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Hampton Roads business leaders need to shape "state of the region"
Hampton Roads business leaders need to shape

            When we think of examples of leaders who have changed the trajectory of their field, they often share the same qualities. Leaders that reject the status quo, that question tradition, that think less of their own reputation and more of the footprint their choices make upon the community, exhibit visionary thinking and courageous leadership.  With every ribbon cutting I go to and every Chamber member’s successful grand opening, ground breaking or addition, I recognize that it is the business community that is taking the leaps of faith, and the risks that display courageous leadership and shape Hampton Roads into a region with a vision to actualize its true potential.

              As we near the close of The Hampton Roads Chamber State of the City Series, the respective city mayors have presented their successes and their vision for each city, and therefore for the region.  If anything has resonated between the cities, it is that a success for one city must be viewed as success for all cities in the region.  It’s the theory of collective impact and it is as sure and true as the theory of gravity but much less understood and terribly more difficult.  It’s easy to fall off a building.  It’s challenging to be a courageous leader.

            Chesapeake’s Mayor, Rick West shared his podium with Dollar Tree Executive Chairman, Bob Sasser who announced the growth of Dollar Tree headquarters.  Sasser’s vision includes the construction of Summit Pointe, a mixed-use campus with residential, retail, dining, and green space.  A development, which will benefit the whole region. 

            Norfolk’s mayor, Kenneth Cooper Alexander touted the successes of developments like The Main and Waterside District and announced plans that will change the face of public housing in Norfolk.  He also recognized the contributions of his city’s business leaders in changing the imprint and image of Norfolk and the region throughout the country.

            Mayor William D. Sessoms of Virginia Beach recognized Bruce Thompson for his vision in restoring The Cavalier as well as his countless projects to improve tourism and quality of life for Virginia Beach residents.  Sessoms also looked to STIHL, who recently broke ground on a $25 million dollar project and an 80,000 square foot addition to their Virginia Beach headquarters.  These business leaders believe in this region and we are all reaping the benefits of that trust.  Sometimes it means stepping out on faith and most often, it means ignoring the naysayers, but we have watched these leaders emerge and we are all taking note.

            In Portsmouth, Mayor John Rowe used his time to single out and illuminate the small businesses of his city who are doing magnificent things for both the community and the region.  Portsmouth based SimIS, a veteran owned small business with Dr. Johnny Garcia at the helm, is on the cutting edge of modeling and simulation technologies.  He is moving an industry forward with the labeling of opioids, robotics work that help keep our first responders safe and innovative cyber-security advancements.  SimIS has also been recognized by the Chamber as the small business of the year for Portsmouth.

            We await Suffolk’s Mayor, Linda Johnson’s address, but it is clear our region’s elected officials are rightly looking to the business community for leaders to step up and make a positive impact in the region.  The business community should be heeding this call and taking charge of shaping the region.  It is only through focused and meaningful economic development, workforce development and infrastructure development by the business community that this region will continue to move forward.  The Hampton Roads Chamber keeps this at the forefront of all discussions.  

          As we continue to bridge the perceived divide between Peninsula and Southside, leaders like Mitchell Reiss, President and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation have made great strides in uniting our region and making the Hampton Roads area as a whole a destination for tourism.  Reiss’s vision of revitalizing Williamsburg as both a historical attraction and hospitality center has breathed new life into the exciting history of the entire region.  Reiss knows that collaboration amongst the business leaders of Hampton Roads benefits all of us collectively.  Again, the importance of collective impact can’t be ignored.

            At the Hampton Roads Chamber we believe you cannot be what you are intended to be by staying where you are.  That philosophy certainly applies to this region.  That’s why regionalism, collaboration, growth and leadership is part of our everyday conversation.  It is how we do business, how we set the climate for businesses to succeed and how we ensure a flourishing environment for economic prosperity.  It means saying yes when others say no, it means tackling the tough issues and exploring every possible solution on the table, and it means collaboration, integrity and service.  True leadership takes courage.  It is time for our business leaders to come together to shape the “State of the Region”.

Bryan K. Stephens
President & CEO
Bryan K. Stephens is President & CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber.
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