When you live in an area steeped in history and tradition, decisions steeped in the legacy of past is easy. As America’s First Region, a region that celebrates existing before the country even won its independence, Hampton Roads may be guilty of holding a little too tightly to the traditions of the past and losing ground to more progressive regions.
There is merit in tradition. Traditions knit a safe blanket of familiarity that brings us together as a community. It’s why we travel hundreds of miles every holiday season to eat a meal at the same table we grew up around.
There comes a time, however, when we need to examine if doing things the way they’ve always been done is still prudent. Decisions steeped in tradition can impede progress if we let them.
Change is never easy and rarely popular. There will always be naysayers. There will always be content loyalists fighting against revolutions, but seldom do we remember the names of the people progress leaves behind. Complacency is often mistaken for happiness and prosperity, but the time has come to shed those comfortable well-woven security blankets.
Hampton Roads is at a point where we can see real, long-lasting benefits if we’re brave enough to let go of the way things have always been. If we can band together and start seeing ourselves as one united community instead of legacy enclaves of individual cities, we can truly become a nationally recognized region.
We need to let go of legacy thinking and with it the complacency we’ve grown accustomed to in decades past. Perhaps we’ve relied on the defense industry too heavily and our contentment with defense dollars has kept us from digging in and forging our own way, even as those dollars started to dissipate in recent years.
This isn’t to say we don’t appreciate and respect our military ties. We do. In fact, we should, and will, continue to encourage more military and defense projects in Hampton Roads. But, we also need to consider the realities of the changing fiscal environment as the driving force to diversify our regional economy. That is going to require significant “regional” thinking, leadership and collaboration. What could we accomplish if we dared to think and work differently?
We have to get outside our safe and warm silos that exist to benefit our own concerns and issues. The time is now to start doing the tough work of thinking and working for what would most benefit the greater Hampton Roads region. If we want to become a nationally recognized region there is no other way.
The Hampton Roads Chamber faced a similar trial not too long ago. Merging the five chambers of Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach into the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce was not easy or popular at the time. It was a arduous push against legacy thinking. But as time passed it became crystal clear we are now stronger together than we ever could have ever been as separate city chambers.
We now operate for the benefit of the entire region while celebrating and supporting the uniqueness of each city. If you don’t change, you risk never becoming more, and more importantly, you risk becoming less. You cannot carry on the status quo indefinitely.
Jack Welch, legendary CEO of GE, may have said it best, “If change is taking place outside of your organization faster than it does inside, the company will be toast.” That is the danger of legacy thinking.
It’s time to be rid of legacy thinking in Hampton Roads. If we want to succeed as a region in growing our economy, creating good high-paying jobs and become more attractive to businesses that will bring jobs and further economic growth, we must move forward.
At the Hampton Roads Chamber, we believe in practicing what we preach and have moved forward with a new brand identity, new logo, and new name; all in an effort to keep up with the change in our environment and be more reflective of what we do and what we represent.
For years, we’ve been setting the conditions for businesses to succeed in Hampton Roads, and now “The Hampton Roads Chamber – Means Business.”
We are committing to change and committing to growth, even when it’s challenging, because we want to be the best chamber for our members and the business community. We know you want the same for your customers and the community we all share.
Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
We cannot get to a bigger, better and brighter tomorrow by doing the same old thing we’ve always done. It’s time to embrace the change, embrace the challenge and forge a way forward to one greater Hampton Roads region. Let’s be bold and get to work.
Bryan K. Stephens is the president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.