COVID-19 Business Recovery
COVID-19 Business Resources
The new localism and lessons for Hampton Roads
The new localism and lessons for Hampton Roads
We have long talked about the issues and challenges our region has faced.

Many other regions struggling with job and talent loss, city stalemates, and stagnation after the recession have also had these talks, but it’s no secret many of them have figured out how to recover and turn around their economy.

There is even a blueprint on how to do it, all encapsulated in a book that wholly summarizes lessons learned from a recent inter-regional visit to Pittsburgh. That eye-opening book, along with bold leadership, has the potential to change our region forever through the power of new localism.

Brookings Institution Centennial Scholar Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak, Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation’s Distinguished Visiting Fellow, wrote the book, “The New Localism – How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism.” The Hampton Roads Chamber believes in leading the way in setting the conditions to shape this principle of new localism.


I believe success leaves clues. In a recent meeting with delegates from the Pittsburgh trip, I introduced and summarized the book, which emphasizes the importance of building a community and creating a sense of place where civic strength and collaboration across sectors makes the difference between mediocrity and abundant success.

The book stresses the point that real power to influence change is at the local (regional) level, not the state or national levels. The overarching takeaway from the book and our trip is if Hampton Roads is going to realize any significant positive change we must come together and do it as a region, we can’t rely on the state or national government to take action on our behalf nor can we continue operating as we are now.

Just like the regions summarized in the book, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Indianapolis and others, Hampton Roads has to apply the lessons of localism and overcome our challenges.

You may have noticed this chamber is constantly beating the drum of regionalism and we will continue to pursue that drumbeat of collaboration, cooperation, collective impact and regionalism.

Our mantra should be like Pittsburgh’s, “If it’s not for all, it’s not for us.” Our region simply cannot actualize its potential without this level of togetherness. The empirical evidence is there; almost all recovering and thriving regions are purposefully designed with collaboration and collective impact as their core modus operandi to problem solving.

So successful have the local efforts in these regions been, it is hard to identify where the public sector ends and the private and civic sectors begin. We must do that here. I fully understand this is a paradigm shift to our legacy culture. But that’s the point! In this model, we are taking power and focusing it on our region.

All communities in the region then thrive together or die together. They move ahead together or they don’t move ahead at all. We need bold regional leaders who understand this and are willing to accept risk in their narration, decision-making and actions.

We should all look at our relationship with the region and our role in it then increase our voice and accountability, you make a difference for the region as a whole.

Hampton Roads has long been dominated by habits of isolationism and detachment. There is a misconception this change would involve a shifting power dynamic, but that could not be further from the truth. Rather than power struggles, each sector gets its say and in turn gets answers and action at the regional, state and national level because they are not battling each other.

In our current structure, we have become our own worst enemies. Katz and Nowak talk about civic power as a currency.

“At its best the power of cities flows not from the dictates or decisions of central governments, but from the actions and decisions of local grass-tops (the heads of municipal governments, companies, universities and philanthropies) and local grassroots (community groups, residents and countless small and large organizations) working together in concert.” This type of collaboration can be both magical and transformative.

While we have impressive infrastructure in place and are attempting to embrace a place-making philosophy, we have failed in building the relationships that thread together our communities.

Additionally, we often think and talk about what our issues and struggles are without emphasizing our strengths and assets and leveraging them toward regional success. In Pittsburgh we learned about the cooperation of multiple counties under one regional county executive.


I am not promoting this in Hampton Roads however; I do believe some more informal structure and operating agreement could be developed to promote and practice regionalism over parochialism. This should not and cannot be perceived as an assault. It’s an attitude change that will help to turn the tide of a region that right now is falling further and further behind.

The authors say the world is no longer one of policymaking, but problem-solving and regions such as Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Nashville have come together to solve problems. Leaders in these regions have “accepted change and have themselves changed accordingly.”

Coming together under a new localism, Hampton Roads could be part of this vanguard, leading the way for the commonwealth.

The Hampton Roads Chamber is unwavering and unapologetic about its mission and its drumbeat will continue to resound, unceasingly day after day because we believe we must all hear the drumbeat of collaboration to move forward.

The issue in Hampton Roads is not that we don’t have talented that could make this happen, we do. Our region is blessed with an amazing, diverse pool of talent. We have the capacity to do this!

The question is do we have the collective courage to do it? Let’s not let pride, parochialism and competitiveness diminish our potential. We can be a sterling example, not just in Virginia, but nationally. We can be the “global gateway” of economic prosperity or the world’s largest cul-de-sac.

It’s up to us to decide. I urge you to read this book, not just to understand the possibility of a new localism, but also to practice it.

Katz and Nowak said it succinctly, “the key missing ingredient is leadership.” I couldn’t agree more. We need courageous leaders to step up, understand the power of collective impact and the willingness to act while leveraging each community’s unique assets and advantages for the greater good of us all.

Bryan K. Stephens
President & CEO
Bryan K. Stephens is President & CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber.
Leave a Comment!


Your comment has been successfully submitted and will be posted when reviewed and approved.
Home » Chamber Blog » Presidents Update » The new localism and lessons for Hampton Roads
Join Us
Youtube Icon
Linkedin Icon
Instagram Icon
Contact Icon