“We want you to have the highest growth in the region as possible and for the commonwealth to have the highest growth. Let’s work together to create a brighter region,” said Barry DuVal, President & CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. DuVal was one of several presenters at the Hampton Roads Chamber Board of Directors and Trustees second quarterly meeting of 2018, which was held on June 13th at the Waterside District Harbor Club.
Collaboration and a continued focus on regionalism was the theme of the meeting. DuVal, provided an update on the state of business in the Commonwealth and congratulated the Hampton Roads Chamber as being “one of the most vibrant and engaged chambers, and top 5 in Virginia. We have mutual interest to make VA the best state it can be for business. Our goal working with you is to be the most influential advocate and we want you to have the highest growth in the region as possible and for the Commonwealth to have the highest growth,” Duval said.
“The business community can shape public policy,” DuVal said. The advocacy document, Blueprint Virginia 2013, which has been influential in shaping policy, is now being revamped as Blueprint Virginia 2025. Duval covered some of the priorities in that document. Education and workforce training/readiness remains the number one issue is every single region of Virginia. “People don’t believe the workforce is prepared to meet the future needs of the state. Realignment of thinking to focus on employment opportunities for trade not just college for all, and encouraging both college and career counselors at the high school level,” DuVal said.
Stephen Moret, President & CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, (VEDP) provided an update on the VEDP which would position the Commonwealth for future success. “We need to get back to healthy growth,” Moret said. He started with the positives: Virginia is in the top ten for educational attainment, higher education, public schools, attractive small development sites, advantageous Mid-Atlantic location, low tax burdens for existing firms, world class port, airport and spaceport infrastructure, a diverse array of high quality employers and dozens of federal laboratories. “With all that going for us, why are we not ranked in the top three best to do business in states?” Moret asked.
For all its strengths, Virginia has corresponding weaknesses. “We must address the growth decline and perception amongst business leaders that workforce development programs are lacking. Tech talent is where the biggest gap is, between the demand and Virginia’s supply of tech talent. We do not have enough larger manufacturing sites and that is holding us back, as well as being a relatively high tax state for new firms and incoming businesses,” Moret said.
Moret made the imperative to focus on big transformational goals to get back to being ranked top for businesses. “Partnership, collaboration and alignment together is paramount. Economic development is a team sport and we need to be team players,” Moret said.
Grigsby Scifres, partner and attorney with Williams Mullens and board chair of Hampton Roads Economic Development provided a presentation and update. “The reality is that our labor pool and workforce talent has hollowed out over the last decade with an outward migration of college graduates. We fall further and further behind our national competitors every year,” Scifres said. Using Nashville as an example of a region Virginia was once on par with, Scifres described how they took action to impact their community and are far ahead of Virginia now. “There really is a path forward, if we choose to do that together. Realigning each of the communities into a region must occur if this is going to be successful. This change is going to be led by business not government,” Scifres said.
Rick Weddle, President & CEO of the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, provided the Hampton Roads Economic Development Update. “Our regional economic development must be world class and we have to have a regional approach. Not one of our cities has a stronger asset on its own. Our strongest offer is at the regional level. All activities have to be accomplished at a regional scale to be successful,” Weddle said.
Hampton Roads Chamber Board Chair, Glen Robertson announced 4 vacant board positions and recommended candidates Dianne Greene and Mike Herron, which were both approved by the board during a vote. They also passed updated language on finance committee bylaws to bring it up to date. Robertson finished by talking about the inter-regional visit to Pittsburgh, June 19th-22nd. “We have to diversify our regional economy and we are hoping to learn from those leaders and bring their lessons back to our region,” Robertson said.
Hampton Roads Chamber President & CEO, Bryan K. Stephens said, “What we do know, is we can’t continue to do business as we have and expect to be successful.”
Fred Rose, the Marketing Director for the Waterside District, thanked the Chamber board, and ended the meeting with complimentary tickets for the SkyStar Ferris Wheel that highlights the downtown Norfolk skyline and will brighten the Waterside District through the summer season.
The next Chamber Board of Directors and trustees meeting will be on October 10, 2018.