunity for us to make real headway."

Basically, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation-led initiative is creating the optimal framework for reaching the region's long-term goals, Deborah DiCroce, Community Foundation president and CEO, explained.

The region has fallen behind other metropolitan areas in growth, and sequestration and defense cuts have encouraged collaboration, DiCroce said.

"We're saying attention has to be paid. We're not saying the sky is falling," DiCroce said. "Are we going to take it on or are we going to dump it to the next generation?"

The foundation released studies on regional entrepreneurship, industry clusters, workforce development and civic leadership last year and is creating processes for both vetting and implementing projects that could be "gamechangers" for the region, she said.

Additionally, Reinvent Hampton Roads is making a long-term "bucket list," including creating an economic development strategy for the port, a strategy for retaining and expanding military employment locally, diversifying the economy through entrepreneurship and prioritizing industry clusters, she added.

Reinvent Hampton Roads has also engaged the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond to study the region in comparison to others and has partnered with the research think tank Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program to be included in its tracking data, DiCroce said.

The Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance is also planning to change up how it works, Boyd said. Before hiring a new chief executive after the resignation of Darryl Gosnell in January, the alliance plans to revamp its mission and possibly its funding model. Regional municipalities and businesses invest in the alliance to market the region across the U.S. and internationally to attract companies.

Instead of trying to attract companies, Chuck McPhillips of the Greater Norfolk Corp. would like the alliance to focus on attracting and retaining talent, and help the region improve its branding. He would also like information on what percentage of local college graduates stay in the region.

"If we do well, we're going to do just fine with companies," McPhillips said.

For more information about the Hampton Roads Regional Council, which is a way for the local Chambers of Commerce and other regional organizations to update each other on local efforts, email Elizabeth Gilbert at EGilbert@BBandT.com.

Bozick can be reached by phone at 757-247-4741. Sign up for a free weekday business news email at TidewaterBiz.com.

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