A recent Old Dominion University report showed Hampton Roads’ gross regional product, once growing faster than the national GDP, has flat-lined. Among major metropolitan areas, Hampton Roads grew only 0.46 percent in the past year. That’s less than a third the rate in Richmond, and far below comparable cities like Jacksonville, Fla., or Nashville, Tenn.
Many of the economic pressures facing our region result from our long-standing over-dependence on federal spending. More than 40 percent of the regional economy is driven directly or indirectly by national defense. With sequestration and federal budget uncertainty, that spending is decreasing in Hampton Roads, causing job cuts and economic stagnation.
Clearly, we must better leverage our regional assets through economic diversification. Only by attracting new private businesses in growing sectors will we improve our economy.
Recognizing that Virginia is a diverse state, with economic challenges and opportunities that vary from region to region, leaders in business, government and education teamed up to announce the creation of “GO Virginia,” a bipartisan grassroots initiative to provide state incentives for private-sector focused collaboration and innovation. GO Virginia calls for a bottom-up approach in which each region identifies the highest priority opportunities.
GO Virginia is different from prior efforts because localities will have incentives to collaborate with one another instead of competing against one another.
Hampton Roads is a prime example. It is served by 14 different local governments, 13 different public school systems, four different community colleges, three different United Ways, and two different international airports. We have no shortage of opportunities to collaborate.
The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce is an excellent example of regional collaboration — comprising member organizations from Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach. Together we help businesses succeed, drive regional economic growth and enhance the quality of life of our community’s residents.
GO Virginia would provide incentives for local governments and regional entities — including chambers — to collaborate in identifying strategic opportunities and skills gaps, and mobilizing public and private resources behind well-conceived initiatives that support business growth and attract new private investment in our region.
Such initiatives could boost entrepreneurship, expand exports, spur commercially viable research and development, align education and training with the needs of business employers, improve the tax and regulatory climate, and foster conditions and industry clusters in which small and large businesses can grow and create jobs.
Collaboration also can enhance efficiency and save resources that can be redeployed to fund high-priority investments in economic and workforce development.
Participation would be voluntary, and there are no new mandates, taxes, or layers of government.
Two pieces of legislation are making their way through the General Assembly and are already enjoying strong bipartisan support.
The Virginia Growth and Opportunity Act, patroned by Sen. Thomas Norment and Sen. Janet Howell in the Senate and Del. Kirk Cox and Del. Luke Torian in the House, establishes GO Virginia. It creates grants to provide start-up funding, to be matched by local and private resources, for projects that boost private-sector growth and reflect collaboration among business, education, and at least two local governments.
The Collaborative Jobs Development Act — patroned by Sen. Frank Ruff and Sen. Dick Saslaw in the Senate and Del. Tim Hugo, Del. Matthew James and Del. Randy Minchew in the House — encourages collaboration rather than competition on economic development.
The legislation allows the state to provide financial support to regional efforts in which at least two localities work together. But, to be successful, business must lead the way. They must think regionally in their investments, external relations, and philanthropic support. They must demand that local governments work together.
The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce is a proud partner of GO Virginia (www.govirginia.org) and together we are working to boost collaboration, diversify the economy, and enhance prosperity throughout the commonwealth so future generations have excellent jobs and rewarding careers. There is no better place to start than here in Hampton Roads.
The program would provide incentives for local governments and regional entities — including chambers — to collaborate.