Is the Hampton Roads economy finally on the right track? "Signs are there that we may be turning a corner," said Robert McNab, Professor of Economics at Old Dominion University during the LEAD Hampton Roads 18th annual State of the Region Address. Presented by Optima Health and hosted by LEAD, a program of the Hampton Roads Chamber, the State of the Region Address featured Dr. Robert McNab, Dr. James V. Koch, and Dr. Vinod Agarwal of the Old Dominion University Economics Department. The trio presented their 2017 findings to over 600 Hampton Roads Chamber members and community leaders.
"We're on the way to recovery in Hampton Roads," said McNab, "We're starting to see people return to the labor force." The data shows that while Hampton Roads hasn't yet recovered all the jobs lost during the Great Recession if current trends continue we will recover all lost jobs by the end of the year. Part of this anticipated recovery could be a result of a "forecast of increased defense spending in the next year," said McNab. Another contributor to the economic upturn in Hampton Roads is the Port of Virginia's continued growth. "The Port has seen record levels of container traffic," said McNab, " more ships are stopping and more containers being offloaded and the ships that are passing through the port are getting larger." The Port of Virginia's continued success will require investments in infrastructure such as the continued dredging of the Port in order to handle larger ships and modernization of equipment.
Of course, the report wasn't all good news. Dr. Koch, Dr. McNab and Dr. Agarwal spoke briefly on other areas of the report, including the housing market, the hotel industry and the effect of the growth of Airbnb rentals, the opioid use epidemic, and the affordability and access of Virginia Public Higher Education.
The cost of a traditional 4-year public higher education in Virginia has increased 9l9 times as fast as the median household income in Virginia. "We are pricing people out of higher education," said Dr. Koch. As the cost of education increases, student debt totals increase as well. This debt is one reason why, according to the report, Virginia's economy has grown more slowly than that of the United States for six consecutive years and why enrollment in Virginia's public higher education institutions has fallen every year since 2011. Student debt affects the whole economy because graduates with large debt do not buy homes, cars or large scale items.
The address ended with a question and answer session with questions touching on transportation issues, the GOVirginia program, and the possibility of Amazon choosing Hampton Roads for its newest headquarter location. McNab stated the possibility of wooing Amazon to Hampton Roads is "an opportunity to discuss how we can work together as a region. We need to work as a region on developing our infrastructure, education, and address sea-level rise if we want to lure tech companies here. Even if it doesn't work out, there is value in the effort."
The LEAD State of the Region Address will be offered once more on Friday, October 6th at the Newport News Marriott at City Center. Registration opens at 11:30 a.m. and the program begins at noon.
Thanks to our sponsors Optima Health (Presenting Sponsor), Capital One Commercial Banking (Platinum Sponsor), Bon Secours (Legacy Sponsor), Damuth Trane (Gold Sponsor), and Clark Nexsen, Ainslie Group, Seventh Point, ProductiveAV, BB&T, and Cox Communications (Silver Sponsors), Old Point, Old Dominion University, ABNB, and STIHL (Bronze Sponsors).
(Pictured here: Dr. Robert McNab, Dr. Vinod Agarwal, Bryan K. Stephens, and Dr. James V. Koch)