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The business community took a giant leap forward in becoming a Mega-region

The business community took a giant leap forward in becoming a Mega-region
The business community took a giant leap forward in becoming a Mega-region
The business community took a giant leap forward in becoming a Mega-region

On October 16th, two groups of delegates from Hampton Roads and Richmond committed to learning from each other in a two day visit exploring the best each region has to offer and envisioning what the two regions could bring to each other. This effort was over a decade in the making and was initiated through the work and imagination of the business roundtables from each region and sponsored by the Hampton Roads Community Foundation and the ChamberRVA Foundation.

The group began at The Port of Virginia, the only U.S. East Coast port with Congressional authorization to dredge to 55 feet and one of the three economic pillars of the Hampton Roads economy. Tom Frantz, Attorney, Chairman Emeritus, Williams Mullen greeted the group saying, ”This is a historic two days, but the history will really be in what comes after.” Emphasizing the goals of collaboration, connectivity and opportunities for renaissance, Frantz said, “Our success will be the proof that this is indeed historical.” Frantz began brainstorming about this possibility more than 10 years ago. To see this initial exploration come to fruition, fully staffed and funded is momentous and also demonstrates that change and progress take time and a continual forward thinking vision.

Ted Chandler, Co-founder and Managing Director, NRV said, “This group has been thoughtful about organization and research and carefully planned this initiative and leadership team. We are asking each of you to think about a combined economy and a shared growth system, shared broadband and functional connectivity. This is an exercise in elevation. Weaknesses in Richmond are strengths in Hampton Roads. You will see we are more compatible than competitive.”

The briefing at the Port included presentations by John Reinhart, CEO and Executive Director, The Port of Virginia; Robert Crum, Executive Director, Hampton Roads Planning District Commission; Craig Quigley, Executive Director, Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance; Jim Spore, President and CEO, Reinvent Hampton Roads and John “Dubby” Wynn, Chairman, GO Virginia. 

Crum discussed transportation opportunities that would connect the two regions, emphasizing the widening of the I-64 peninsula work, west of Williamsburg and the unanimous endorsement of the extension of the Capital Trail into Hampton Roads. Quigley provided a snapshot of the federal sector emphasizing that Hampton Roads has the most dense and diverse concentration of federal facilities. Spore and Wynn discussed the opportunities for better regional branding, site development, and the need for adequate inventory of shovel ready sites. “We think these two regions together can seriously be a global gateway,” Spore said.

Reinhart provided a briefing on the Port, its growth, economic impact and workforce development and the reality of the dredging initiative coming to fruition. In a video overview of the Port’s evolution it was said, “Revolutionary thinking is part of who we are as Virginians.” This sentiment could be the motto for the mega-region undertaking and this group of revolutionary thinkers.

While on the bus, the delegates were encouraged to sit with members of the other region, to foster the collaboration and spark discussions. Delegates included the President and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber, Bryan K. Stephens, the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce President, Bob McKenna, as well as the Richmond Chamber President and CEO, Kim Scheeler.

The second southside stop was at Hilton Norfolk The Main where a presentation by Rony Thomas, CEO, President and Director LifeNet Health presented on the art of what is possible in bioscience. LifeNet Health is leading the industry in organ procurement, transplant solutions and innovations to bio-implant technologies and cellular therapies.

The delegation continued to the peninsula for a briefing by Matt Needy, Vice President, Operations, Newport News Shipbuilding – Huntington Ingalls Industries.

The next stop was Jefferson Labs with Charlie Cockrell, Director, Office of Strategic Analysis, Communications & Business Development, NASA Langley Research Center. Cockrell discussed the more than 100 year history of Aerospace Innovation and Mars exploration and the upcoming revitalization and transformation projects in place that would benefit from regional partnerships in government, industry and academic realms.

Robert McKeown, Deputy Director for Science, Jefferson Labs, a Department of Energy office of Science National Laboratory shared how the lab leads the industry in advanced computing and applied research. Self-described as an anchor tenant of the Peninsula’s thriving technology center, Jefferson Labs is on the brink of next generation technology and science innovations. This facility powers scientific discovery and serves the largest nuclear physics user community in the world.

John Lawson, Executive Chairman, W.M. Jordan Company presented on the Newport News Tech Center. This booming space capitalized on the 4.5 mile span between Jefferson Labs and NASA Langley with the most highly concentrated population of engineers in the nation to developed the Tech Center, a 100-acre mixed use development which combines an urban marketplace with luxury housing and public spaces. “We have all the pieces here, we have everything we need to create high-paying jobs, there are so many assets to take advantage of,” Lawson said.

The group was met that evening in Williamsburg by Stephen Moret, President & CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Brian Ball, Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Commonwealth of Virginia and Katherine Rowe, the newly appointed President of William & Mary who provided the Keynote Address.

In Richmond, the first stop of the morning was a site development tour of the Hourigan and Panattoni sites along the James River. Highlights included phase one of a Hourigan development site that will be used for manufacturing, advanced manufacturing and logistics. Sites like these thrive in Richmond due to talent development that comes from extensive support through the community college system. The group visited the old site of the Allegheny warehouse which was bought last year by Hourigan. It is a tier 5 certified site, ready for manufacturing and distribution.

The collaboration of the Port, Hourigan and Panattoni has really put Richmond on the radar for site selection. The Richmond Marine Terminal is a U.S. Customs designated port of entry with the full range of customs functions available. It is situated on 121 acres along the James River.

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) has an impact on all Richmond’s workforce development, talent acquisition and healthcare. Richmond Health Systems Authority Deborah Davis, FACHE Chief Executive Officer, VCU Hospitals and Clinics, VCU Health System Vice President for Clinical Services presented on expanding to new facilities with a bigger footprint. VCU Health Systems have been afforded the opportunity for this growth due to partnerships with Sheltering Arms Rehabilitation Centers which will now include a new 114 bed rehabilitation facility. They will also have a new adult outpatient facility where they can relocate many services.

David X. Cifu, MD Associate Dean for Innovation and System Integration, VCU School of Medicine Senior Traumatic Brain Injury Specialist, US Department of Veterans Affairs, presented on working on a Commonwealth wide addiction research program which will also encompass research from Old Dominion University and Virginia Tech. Working towards Richmond being a disability destination of choice through the Sheltering Arms Institute. The Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium (CENC), based in Richmond is a nationwide program that looks at concussion research and long term concussion care on the brain, serving as the comprehensive research network for the Department of Defense. They are actively working with the NFL and primarily with the Military and Veteran’s Administration regarding traumatic brain injury healing.

Part of the innovation funds at the Richmond Medical Center for Innovation have gone towards research on PTSD, Substance Abuse and Traumatic Brain Injury research, two programs specifically for veterans are the Mind Freedom Modular Treatment for substance abuse.

Joseph Oranto, MD Professor and Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine presented on the innovation of ambulance drones, the challenges of out of hospital cardiac arrest and how technology can help prevent the worst case scenario. They are developing wearable cardiac arrest device detectors with cell phone connection and GPS detection.  The development of the Pulsepoint App that shows if cardiac arrest is happening and where the nearest AED system is. If a system is farther than two minutes away, it will activate an individual to assist at the scene.

The delegation traveled to Scott’s Addition, a former bustling industrial area that has now become Richmond’s fastest growing neighborhood, adding over 3,500 residents in just the past 7 years. Now known as a booming entertainment district it features local restaurants, growing shops, a rooftop bar, a boutique bowling alley, cinema, a shuffleboard bar and more. This area is built from a community with a diverse workforce and has made a warehouse environment a multi-use development as it became evident that more multi-use facilities were needed due to population growth and retention. This neighborhood is known for a culture of inclusivity and one of the key reasons for the growth of Scott’s Addition were zoning changes and assistance from the city and local developers.

The final stop of the visit was to the Richmond Raceway where the annual Mission Tomorrow event aligned with the collaborative visit. Mission Tomorrow is the Richmond region’s interactive career exploration event for students.

The group recapped the key takeaways from the 2 day visit. The two regions are both strong and have a strong middle. The port is a natural connector and there are joint collaboration opportunities with transportation.

The delegation will meet again in December to discuss what is needed to move things forward.  Additionally, three meetings are planned for 2019 with the hope that the group will grow. The Hampton Roads Chamber was proud to be part of this collaborative effort as we continue to sound the drumbeat of regionalism and forward momentum for the business community.


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