Hampton Roads leaders say they are determined to leverage the region’s strengths as they look for ways to move forward after visiting the Raleigh-Durham region of North Carolina.
Around 20 participants from a Hampton Roads Chamber-led trip to the Research Triangle region took stock of the lessons learned and planned future action during an Oct. 8 debriefing.
Chesapeake Mayor Rick West pointed to the military as one of the region’s strengths. As an example, he said he was amazed at how much the Coast Guard had accomplished with cybersecurity. Department of Defense spending accounts for around 45.6% of all regional economic activity, according to the Chamber.
“How can cities and businesses benefit from (lessons) the military already knows?” West asked.
Around 80 Hampton Roads stakeholders visited the Raleigh-Durham region Sept. 23-25 to learn about how the cities worked together to transform their economies.
Trip attendees said at the debriefing they want to leverage the region’s higher education offerings to recruit and retain talent and spur economic activity.
Bob Crum, executive director of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, said a regional collaborative of university, community college, business and government leaders could be one answer.
“Maybe there’s some low-hanging fruit of things we can do with them that helps them have this presence,” Crum said.
West noted Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer has been interested in creating a Research Triangle Park-like entity with local higher education for a while now. Dyer spoke about his vision in a January Inside Business interview.
Work still needs to be done to include local universities and community colleges in collaboration efforts, said Bonnie Van Lunen, Old Dominion University’s College of Heath Science dean. She thought the message from the trip needs to reach “everyone from Old Dominion.” At least nine faculty and staff members from ODU, Norfolk State University and Hampton University registered for the visit.
Trip attendees also said Raleigh-Durham officials helped alleviate anxieties about how to identify the region’s dozen or so cities and counties. Those officials told the visitors to take pride in their individual communities and to not worry if a resident says they’re from Ghent or Pungo instead of Hampton Roads.
“That’s their neighborhood and their pride of place,” Raleigh Chamber of Commerce President Adrienne Cole told attendees Sept. 24. “And I think that that’s fine.”
Cole added that, for her region, the Research Triangle branding was still strong outside the region. Development leaders had to make peace with the ambiguity and nuance that comes with living in a multi-city region.
The Hampton Roads Chamber is in the midst of a regional rebranding effort. In an annual meeting announcement last year, chamber President and CEO Bryan Stephens said the rebranding would aim to help the business community, especially regional tourism.
The attendees liked what they saw when touring the PNC Arena in Raleigh but thought a Hampton Roads version should be closer to an urban center. PNC is about seven miles from downtown Raleigh. Crum cited Nashville, Tennessee’s, downtown-located Bridgestone Arena as a great example.
“Every event creates excitement and activity (around the arena),” Crum said.
After hearing at panel discussions about the Raleigh region’s subpar road infrastructure but robust public transportation offerings, trip attendees said striking a balance between the two needs is critical to success.